Weak state, soft power: the treaty-port English press and the formation of China’s international propaganda system

Wei Shuge

Soft power is commonly regarded as the privilege of strong countries with the resources required to target international audiences. In this seminar, I tell the story of how a weak China managed to establish an effective international propaganda system and have its voice heard during the Sino-Japanese war (1931-1945). While China lacked an international information network to transmit its messages abroad, the English-language press published in the treaty ports offered the best resource for connecting China with the world press. Yet extraterritoriality and the transnational media environment, as well as the underlying tensions among news groups with different interests made it difficult for the government to regulate the treaty-port press. The liberalism valued by the treaty-port press also challenged the top-down information order that the Nationalist Party tried to establish with the existing propaganda system. Most scholars working on Chinese media history perceive the Nationalist government and the press as dichotomous opposites whose relationship was characterized by the former’s suppression and the latter’s resistance. This seminar, on the other hand, argues that the relation between the two was far more complex. The absence of clear boundaries of nationalities, state and public actors greatly expanded China’s opportunity to reach the world’s public. The ability of the government and the treaty-port press cohorts to adapt to each other’s information systems during a time of national crisis fostered the development of China’s international propaganda.

About the Speaker

Wei Shuge is a postdoctoral fellow with the School of Culture, History and Language, ANU. She holds a PhD from the ANU. She is a research associate of Shih Hsin University in Taiwan and the “Asia and Europe” Cluster of Excellence project at Heidelberg University, Germany. Her recent publications include articles in Modern Asian Studies and Twentieth-Century China. Her manuscript To Win the West: China’s Propaganda against Japan in the English-Language Press, 1928–1941 will be published by Hong Kong University Press in 2016. She is currently working on the grassroots movement in Taiwan and China as part of the ARC Laureate project entitled Informal Life Politics in East Asia.

After the Seminar

To allow for informal discussion, the seminar will be followed by a dinner with the guest speaker at 6:15pm. The location of the restaurant will be announced at the seminar.
All are welcome, though those who attend will need to pay for their own food and drinks. As reservations must be made at the restaurant, please RSVP by noon of the day before the seminar to jasmine.lin@anu.edu.au

The ANU China Seminar Series is supported by the China Institute, the Research School of Asia and the Pacific, and the Australian Centre on China in the World at The Australian National University.


Wei Shuge

Dates & times

Thursday, 10 September 2015

4.00pm - 5.30pm


Seminar Rooms, China in the World Building (188), Fellows Lane, ANU

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