CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

In terms of communication, public diplomacy “refers to a combination of discourse and practices through which organizations, be they governmental or non-governmental, seek to influence discreetly the attitudes and perceptions of overseas audiences” (Huang and Hardy 2021, 74), not only as regards the image of the organization itself but also vis-à-vis the country it represents. In the Chinese context, public diplomacy involves interweaving the promotion of “stories” with public relations practices, in order to “spread [attractive ideas about China] as widely as possible, using methods of dissemination accessible to all and that enjoy broad popular participation” (Xi 2014, 195). In other words, “traditional” media propaganda has been replaced by long-term strategic communication based on the considered use of a set of communication tools to establish a relationship with the target audiences, who will then listen to “China stories.”
This concept of “China stories” (zhongguo gushi) is currently at the heart of the Chinese government’s political and scientific discussions about its investments in international communication. The term, used by President Xi Jinping, implicitly refers to a new “major country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics.” According to researchers from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) (Tan 2016; Zhou 2010), relating Chinese stories on the international stage enables the party-state to promote its policies, actions, and initiatives, as well as its economic development process and its modernization…


The Confucius Institute and its centers of Chinese culture have always been considered essential for developing a favorable image of China in African countries. Although self-declared nonprofit, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the Confucius Institute and its cultural centers disseminate ideas with the aim of seducing and influencing a target audience. Their aim is to promote China not only as a country of opportunity but also as a provider of opportunities abroad. In this context, Africa is a land ripe for experimentation, where China can impose its political agenda on international affairs and strengthen its international influence. This article will analyze to what extent the Confucius Institute acts as a Chinese-style NGO. It will also highlight the way in which this institution, qualified as “civil society” by Chinese political scientists within the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is redefining and instrumentalizing corporate social/societal responsibility in support of Chinese public diplomacy in Africa in order to construct and defend the image of Beijing as a benefactor.

  • Confucius Institute
  • public diplomacy
  • NGO
  • nonprofit non-governmental organization
  • CSR
  • China-Africa
  • Kenya
Zhao Alexandre Huang
Zhao Alexandre Huang is an associate professor of information and communication sciences at University Paris-Nanterre and is a member of the Dicen-IDF laboratory (Dispositifs d’Information et de Communication à l’Ere Numérique – Paris, Ile-de-France) (Information and Communication Devices in the Digital Era, Ile-de-France region). He is also an associate member of the Centre de recherches pluridisciplinaires multilingues (Multilingual Multidisciplinary Research Center). His research focuses on political and public communication strategies, institutional practices, strategic storytelling, and social media practices in public diplomacy.
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