China Betters Its Image –Through Public Relations


By Diane Secor and Donna Bills

Hosting the upcoming 2008 summer Olympics has put a little pressure on China’s ruling Communist Party. In addition to constructing the venues and infrastructure necessary for the games, the Chinese government has had to construct a better image of itself while leaving intact its repressive rule. That is no easy task to be sure, but with the help of world-renowned public relations firm Hill & Knowlton, headquartered in New York, they are succeeding.

How is this being accomplished? By boosting what it calls “cultural soft power”-a turning away from the government’s usual control tactics of militarism and rigid diplomacy and toward culture and sports. This year, for example, Chinese New Year was extravagantly celebrated at Beijing’s Olympic Museum with several days of cultural festivities that included speeches by the International Olympic Committee director general and the Chinese ambassador to Switzerland. The purpose of all this was to emphasize and honor the richness of Chinese culture and to give an appearance of decency to the Chinese government. That the celebration was held at the Olympic Museum with the IOC and Chinese government representatives rubbing elbows provided an air of acceptance that is much needed by the Chinese Communist Party.

For its part, Hill & Knowlton announced in January 2007 “the launch of its arts and culture sponsorship service in China.” According to its press release at the time, the company proclaimed that “In China specifically, an in-depth understanding of the government’s agenda can turn a sponsorship investment into a highly influential communications campaign.” In other words, Hill & Knowlton will ease the way for investing in China. Kodak, McDonald’s, Coca Cola and Visa are some of the big sponsors of the Beijing Olympics that stand to reap large profits such sponsorship promises. And, under capitalism, what’s good for the Beijing Olympic sponsors is good for how the world perceives China. Hill & Knowlton is there to ensure that both happen.

Public relations is defined by the AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY as “The methods and activities employed to promote a favorable relationship with the public.” The Chinese Communist Party in partnership with Hill & Knowlton is perfecting the practice.

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One Response to China Betters Its Image –Through Public Relations

  1. We’ll see how it resorts to “cultural soft power” if there are widespread protests and disruptions of the Olympics. Who’d be a secret policeman in China right now?

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