Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

More than media needed to boost soft power

By Harvey Dzodin (China Daily) Updated: 2016-02-26 08:13

More than media needed to boost soft power

President Xi Jinping tours the headquarters of People's Daily newspaper in Beijing on February 19, 2016.[Photo/Xinhua]

President Xi Jinping's recent visit to China's three major media outlets has drawn wide attention. While most of Xi's remarks at People's Daily, Xinhua News Agency and China Central Television were media relations, it was interesting to see him repeat his views on how the media, old and new, can help build China's soft power.

China has been trying to expand its soft power, spending billions of dollars in the process. It has invested huge amounts in many media outlets to intensify innovation, and the improvements are obvious. The 24-hour CCTV America with its excellent production values and the wide availability of an editorially improved China Daily abroad are excellent examples. Of course, these costly innovations are necessary, but they are far from sufficient, because building a country's soft power is hard and expensive work.

The most recent publicity endeavor being touted is the latest in a series of jaunty videos in nine languages on the "Four Comprehensives" distributed by Xinhua. The entire series is well done, fun and informative.

However, these well-done messages seem to be falling on deaf ears, as few people have watched them even on popular sites such as YouTube or Facebook. Indeed, such initiatives need to continue and be improved. But, as Xi has said, China's story has to be told well, and other bold initiatives, some spearheaded by the private sector, should be taken to the next level, or else initiated.

One huge unfolding success story is China's collaboration with Hollywood, of which Wanda's is the most famous. China is hungry to get its message across to foreign audiences, and given its rich history it has many engaging stories to tell. Hollywood, which has for more than a century perfected the art and science of filmmaking and promotion, cherishes two things above all: box office receipts and other people's money. This seems a marriage made in heaven that is starting to reap a rich harvest for China at home and abroad.

China has also been successful in winning hearts, minds and funds by exporting its best cultural aspects through live performances such as gymnastics and the martial arts. For example, the Terracotta Warriors of Xi'an have conquered places like London in a way that even China's first emperor Qin Shihuang, who had them made, could never have foreseen. Queues around the British Museum and extended visiting hours were needed to accommodate the 850,000 who swarmed to the show. Besides, countless others were exposed to media coverage of this blockbuster.

Some other efforts seem less ambitious and haven't reached their full potential. Confucius Institutes around the globe have largely confined their efforts to language teaching. They could easily be so much more: performance venues, art and culture exhibition venues and so on. Thus far, they seem a squandered opportunity.

The best form of soft power is done on a people-to people basis. China arguably has the best social media platform in the world: Tencent's WeChat. One of its many exceptional features is a very decent language translator. What if people continents away, as young as 7 or 8, could have a WeChat friend to learn about Chinese culture? China could start to make friends for life and reverse some of the troubling ratings it has got lately in public opinion surveys.

Xi is right about better communicating China's virtues to the outside world. But just using the media, as improved as they are, for the purpose is insufficient. More can and must be done.

The author is a senior adviser to Tsinghua University and former director and vice-president of ABC Television in New York.

Most Viewed Today's Top News