China is undoubtedly one of the most rising countries in the last decade, its economy is currently in second place behind America and is predicted to soon overtake that of America. However, despite gaining hard power how does China hold up regarding soft power? Soft power as the founder of the concept Joseph. S Nye defines it “ability to shape preferences of others”. The focus of this essay will be the use of “cultural” soft power by China. This relates to the attractive and appealing aspect surrounding goods and services of a country.
This essay will analyze the path of China starting from 2011 when leaders noticed they should involve themselves in the use of soft power. It will continue in the research different reactions of countries in contact with Chinese cultural goods and services and their image towards China. Then it will look at the strong aspects China posses and reasons why their soft power is not entirely effective. The thesis statement goes as followed: China’s use of soft power is not effective due to a lack of attractive pop-culture, a weak image and under pressure of western commercialization. Therefore, their cultural soft power is currently not strong enough to compete on a global scale.
With the economic rise in the early 2000 Chinese leaders soon started to realize they also had to participate in soft power in order to increase their influence all across the world. This is a quote from president HuJintao, 2011 “We should bring Chinese culture to the world, develop cultural soft power compatible with China’s international standing, and increase the influence of Chinese culture in the world.” The way they were going to spread their culture across the world was through the ideas and values embedded within the goods and services of a country. With the use of these products, China is then able to change consumer’s identity in favor of their country. The Chinese government launched huge projects to boost its global image and increase its cultural presence around the globe. It was estimated that China pumped 10 million US dollars every year into publicity work overseas. It shows that China was determined to take over the world with their cultural presence by investing enormous amounts of money into it, but that alone is not enough to gain soft power. Soft power is about attractiveness and appeal of the products and services by citizens of other countries which can not be bought. China’s government exports cultural products such as books, newspapers, heritage goods, films, and television shows. This made some observers believe that China possesses much soft power while others believe it holds little. Rather than looking at investment amounts which are not proper measurements for how much soft power a country posses, it is, more importantly, to look at consumer’s identity.
National identity is part of an individual’s identity that is why goods and services serve as symbols of national identity. Therefore, if a consumer's identity is threatened they are likely to be triggered to avoid these products associated with the alternative identity. This is also prevalent within Germany, where people feel more keen to avoid products related to China because of the negative connotation. The negative image is according to () related to an individual’s age level of education occupational status, where younger less educated individuals are favored to be attracted to Chinese products unlike older people with higher formal education.
The reason for this is because the products from China are considered to be low cost, low quality and low-tech with the mass industrial production in China. Older people with formal education are more aware of these activities, thus this forms part of the reason why they have a negative image. Mentions that Haier’s products which are a car manufacturer from China were comparable to those of the competitors in Germany, but consumers are reluctant to buy because of the “Chineseness”. Only this example already indicates that the attractiveness in Germany is threatened, which limits soft power opportunities for China. But also the consumer’s identity of the majority in Germany because acceptance problems occurred before German consumers had experienced with the products first hand.
Analyzing a country closer to China such as India, where China’s market opportunities also have been expanding. Yet in India, Chinese products are also not successful in spreading the cultural message. The consumption of Chinese products does not enlarge social status and does not evoke any feelings such as respect or dislike by the people that might prefer Indian products over Chinese products. The “Chineseness” also seems to have a negative connotation in India as it is considered to be made of poor quality. In addition () mentions that “It would better if they do not emphasize Chinese symbols or ‘made in China’ tag in their marketing communication mix.”This shows that people are more interested in purchasing cheap goods rather than them being associated and influenced by the culture of China this makes soft power in India also less effective.
What China does very well is their establishment of “China Towns” in diverse countries across the world including many western countries. These China Towns have an authentic appearance by linking the culture and history of China in them where capitalist seek to maximize economic benefits and maximize geopolitical opportunities. This is a perfect example of the spread of their culture and the ability to sell Chinese products such as food, clothes, and services. However, it can be argued that it might not be as appealing to non-Chinese people for them to actively involve themselves.
The problem is that China is good at spreading its cultural traditions rather than its pop culture which is a far better technique to gain soft power. China is strong with respect to cultural heritage and ranks higher than the US, Korea, and Japan. But when it comes to pop culture the Japanese, Americans, and Koreans rate China the lowest of cultural appeal and influence. In order for China to compete on soft power, they will need to go beyond promoting just the Chinese culture and target western liberal democracies. China's attractiveness and appeal are highly ranked amongst Indonesians and Vietnamese which limits China ability to compete on soft power as the attractiveness and appeal of liberal democracies tend to also dominate the rest of the world at this very moment. The television show titled Fei Cheng Wu Rao which is a western dating reality show dominated the TV ratings in China. This is a problem as there is a rise of western commercialism. China will need to promote a healthy Chinese culture to counter this trend.
Xi Jin Ping is aware of this problem and mentioned that it is important to promote an advanced socialist culture to increase cultural strength and creativity and eventually mix Chinese culture with international trends to gain soft power. After analyzing the issues China faces regarding soft power, strengthening their culture and creativity to effectively adapt to the liberal democracies by mixing their culture with international trends would be an effective strategy to gain soft power. However, the value system of China is a unique self-contained culture and does not align nor appeal very well to the west. This might be their toughest challenges at this moment in relation to their bad image, lack of pop-culture and the threat of western influence in China itself. But (_) believes that China will soon rise to become the leading country on soft power because the Chinese model has technological advancements, social stability, economic progress and a system anchored by values that proved to not only be effective but also durable.
Xi Jin Ping’s Idea is indeed a solution for China to gain soft power in order to compete with the big powers but it is far from feasible at this very moment to achieve. One of the main problems is that China’s unique self-contained culture does not align well with western liberal democratic values. Moreover, China already invested billions of dollars into spreading their culture across the globe years before Xi Jin Ping became official president and the majority of the countries gained a negative image with products related to being “Chineseness” in addition their own country is being threatened by western commercialization which proves to effectively infiltrate their country and their pop culture is rated to have the lowest influence.
The limitations of this paper are that not every individual country is being analyzed to compare its soft power too. Only information on certain big influential countries is used, thus it might not accurately provide enough information about the successful influence in smaller countries. However, this essay does fit in a bigger debate as the Chinese model has potential to become very prominent in the future due to technological advancements, social stability, economic progress in combination with their anchored values that proved to not only be effective but also durable. Therefore, this topic is valuable to researchers in the future to conclude whether the aspects of the Chinese model are indeed the drivers to countries soft power.
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