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Overseas Chinese: A vehicle to promote national culture

By Feng Jianhua, Li Yongjie | 2015-02-12 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Liu Zepeng, dean of the Academy of Overseas Chinese Studies at Jinan University in Guangzhou


First Lady Michelle Obama visits Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School to understand students’ Chinese education before her trip to China in 2014.


Liu Zepeng (1946- ) graduated from the Department of Automation at Tsinghua University in 1970. He has served as deputy director of the Bureau of Young Cadre attached to the Organizational Department of the Central Committee of CPC, deputy secretary-general and deputy minister of the Organizational Department of the Central Committee of CPC, deputy director of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council, editor-in-chief of China News Service and a member of the 11th Standing Committee of CPPCC. Now he has been appointed as  dean of the Academy of Overseas Chinese Studies at Jinan University in Guangzhou.


Today China has become the world’s second-largest economy, and its national strength and international status have risen sharply. China’s construction of soft power has attracted attention from the international community as well. In the course of building soft power, overseas Chinese are a significant resource and force. Recently, CSST reporters interviewed Liu Zepeng on issues of overseas Chinese and the construction of Chinese soft power.

CSST: Overseas Chinese have played an irreplaceable role in many significant periods in Chinese history. What do you think of overseas Chinese, this huge but relatively decentralized community? Why are overseas Chinese regarded as China’s unique advantage and an important resource?

Liu: Since the start of the reform and opening up, the number and strength of overseas Chinese have grown, and overseas Chinese have made outstanding contributions to enhancing relations between countries where they settle and their motherland China while promoting the development of China. I’ve been working on overseas Chinese affairs for so many years, and I have profound understanding of this.

At present, the number of overseas Chinese has exceeded 60 million, and they are distributed throughout 198 countries and regions all around the world. Many of them have entered the mainstream of society and established close and extensive connections, even deep friendships, with people from all levels of society where they have settled. Overseas Chinese build bridges of diplomatic cooperation, cultural exchanges and people-to-people exchanges that connect China to the countries where they settle.

In the field of economic cooperation, it is estimated that the combined assets of Chinese merchant enterprises worldwide is approximately $4 trillion, constituting a significant force in the international economy. In the spirit of mutual benefit and joint development, overseas Chinese merchants have actively promoted economic cooperation and friendly exchanges between countries where they reside and China. And they were the first to invest in China before the reform and opening up, leading the way for the entry of foreign capital into China.

In the aspect of overseas Chinese education, there are approximately more than 20,000 Chinese schools worldwide, and the majority of these schools are sponsored by overseas Chinese themselves. The number of students currently in these overseas Chinese schools is more than a million. Overseas Chinese schools play a decisive role in promoting the transmission of Chinese culture and preserving its roots.

In an effort to maintain the unity and solidarity of Chinese communities abroad, overseas Chinese newspapers, broadcasting stations and all kinds of overseas Chinese associations have provided a counterbalance to distorted reports and malicious attacks on China. They not only deal with and correct those negative phenomena that exist in Chinese communities but also firmly resist those issues that go against Chinese national unity or overall national interest.


CSST: The function of public diplomacy has played a more and more prominent role in the construction of China’s soft power. So what kind of part do overseas Chinese play in China’s public diplomacy?


Liu: Overseas Chinese are a constituent part of the subject of public diplomacy and their function is irreplaceable. In the age of globalization, different countries have cultivated different ideas and practices toward public diplomacy. Examples include the US strategic pattern, European countries’ cultural diplomacy and people’s diplomacy in China. Every country can start from the actual facts and determine their own unique public diplomatic pattern.

Numerous overseas Chinese have strong emotion to their motherland to carry out public diplomacy and building the public diplomatic pattern of overseas Chinese affairs became necessary. In 2011, the Chinese government proposed the concept of public diplomacy of overseas Chinese affairs for the first time. The so-called public diplomacy of overseas Chinese affairs refers to carrying out public diplomacy through the channel of overseas Chinese affairs.

Overseas Chinese are the recipients and also the subject of public diplomacy of overseas Chinese affairs. Public diplomacy of overseas Chinese affairs not only exerts a great influence on overseas Chinese but also promotes friendly exchanges and cooperation between countries where they settle and their motherland China through overseas Chinese. Overseas Chinese play a significant role as a bridge to resolve diplomatic impasses and introduce a picture of the real China to the government and people of the countries where they settle in order to build a good national image for China.

The reality is demonstrated that overseas Chinese are the bridge for China to carry out public diplomacy, an important constituent part of the broadest united front in China and a significant force to promote China’s peaceful reunification. In light of today’s complicated international situation, it is valuable to draw support from overseas Chinese to carry out public diplomacy, which not only means a lot for contemporary diplomacy in China but also for divisions of overseas Chinese affairs and people who work for these divisions.


CSST: Overseas Chinese education is regarded as a project to preserve their roots and protect cultural traditions inherited from our ancestors. So how should we understand the relation between overseas Chinese education and Chinese cultural soft power?


Liu: Overseas Chinese education is dominated by overseas Chinese and requires overseas Chinese to carry on education on Chinese language and Chinese culture. From my perspective, the existence of overseas Chinese education is evidence of Chinese cultural soft power. Although overseas Chinese permanently or temporarily separate from their motherland and emigrate to other countries, they still maintain their mother tongue, which is strong evidence that they have maintained their ethnic characteristics and continue to identify with their motherland.

Preservation of their ethnic character and identity is a conscious action rather than something their motherland forces them to do. The more people in the community of overseas Chinese accept Chinese education and much harder they study Chinese and Chinese culture, the stronger China’s soft power is.


CSST: In recent emergencies, many overseas Chinese media for the first time have countered the Western media’s negativity toward China and played a significant role in maintaining China’s national image. So could you please describe the development trend and function of overseas Chinese media?


Liu: Although China’s comprehensive national power has grown substantially since the start of the reform and opening up, China’s current strength in the realm of international discourse is not equal to its great power status. So its national image has been affected by all means. Western media relies on its strong transmissibility and influence to distort facts in international opinion, weakening China’s voice and ensuring that its national interest is underrepresented. Even their so-called “China threat theory” is over-blown.

But a large amount of overseas Chinese represent an important strength upon which China can rely to promote its discourse capacity. Many overseas Chinese media play an irreplaceable role in transmitting China’s voice and shaping China’s image.

In the context of globalization, overseas Chinese media are affected by a combination of politics, economy, culture and transmission of globalization, and their influence and discourse rights are enhanced. If these factors were completely utilized, overseas Chinese media would exert a much stronger influence than mainstream media or Western media under certain circumstances.


Feng Jianhua, Li Yongjie are reporters from Chinese Social Sciences Today.