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Confucius Institute project: China's cultural diplomacy and soft power projection

Su‐Yan Pan (Department of Social Sciences, The Hong Kong Institute of Education, Hong Kong, People's Republic of China)

Asian Education and Development Studies

ISSN: 2046-3162

Publication date: 4 January 2013



The purpose of this paper is to apply the theory of cultural diplomacy to explore and explain the role and function of the Confucius Institution project and its implications for understanding of China's soft power projection.


This paper first presents the theories of soft power and cultural diplomacy as an analytic framework. It then delineates an interpretative illustration of the CI project as a platform for China's cultural diplomacy. The paper concludes with a discussion of the CI project's implications for understanding of China's soft power projection.


The paper argues that the Confucius Institute project can be understood as a form of cultural diplomacy that is state‐sponsored and university‐piloted, a joint effort to gain China a more sympathetic global reception. As such, the Confucius Institution project involves a complex of soft power techniques. However, it is not entirely representative of soft power capability, because the problems embedded in the project and in the wider society run counter to the Chinese government's efforts to increase the Confucius Institutions’ attractiveness and popularity.


This article sheds light on Chinese universities in the role of “unofficial cultural diplomats.” On this topic, further research may need to explore more fundamental issues that bear far‐reaching significance and impact, i.e. the mechanics of Chinese university involvement in Confucius Institutes. Interesting questions arising from this study may help open up a wider spectrum of research topics for understanding the university‐state relationship, cross‐border higher education, as well as the possibilities and limits of educational globalization. At this stage, this article serves as a start to move scholarship in that direction.



Pan, S. (2013), "Confucius Institute project: China's cultural diplomacy and soft power projection", Asian Education and Development Studies, Vol. 2 No. 1, pp. 22-33.



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