For decades, scholarship on late 19th century Sino-west interaction has been greatly influenced by the impact-response paradigm while little is known about how the Chinese proactively influenced the western world. Focusing on Zeng Jize（1839-1890）, the Chinese ambassador to the Britain, France and Russia from 1878 to 1886, and especially his strategic engagement in western newspapers, this paper explores how a Chinese diplomat resisted the hegemonic narrative of western media and reshaped western public opinions about China’s political and cultural image. Throughout his career, Zeng Jize perceived western media differently for various purposes. In the early days of his mission, Zeng took a conservative approach to intervening in the public opinion by dispeling rumors in western newspapers. His 1880 revisit to the Treaty of Saint Petersburg marked a turning point of his understanding of western media from a knowledge pool to a diplomatic tool. In the early 1880s Sino-French negotiations, Zeng took advantage of the relatively open press environment in France and publicly expressed his opinions to influence French public opinion on Vietnam issues. Such attempts paid off as French foreign ministry eventually resumed the suspended Sino-Franch diplomatic relationship due to the pressure of public opinion and the risk of being overthrown for parliamentary doubts. In 1887, Zeng’s media diplomacy culminated in the publication of China, the Sleep and the Awakening in which he responded to and corrected the negative stereotypes of Chinese civilization in the Western world. This paper argues that Zeng Jize’s media diplomacy showcased a successful dialogue with the western public and played a positive role in reshaping the image of China in the eyes of the West.
Jinniu Zhang, Tsinghua University, China
Stream: Chinese Studies
This paper is part of the ACAS2021 Conference Proceedings (View)
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