China’s Soft Power Divergence

Why Beijing’s global propaganda drive is strugglingMartin Gelin

Standing in New York’s Times Square in June, I gazed up at the iconic neon-lit skyscrapers and counted four gigantic advertisements for Chinese companies and media firms. At one prime spot, an electronic billboard glowed with the name of China’s state news agency, Xinhua. According to recent estimates by Quartz, advertising on these billboards costs at least $2.5 million a month, so it is likely that the Chinese government is paying around $30 million annually just to have the Xinhua logo shining brightly over the people of Manhattan, 365 days a year.

It is unclear exactly what the Chinese government hopes to achieve with this splurge. But one thing is for sure: Times Square billboards are just a tiny fraction of the full efforts of Beijing’s spending on global promotional efforts.


It was 1989

Tank Man on display in Beijing’s Military History Museum – David Moser

I was in Beijing, and it was 1989. This fact did not seem at all remarkable to me at the time, of course. It was January, I was on the campus of Peking University, and there were no telltale signs that the coming spring would be such a momentous one, though in retrospect numerology provided an omen with the confluence of all those auspicious nines – 1919 for the May Fourth movement, 1949 for Liberation, even 1789 for the French Revolution.

There was, to be sure, something in the air – a feeling of seismic shift. Deng Xiaoping’s decade had unleashed a torrent of creative chaos, and students felt a growing sense of impatience and empowerment. I had heard accounts of a professor called Fang Lizhi who was openly talking about democratic reform to auditoriums full of college kids, and there had already been a brief wave of student demonstrations in Shanghai and Beijing, the rumblings of which could still be felt on the Peking University campus, known as Beida.


Searching for Home

Family footsteps retraced – Peta Rush

It’s Chinese new year, which means auspicious red paper decorations and lanterns are being hung up, and fireworks can be heard going off every evening. For those who live away from their laojia, or ancestral home, it also means taking the bus, train or plane in the largest annual human migration in history, as people return to their family homes for the holidays.

I might do the same, if I knew where mine was.


Blade Runner with Bicycle Rickshaws

Cruising the Shenzhen strip for a nosh  Brendan O’Kane

Needless to say, there was a problem.

The signature strip on the back of my card had worn off from a year’s worth of pocket-borne abuse (I guess I’ll have to start keeping my sandpaper in the OTHER pocket). And without my signature, nothing – not the signatures on my passport or voter registration card or school ID or expired learner’s permit; not pleading; not whining “Come on, be a pal!” in Mandarin; nothing – would convince the bank teller to let me withdraw cash.