Who is more nervous at their début than the debutante, herself? So it seems that China’s rulers place extraordinary weight up on the way that China is perceived both by domestic and foreign audiences. For the next phase of its national “charm offensive,” China is planning on featuring up to 50 of it’s most recognizable celebrities such as in 30-second ads and short films that promote China’s economic, cultural, sports and other achievements to the world at large.
Recently, it has made massive investments in international media to promote a “Chinese point of view” abroad, it successfully leveraged the Olympics and now the Expo as instruments of global PR, and now directly engages foreign audiences by placing pro-China statements from party cadres in major international publications. According to Pew Research, it appears to be paying-off, with increasingly favorable attitudes towards China worldwide.
Now: Celebrities. According to the Associated Press, “The State Council, China’s Cabinet, said the ads will promote an image of prosperity, democracy, openness, peace and harmony.” A few familar faces expected to appear include Yao Ming, John Woo, piano prodigy Lang Langastronaut Yang Liwei and Olympic gold medalist diver Guo Jingjing. This propaganda campaign is intended to counter what China sees as “unfair” reporting by the foreign media on issues such as human rights and Tibet.
Of course, we all know this obsessive “perception management” is not simply about “looking good,” but China’s will to manipulate public perceptions both domestically and internaionally is part of China’s hope to gain greater acceptance and legitimacy abroad. That said, how these ads are perceived abroad may well depend upon their target audience.
Given the wrong audience, it would be all too easy for the ads to be perceived as arrogant and self-servering. However, if presented to members of the more than 125 million strong Chinese diaspora, the ads could be effective.
Written by Oliver Kronos