Propaganda, Power, and Cohesion in Chinese Politics

  • Kingsley Edney
Part of the Asia Today book series (ASIAT)


What role does propaganda play in the Chinese political system? What is the relationship between power and propaganda? How should we begin to think about the influence of domestic propaganda on China’s engagement with discourses beyond its borders? This chapter attempts to address these questions in order to provide a general foundation on which further investigation and analysis can be built. The first section briefly explains the contemporary development of Chinese views on propaganda. The second section examines the various ways in which scholars, using concepts such as soft power and public diplomacy, have understood the influence of the Party-state’s domestic propaganda practices on China’s international relations. The third section develops an approach to propaganda and power that can be applied to the Party-state’s practices at both the domestic and international levels, highlighting the relationship—but also the difference—between the Party-state’s use of propaganda to exercise power and its broader engagement in ideological struggles over discourse. The Party-state’s use of propaganda practices involves both the articulation of particular discourses and the disruption and suppression of unwanted articulations that could threaten the Party-state’s hegemonic political project.


Soft Power Official Discourse Public Diplomacy Ideological Struggle Official Narrative 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Michael Barnett and Raymond Duvall, “Power in Global Governance,” in Tower in Global Governance, ed. Michael Barnett and Raymond Duvall (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 2.Google Scholar
  2. See also Stephen Lukes, Tower: A Radical View, 2nd ed. (London: Palgrave, 2005), 9.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Michael Barnett and Raymond Duvall, “Power in International Politics,” International Organization 59, no. 1 (2005): 45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 5.
    As Zheng Yongnian points out, culture influences “the way the CCP exercises its power over the state, and the way the Party-state exercises its power over society.” Yongnian Zheng, The Chinese Communist Party as Organizational Emperor: Culture, Reproduction and Transformation (Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2010), 34.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    The CCP’s propaganda in this period was not only based on communist ideology. It also included appeals to anti-Japanese nationalism. See Chalmers Johnson, Peasant Nationalism and Communist Tower: The Emergence of Revolutionary China 1937–1945 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1962).Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    W. Phillips Davison, International Political Communication (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1965), 9.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    On media diplomacy, see Zhao Kejin, “Meiti waijiao jiqi yunzuo jizhi [Media diplomacy and its operating mechanism],” Shijie jingji yu zhengzhi [World economics and politics] 4 (2004): 21–26.Google Scholar
  8. 13.
    Ithiel de Sola Pool, foreword to Communications and National Integration in Communist China, by Alan P. L. Liu (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), xiv–xv.Google Scholar
  9. 14.
    Lenin distinguished between agitation, which was designed to mobilize the masses to action, and propaganda, which was designed to educate and indoctrinate Party members and others in communist ideology. I do not make use of that distinction here and instead use the term “propaganda” to cover both activities. V. I. Lenin, What is to Be Done?, trans. S. V. and Patricia Utechin, ed. S. V. Utechin (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), 92–93.Google Scholar
  10. 15.
    See Robert Jay Lifton, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of “Brainwashing” in China (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1961);Google Scholar
  11. Frederick T. C. Yu, Mass Persuasion in Communist China (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1964).Google Scholar
  12. 17.
    Martin King Whyte, Small Groups and Political Rituals in China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974), 13.Google Scholar
  13. 19.
    David Shambaugh, “China’s Propaganda System: Institutions, Processes and Efficacy,” The China Journal, no. 57 (2007): 26.Google Scholar
  14. 20.
    Franklin W. Houn, To Change a Nation: Propaganda and Indoctrination in Communist China (New York: Free Press of Glencoe, 1961), 1.Google Scholar
  15. 21.
    A number of factors predicated this shift, including economic stagnation, the damage to political stability and perceptions of the official ideology caused by the Cultural Revolution, and discontent and frustration throughout society with the restrictions on personal freedom and economic opportunity that Maoism had imposed. See Gordon White, Riding the Tiger: The Politics of Economic Reform in Post-Mao China (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1993), 29–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 22.
    Daniel C. Lynch, After the Propaganda State: Media, Politics, and “Thought Work” in Reformed China (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999), 5.Google Scholar
  17. 23.
    See Ann Anagnost, “The Corporeal Politics of Quality (Suzhi)” Public Culture 16, no. 2 (2004): 189–208;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Andrew Kipnis, “Suzhi: A Keyword Approach,” The China Quarterly 186 (2006): 295–313;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Tamara Jacka, “Cultivating Citizens: Suzhi (Quality) Discourse in the PRC,” Positions 17, no. 3 (2009): 523–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 24.
    Michael Dutton, Policing Chinese Politics: A History (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005), 251–55.Google Scholar
  21. 27.
    See Yuezhi Zhao, Communication in China: Political Economy, Power, and Conflict (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2008).Google Scholar
  22. 28.
    Juan J. Linz, Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2000), 35.Google Scholar
  23. 32.
    Ingrid d’Hooghe, “Public Diplomacy in the People’s Republic of China,” in The New Public Diplomacy: Soft Power in International Relations, ed. Jan Melissen (Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 103.Google Scholar
  24. 33.
    Yiwei Wang, “Public Diplomacy and the Rise of Chinese Soft Power,” ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 616, no. 1 (2008):264–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 35.
