How to tell the Chinese story to build a positive country image
Forum discusses global communication
Published: Jun 28, 2018 07:08 PM
Over 200 scholars from Chinese and Western universities, institutes and think tanks along with veteran journalists from domestic and foreign media recently attended the second annual China's Image and Global Communication Forum hosted by Shanghai International Studies University (SISU).

Participants discussed Chinese story-telling and national image building under the background of creating a common community with a shared future for humankind on June 23 and 24.

This year, the forum provided a platform for young researchers from different universities all over China to join different panels.

Guo Ke, dean of the School of Journalism and Communications at SISU, said that this year's forum differed from the first, as "we added an English language section with two panels on Media and China's Global Image. We also invited scholars and journalists from both home and abroad to share their insights and experience on this specific topic."

Jiang Feng, Chair of the University Council, SISU, told the forum that SISU can and is willing to play a role in providing and cultivating multilingual talents in the discourse building on the world stage.

Yu Yunquan, deputy director of the Research Institute of Contemporary China and the World under the China Foreign Languages Publishing Administration, pointed out in his keynote speech that "the existence of three imbalances urges China to co-evolve in the new era."

The imbalances are: Chinese information outflow to foreign countries lags far behind Western information inflow; the real China image and the Chinese impression of foreigners; the gap between China's soft power and hard power.

Yu added that the China image is mostly formed by foreign media instead of local media. He told the forum that the public shouldn't overstate the role of Chinese media's Chinese story-telling and understate US elite politicians' strategy judgment as far as the recently hot debated China-US trade conflicts is concerned.

Tang Runhua from Dalian University of Foreign Languages echoed Yu by saying that the foundation of telling good Chinese stories is a healthy and steady development for the country. Based on the factual improvement in soft and hard powers, good stories can be naturally generated and spread.

Tang pointed out that "telling good Chinese stories" has become a hot entry on search engines, which needs more rational reflection. Researchers and journalists should understand the issue more scientifically, accurately and completely.

Professor Hong Cheng from Virginia Commonwealth University in the US gave a speech on nation branding: building China's image in the global village strategically. He cited Israel as an example on how to make a small nation develop a well-known reputation as a country of innovation. 

  Professor Wayne Wanta from the University of Florida in the US shared "50 years of agenda setting: where we've been and where we are going." He said that real stories with his family members inspired him to make an agenda-setting curriculum on presidential elections in the US. In a separate panel he shared "Alternative facts and Donald Trump: diverting attributes on the public agenda."

Rocio Zamora from the University of Murcia in Spain talked about understanding China's image in Europe, and how Spanish and Polish media frame news from China. Dane S. Claussen from Thiel College in the US gave a speech on coherent theoretical development of comparative international research. He pointed out the importance of theory-driven research and showing the whole picture instead of a very random comparison.

A scene from the forum Photo: Feng Yu/GT

Media's role

Sun Wanning, from the University of Technology Sydney in Australia, shared her studies on the Chinese language media in Australia as an instrument of public diplomacy. Zhiqun Zhu from Bucknell University in the US collected examples in his speech "pitfalls or myths in China's soft power promotion overseas." He stated that soft power comes from a country's culture, policies and values.

Chinese overseas image has been improving, especially in developing countries, but China's soft power remains weak. Zhu pointed out that due to ideological differences and power transition in the international system, China's image in the West will remain poor. The solution he introduced echoed the previous speakers as development at home is the key and better public diplomacy is highly recommended.

Feng Yu, managing editor of the Global Times Metro Shanghai, shared with the forum how traditional media is telling the Chinese Story in the publicity practice to help introduce a real China image. Feng used their newspaper's new media platform "Expats in China" as an example.

The video column targets foreigners traveling to, living or working in China. In the clips, the foreigners tell their Chinese stories directly to the camera. Thus, it's a "they tell" style instead of the "we tell" mode. With the help of bilingual subtitles, the platform has proven successful and popular among both Chinese and foreign audiences.

Feng also shared the Shanghai newsroom's latest coverage about entrepreneurial third-culture returnees with a Chinese background. Such returnees to China were happy to have their dream-chasing stories profiled in the paper. Why they went back to China to startup their own business, what's the attraction and competitiveness of China and what the challenges they face here are among the questions they address in these profiles.

The Global Times interviewees also meet offline and share stories with each other and the general public. At the same time, professionals in startup, innovation, talent management and other ventures were invited to help the young third-culture Chinese better deal with their new lives and careers in China. With the support of the local media, their voices and stories are known to a global audience.

Experts at the event agreed that China can build a discourse on a shared future, but at the same time it requires more careful consideration. The controversial 2018 Chinese spring festival gala incident "black face" was cited by Zhang Lei. The theory and practice of Chinese discourse building in a de-globalization context was proposed by Shi Xu.

Scholars Zheng Liang and Gao Yi from Xinjiang University talked about the international communication of Xinjiang agenda and public diplomacy of silk road economic belt. Xu Yulan from Yanbian University in Jilin Province shared the China image in North Korean media. Experts also touched upon media reports of China from India, Spain, Mexico and Arabic countries.

Guo Ke Photo: Feng Yu/GT


Jiang Feng Photo: Feng Yu/GT


Wayne Wanta Photo: Feng Yu/GT


Yu Yunquan Photo: Feng Yu/GT


Hong Cheng Photo: Feng Yu/GT


Tang Runhua Photo: Feng Yu/GT


Dane S. Claussen Photo: Feng Yu/GT