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How to draw the world closer to China

11:09, August 06, 2010

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By Li Hongmei

In a 30-second television promo to be aired in time for the National Day on Oct 1, 50 well-selected celebrities will appear to help boost "China Image" abroad, highlighting the theme of prosperity, democracy, openness, peace and harmony. This indicates that China has made much headway in endeavoring to build up its international image, with an increasing consciousness of human element.

After all, the Chinese people are the core of the Chinese concept, the live carrier of its culture and achievement, and the best showcase of China's state image. Be that as it may, it is far from enough to just promote "China Image" on TV screen. The linchpin of image building effort remains how to deliver the message to the innermost heart of others.

Since the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the world has learned to accept a rising China, but to some, the feeling to see an ever-growing giant is still like having a fishbone caught in their throat.

What is more noteworthy here seems a question---- whether a country's positive image can be made. The answer could be no clear-cut Yes or No, much the way if a person is over self-cautious of his own image, he would possibly end up over-smarting himself; but if he pays no heed to his image, he will hardly make any positive impression upon others.

Generally, China's state image mainly counts on its national strength and performance. The self-interpretation and communication with the outside world will be somewhat conducive to building a positive image, but not necessarily so, nor always so. Just for one thing, the perceptions of China by others will never fall under the influence of China's values and interests. Love it, or hate it, that will be a much more complicated feeling than imagined, and invariably beyond the ken of the Chinese people.

Currently, China is the world's biggest exporter and is poised to overtake Japan as the world's second-largest economy. In recent years it has stepped up a campaign to beef up its influence, and in the meantime, promote the country as peaceful and full of goodwill.

But China has also realized that in the hope of building up an internationally popular image some attainments are still beyond achievement, as the negative perceptions of China would persist and, dislike or even hostility to China will not evaporate within days or just by viewing a short film.

Painstaking and arduous as the journey is, China has never given up halfway in seeking the right international positioning, and it is also proven that China is by no means in the state of inertia, especially when meeting others' skeptical eyes. For instance, before Beijing hosted the 2008 summer Olympics, some Western analysts remarked the grand sports event would more or less disgrace Beijing. Two years elapses, but things have turned out just opposite----China has ever since won over more friends and supporters.

As to how to build an ideal state image, China might as well set up a more realistic goal, and within reach. First, politically speaking, there are still a good few of the outsiders mistaking China's political system for the rigid political machinery back to the former Soviet Union era. Economically, the foreigners could go to extremes to either unduly take Shanghai as a mirror to China as a whole or pessimistically believe the Chinese are still struggling for food. Actually, the picture of a real China will sooner or later come to light and discernible to the outside world. The effective self-expression and display, to some extent, would probably shorten the time for others to form a relatively comprehensive understanding of China.

Admittedly, it is not that easy to cultivate the intimacy with others, in particular, when the West world tends to hype up the theory of "China Threat", and some Western media would pounce on any chance to distort the fact and vilify China. But that does not mean China's efforts to boost image will be doomed to a failure. An increasing number of foreign politicians have already realized that China's rise is not the way as the rise of some powers in the Cold War days. The rising China remains "gentle and peaceful".

To make a good show to the outside world, China will also have to develop some capacity to stand every kind of trial, besides the ability to bear the due responsibilities as a big country. If China is over sensitive to criticisms and censure, it will give its rival a handle, and itself fall to the lowest-hanging fruit of attack.

'Go your own way. Let others talk", what Dante said may again act as a reminder to tell China how to be cast in a sound role on the world arena. A sanguine disposition will definitely help China score higher.

The articles in this column represent the author's views only. They do not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

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About this column

Li Hongmei, editor and columnist of PD Online.


Li HongLi Hong

After 19 years working for China Daily and its website, Li Hong moved to english.people.com.cn in March 2009.

Li has been a reporter and column writer, mainly on China's economy and politics.

He was graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University, and once studied in University of Hawaii and the Poynter Institute in Florida.

Dai MinJohn
Dai Min

John Milligan-Whyte and Dai Min, the executive producers and co-hosts of the Collaboration of Civilizations television series adapted by the eight books they wrote in the America-China Partnership Book Series published in English and Mandarin in 2009-2010 that created the "New School of America-China Relations." They founded the America-China Partnership Foundation and Forum in 2008 and the Center for American-China Partnership in 2005, which was recognized in 2009 as "the first American think tank to combine and integrate American and Chinese perspectives providing a complete answer for America and China's success in the 21st century."