    Xiaoling Zhang, “China’s International Broadcasting: A Case Study of CCTV International,” in Soft Power in China: Public Diplomacy through Communication, ed. Jian Wang (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 68–69.Google Scholar
  26. 36.
    Jian Wang, “Introduction: China’s Search of Soft Power,” in Soft Power in China: Public Diplomacy through Communication, ed. Jian Wang (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 9–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 38.
    Joshua Kurlantzick, Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Tower Is Transforming the World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), 64.Google Scholar
  28. 39.
    Joseph S. Nye Jr., Soft Tower: The Means to Success in World Politics (New York: Public Affairs, 2004).Google Scholar
  29. 40.
    Yanzhong Huang and Sheng Ding, “Dragon’s Underbelly: An Analysis of China’s Soft Power,” East Asia: An International Quarterly 23, no. 4 (2006): 31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. See also Bates Gill and Yanzhong Huang, “Sources and Limits of Chinese ‘Soft Power,’” Survival 48, no. 2 (2006): 27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 41.
    Zhao Litao and Tan Soon Heng, “China’s Cultural Rise: Visions and Challenges,” China: An International Journal 5, no. 1 (2007): 108.Google Scholar
  32. 42.
    David M. Lampton, The Three Faces of Chinese Tower: Might, Money, and Minds (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 161.Google Scholar
  33. 43.
    Ibid., 140. Joshua Cooper Ramo, in a report sponsored by public relations firm Hill and Knowlton, similarly argues that “there is little agreement about what China stands for at home and abroad” and that this creates mistrust and misunderstanding of China among foreign publics (although it should be noted that Ramo sees this as more of an error in public relations strategy than a problem with the political system). Joshua Cooper Ramo, Brand China (London: Foreign Policy Centre, 2007), 13.Google Scholar
  34. 44.
    Sheng Ding, The Dragon’s Hidden Wings: How China Rises with Its Soft Tower (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2008), 91.Google Scholar
  35. 45.
    Yong Deng, “The New Hard Realities: ‘Soft Power’ and China in Transition,” in Soft Tower: China’s Emerging Strategy in International Politics, ed. Mingjiang Li (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2009), 73–74.Google Scholar
  36. 48.
    Yong Deng, “Escaping the Periphery: China’s National Identity in World Politics,” in China’s International Relations in the 21st Century: Dynamics of Paradigm Shifts, ed. Weixing Hu, Gerald Chan, and Daojiong Zha (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2000), 43.Google Scholar
  37. 51.
    Anne-Marie Brady, Marketing Dictatorship: Propaganda and Thought Work in Contemporary China (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2008), 95–117.Google Scholar
  38. 53.
    David Howarth and Yannis Stavrakakis, “Introducing Discourse Theory and Political Analysis,” in Discourse Theory and Political Analysis: Identities, Hegemonies and Social Change, ed. David Howarth, Aletta J. Norval, and Yannis Stavrakakis (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000), 3–4.Google Scholar
  39. 55.
    See ibid., 3; Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics, trans. Winston Moore and Paul Cammack (London: Verso, 1985), 112;Google Scholar
  40. Mark Haugaard, “Power and Hegemony in Social Theory,” in Hegemony and Power: Consensus and Coercion in Contemporary Politics, ed. Mark Haugaard and Howard H. Lentner (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2006), 54.Google Scholar
  41. 56.
    Xiaobo Su, “Revolution and Reform: The Role of Ideology and Hegemony in Chinese Politics,” Journal of Contemporary China 20, no. 69 (2011): 314.Google Scholar
  42. 57.
    For an explanation of the process through which audiences respond to the discursive articulations that take place during political “performances,” see Jeffrey C. Alexander, “Cultural Pragmatics: Social Performance between Ritual and Strategy,” in Social Performance: Symbolic Action, Cultural Pragmatics, and Ritual, ed. Jeffrey C. Alexander, Bernhard Giesen, and Jason L. Mast (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 59.
    Philip G. Cerny, “Dilemmas of Operationalizing Hegemony,” in Hegemony and Power: Consensus and Coercion in Contemporary Politics, ed. Mark Haugaard and Howard H. Lentner (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2006), 83.Google Scholar
  44. 60.
    Yong Deng, China’s Struggle for Status: The Realignment of International Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 65.
    The Pew Global Attitudes Project, 24-Nation Pew Global Attitudes Survey (Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, 2008), 35–46.Google Scholar
  46. 67.
    Wasserstrom has argued that Americans tend to seesaw between the dream of a liberal, democratic, and friendly China and the nightmare of a totalitarian communist China (neither of which, it should be noted, are ideas the Party-state would want to encourage). Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom, “Big Bad China and the Good Chinese: An American Fairy Tale,” in China beyond the Headlines, ed. Timothy B. Weston and Lionel M. Jensen (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000).Google Scholar
  47. On the relationship between the “China threat theory” and American identity, see Chengxin Pan, “The ‘China Threat’ in American Self-Imagination: The Discursive Construction of Other as Power Politics,” Alternatives: Global, Local, Political 29, no. 3 (2004): 305–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. 68.
    Lynch calls this process the “struggle to control communications flows and thus ‘structuration’ of the symbolic environment.” Lynch, After the Propaganda State, 2. On “structuration,” see Anthony Giddens, Central Problems in Social Theory: Action, Structure, and Contradiction in Social Analysis (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. 71.
    Zhonggong Zhongyang Wenxian Yanjiusuo, “Dang de wenxian shiye fazhan de guanghui licheng yu qishi [The magnificent progress and revelations of the development of the Party document project],” Qiu Shi 13 (2011): 33–36.Google Scholar
  50. 87.
    Zhou Tianyong, Wang Changjiang, and Wang Anling, eds., Gong Jian: Shiqi da hou Zhongguo zhengzhi tizhi gaige yanjiu baogao [Storming the barricades: Research report on China’s political system reform after the Seventeenth Party Congress] (Wujiaqu: Xinjiang Shengchan Jianshe Bingtuan Chubanshe, 2007), 65.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kingsley Edney 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kingsley Edney

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations