Rebirth of the Propaganda State: Promoting Japan in China

45 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 21 Aug 2009

Date Written: 2009


In recent years, scholars have paid increased attention to the various institutions, legacies, and international relationships which sustain authoritarian regimes despite domestic and external pressures for political liberalization. The case of China is particularly important to this growing field. This study will examine the effectiveness of state propaganda in shaping public opinion as a mechanism for shoring up single-Party rule in China. It focuses on a particularly hard case for government propaganda: the effort after 2005 to promote positive attitudes toward Japan in China.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has long based its popular legitimacy in part upon promulgating negative images of Japan, and particularly Japanese wartime atrocities in China, in order to shore up nationalist support for the state. Yet after widespread anti-Japanese demonstrations in China in spring 2005 threatened domestic stability and undermined China’s relations with Japan, the Chinese government suddenly shifted course. Chinese leaders restrained subsequent protests, compelled state-run and popular media to promote positive images of Japan, and then moved to improve diplomatic relations with Japan. This study will first consider the extent to which the state was able to mobilize market-oriented media, the internet, and semi-independent state institutions to deliver its propaganda message. The second section will examine the effectiveness of the state’s propaganda, drawing upon extensive public opinion polling data in China, much of which remains largely unexamined by scholars. The final section explores broader theoretical and comparative implications for other authoritarian states, as well as for state-society relations in China and China-Japan relations.

Keywords: China, foreign policy, propaganda, public opinion

Suggested Citation

Reilly, James, Rebirth of the Propaganda State: Promoting Japan in China (2009). APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

James Reilly (Contact Author)

University of Sydney ( email )

Room 140, level 1,
RC Mills Building A26
Sydney, New South Wales 2006

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