External communication refers to broadcast information that is meant for a foreign audience. Similar to the United States’ Voice of America and the BBC’s world services in the U.K., China employs a vast array of media outlets (in dozens of languages, in addition to Chinese) to project a positive image to the world, with varying degrees of success.
External communication in China, often termed duiwai chuanbo ????, refers to news reports and other communication activities that aim to enhance better understanding and promote a favorable image of China among global audiences via media channels such as radio, TV, newspapers, news agencies, and websites normally run by Chinese organizations inside China. These efforts are similar to the Voice of America in the United States and the British Broadcasting Corporation’s world services in the United Kingdom.
Since the concept of external communication is so frequently related to China’s image around the world, external communication, since the 1980s, has become an increasingly significant topic for a country that has been eager to project itself to the rest of the world as a peaceful rising power. The idea of a China “brand” was frequently discussed in the media before the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and remains relevant to companies seeking to introduce Chinese products to global markets.
While external communication, or duiwai chuanbo (duiwai means “external”; chuanbo means “communication”), is a contemporary term popular only since the 1980s when Deng Xiaoping (1904–1997) instituted China’s open and reform policies, the concept can trace its origins to the nineteenth century, when China was known as a sleeping giant (a term coined by Napoleon) and was forced by Western powers to cede some of its territory.
The idea of external communications was first initiated by Chinese intellectuals educated in the West in the late Qing Dynasty (1644–1912), which, with a strong intention to make China one of the powers in the world, came to understand that the then passive and backward status quo of China had somewhat resulted from the huge imbalance of information flow from the West and lack of sufficient information exchange and communication from China to the West and the rest of the world. Since most Westerners did not understand Chinese, it was natural for these Chinese intellectuals to resort to foreign-language publications to introduce China.
Sun Yat-sen (1866–1925), often known as the Father of Modern China and founder of the Guomindang (GMD), or Nationalist Chinese Party, paid special attention to launching news publications in and outside China during his political career. But external communication in China did not get into full swing until it was supported by the Guomindang government in 1930 when foreign-language newspapers, radio stations, and news agency were set up in China. Thus 1930 has been heralded as the starting point for external communication in China.
External communication has since witnessed three stages of development. The first stage was from 1930 to 1949 when the GMD’s Republic of China was forced to Taiwan and the Communist Party of China established the People’s Republic of China. During this time external communication was still dominated by the GMD government in parallel with the news-related activities of the Communist Party. External communication in China did not see a peaceful transition and continuity when political power shifted. For instance, the GMD government blew up the then largest radio station in Asia (Voice of China) in Nanjing on 29 November 1949 when it left the mainland for Taiwan.
The second stage was from 1949 to 1980 when the Communist Party established external communication in China. Everything in China at that time was politically oriented, and external communication was no exception. It was during this time that external communication was, in fact, duiwai xuanchuan ????, (xuanchuan ?? means “propaganda”). It should be noted, however, that in Chinese xuanchuan has no negative connotation, even though it often has in the Western perspective. Chinese considered duiwai xuanchuan a neutral or even positive term, equal or similar to external communication. The term itself thus incited numerous mixed responses about China because China was then completely isolated from the outside world for political reasons.
The third stage started in 1981, marked by the birth of the China Daily, the first English-language newspaper in China since the North China Daily News ????. The North China Daily News, a very influential foreign newspaper, was set up by the British in 1864 in Shanghai and ceased publication in 1951. The birth of the semiofficial China Daily was a landmark for external communication in China. It deviated from the propaganda style of the party organ People’s Daily ????, popular during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1977), and targeted English-reading audiences, with a Chinese perspective. The birth of the China Daily also sparked a wave of English-language media, including CCTV-9 at the central level, the Shanghai Daily and the Shenzhen Daily at the local level, and more recently English-language websites in almost all the major cities in China, in addition to the expansion of existing China Radio International (CRI) and the restoration of English-language magazines that had ceased publication during the early years of the People’s Republic.
It was in this third stage that most people in China also realized the negative connotation of the English word propaganda and started to employ a more neutral term, duiwai chuanbo, or external communication, or external publicity if literally translated from Chinese. At present most scholars and media practitioners in China prefer to use external communication (even global communication or international communication) to describe the Chinese perspective of duiwai chuanbo.
Since it originated from a unique historical background, external communication in China has enjoyed its own characteristics, as compared with internal communication in Chinese.
As it is elsewhere in the world, external communication in China has a strong political orientation and produces media content mainly in an effort to influence global audiences in favor of China’s national interests. The ultimate goal is to promote a better understanding between China and the rest of the world. Almost all external communication activities are sponsored by the government. This is particularly true when faced with a major news event like the Beijing Olympics.
In terms of media categories as well as media content, external communication is diversified and comprehensive. In China media organizations for external communication include radio stations (CRI); newspapers (the China Daily and the Shanghai Daily); TV stations (CCTV-9 in Beijing and ICS in Shanghai); numerous magazines; and websites, such as Xinhuanet and Eastday, both at the central and local levels, normally in cooperation with traditional media organizations. In addition to daily news reports, these media organizations offer other content, including entertainment, tourism background, educational information, and services of all kinds in an effort to better cater to the needs of a global audiences. This is a very different approach from the propaganda style of the past.
External communication in China employs a number of languages in addition to standard Chinese. For instance, CRI broadca
sts in forty-three languages and four dialects. The major foreign language used for external communication is English, as far as media categories and content are concerned. The English dominance of media is especially evident in the metropolitan areas like Beijing and Shanghai, which provide global audiences with a good choice of local and international media in English. However, in inland and mountainous areas, English media are still scarcely available.
Unlike the Voice of America in the United States, which is made available only to foreign audiences, external communication in China is available to not only foreign audiences but also Chinese audiences inside and outside of China. Given the size of the Chinese population, it is no surprise to find that the Chinese audience greatly surpasses that of foreign audiences, according to surveys conducted by CCTV-9 and the China Daily in 2001 and 2002. The surveys also offered a reasonable explanation for the large size of the Chinese audience: They want to use the English-language media available to them, including textbooks, to learn English rather than to consume media content.
The overwhelming enthusiasm of Chinese audiences to learn English may have diluted some of the effectiveness of China’s efforts of external communication in the world, according to the above two surveys. Despite the government’s strong support for external communication, China’s English-language media have not always received a positive response from foreign audiences. However, it should be noted that the not-so-positive survey results for external communication in China is sometimes more ideological and cultural than it is journalistic because foreign audiences, particularly from Western countries, have an inborn distrust toward media owned and operated by the government, even when Chinese journalists practice good journalistic professionalism for external communication. Except for English-speaking journalists, who often serve as English-language polishers, most staff in English-language media organizations are Chinese journalists and editors who reside in a Chinese environment. Although their English writing is communicative enough, they may still encounter cultural obstacles that, on some occasions, may confuse and even create misunderstanding for global audiences. Other reasons can also be cited, but it remains true so far that external communication in China has not been as effective as expected.
Even though external communication aims to create a favorable image of China as a nation, China’s image has not really been portrayed by these media for external communication inside China. Rather, the projection of China’s image in the world has been heavily influenced by writings about China by Western authors and news coverage by Western media, which tend to play up or ignore different elements of the real China, inevitably from a Western perspective, which may seem critically negative and unfriendly to most Chinese.
As a result, China’s image has changed dramatically in the West from a mysterious and magnificent nation in the era of Marco Polo (1254–1324), to a weak and uncultivated giant in most missionary writings in the late Qing Dynasty (1644–1912), to a warring state from 1920 to 1949, to an ideologically isolated, poor communist country after 1949, to a demonized nation after 1976. Since 1976, China has demonstrated a more diversified society in its massive shift from a controlled economy to a market economy. As a result, China’s image in Western media is generally accompanied with such key phrases as democracy, human rights, and freedom of the press, leading to a climax during the torch-relay demonstrations in 2008 when China hosted the Beijing Olympics.
In 2004 the Chinese government initiated the first of many Confucius Institutes (in Seoul, South Korea) to address growing interest in China and the international demand for Chinese language instruction; by 2009, there were 307 such institutes in seventy-eight countries. Reaction to the Confucius Institute vary. There is concern about the institutes’ sponsorship by the Chinese government; some universities and individuals fear that this sponsorship could lead to undue government influence on curricula within Asian studies departments.
While part of China’s image may be based on Western biases and lack of sufficient knowledge, discussions of China’s image have helped China open up to the world and contribute to its social improvements in the past three decades, particularly after China successfully hosting the Beijing Olympics. External communication, though perceived as ineffective in building China’s national image, is still considered an important part of China’s global interaction with the rest of the world.
External communication is still regarded as a unique concept in China but reasonable and necessary because of China’s historical, linguistic, and ideological isolation in the past, and differences between external communication (mostly in English) and internal communication in China. The uniqueness of China’s external communication system is best illustrated by the media practice and rule of neiwai youbie ????, which means “keep external communication separate from internal Chinese communication.” As a result, China has established two kinds of media systems for the two forms of communication systems, each with it respective target audiences, funding channels, personnel recruitment, and even journalistic styles and guidelines. But as China has become more global and mature in its market economy, particularly since the Beijing Olympics, it has become more difficult to maintain the practice of neiwai youbie.
China will most likely have to merge the two sets of communication systems in the future, but it remains a question as to when and how it will take place.
China News Media & Publication. (2008). Retrieved on September 18, 2008, from http://www.chinatoday.com/med/a.htm
Guo Ke. (2000). Economic liberalization and political conservatism as reflected in China’s media development (1978–present). In J. Thierstein & Y. R. Kamalipour (Eds.), Religion, law, and freedom: A global perspective. Westport, CT: Greenwood.
Source: Guo, Ke. (2009). Communications, External. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 456–459. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.
Communications, External (Duìwài chuánb? ????)|Duìwài chuánb? ???? (Communications, External)