China's "politics of harmony" and the quest for soft power in international politics


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    19 Citations (Scopus)


    This article engages with China's "politics of harmony"to investigate the dangers and possibilities of soft power as a concept and practice. Chinese sources claim that China will be able to exercise soft power due to its tradition of thinking about harmony. Indeed, the concept of harmony looms large in Chinese soft power campaigns, which differentiate China's own harmonious soft power from the allegedly disharmonious hard power of other great powers-in particular Western powers and Japan. Yet, similarly dichotomizing harmony discourses have been employed precisely in the West and Japan. In all three cases, such harmony discourses set a rhetorical trap, forcing audiences to empathize and identify with the "harmonious"self or risk being violently "harmonized."There is no doubt that the soft power of harmony is coercive. More importantly, the present article argues that it has legitimized and enabled oppressive, homogenizing, and bellicose expansionism and rule in the West and Japan. A similarly structured exercise of soft power may enable violence in and beyond China, too. Ultimately, however, we argue that China's own tradition of thinking about harmony may help us to theorize how soft power might be exercised in less antagonistic and violent ways.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)507-525
    Number of pages19
    JournalInternational Studies Review
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2020


    • China
    • Harmony
    • Japan
    • Power
    • Soft power
    • The West


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