Between Centrality and Re-scaled Identity: A New Role for the Chinese State in Shaping China’s Image Abroad: The Case of the Twitter Account of a Chinese Diplomat in Pakistan

Alessandra Cappelletti*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


China’s image abroad is not anymore shaped by Party bureaucrats with no knowledge of foreign contexts and languages, nor by ideologically driven old-fashioned officials, but by an increasingly diverse network of multiple actors partnering with new players, adopting new channels of communication and continuously adjusting to local contexts, as well as proposing more and more sophisticated messages about China as a country and as an ancient civilization. This paper is aimed at assessing the activities that Chinese actors have been recently engaging in while presenting the country and spreading its cultural messages abroad, with a particular focus on the role and identity of the Chinese state [for a conceptualization of the identity of the Chinese State, see Brødsgaard (China Int J 16(3):1–17, 2018) and Heilmann (Das politische System der Volksrepublik China. Springer, Heidelberg, 2016; Red swan how unorthodox policy-making facilitated China’s rise. Chinese University Press, Hong Kong, 2018)]. For instance, by highlighting the adoption of innovative channels in China’s diplomatic practices, it is possible to get an understanding of the new identity of the state in communicating Chinese society and culture abroad. The author provides a theoretical framework to understand the re-scaling of the Chinese state identity, by looking at the specific case of engagement using digital media—in particular the microblogging social network Twitter—by the commercial attaché at the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. With the caveat that the empirical analysis is still preliminary, the author concludes that the role of the Chinese state in sponsoring the country’s image, or conducting “State branding”, abroad, albeit re-scaled, retains its centrality. The contribution of this paper consists in arguing that the identity of the State tends, thus, to take up different features and a more variegated character by playing at the intersection of traditional and non-traditional communication media, by increasingly relying on partnerships with local non-governmental actors, as well as by conquering different dimensions of “space” (in quantum physics, up to 11 dimensions of space (also called spacetime) have been conceived, while in bosonic string theory—a part of quantum physics—space is 26-dimensional. In this article, the understanding of “space” and its multiple declinations draws from conceptualizations proposed by quantum physicists. Spacetime as a concept has been explored by philosophers of science such as Hale (Philos Stud Int J Philos Anal Tradit 53(1):85–102, 1988), Healey (Erkenntnis 42(3):287–316, 1995), and Lam (Philos Sci 74:712–723, 2007). Brown (J Mod Lit 32(3):39–62, 2009), French and Krause (Erkenntnis 59(1):97–124, 2003), and Ney (Noûs 46(3):525–560, 2012) already worked on connections between the concept of spacetime in quantum physics and different disciplines in the humanities and social sciences.), namely a virtual space, an emotional space, a metaphorical space, an interactive space, and an informal space. This pragmatic approach does not mean that the state downsizes its role and that we should think the position of NGOs and non-state actors is more relevant, but it, instead, redefines its role and reframes its participation in activities abroad by re-thinking its involvement, occupying different spaces and communicating in a more sophisticated way. The novel contribution of this paper consists in framing a theoretical approach to analyze the Chinese state presence abroad, by linking of the concept of quantum spacetime and its dimensions to that of “state rescaling”.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)349-374
Number of pages26
JournalChinese Political Science Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2019


  • CPEC
  • Cultural diplomacy
  • Digital diplomacy
  • Space
  • Spacetime
  • State re-scaling

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