Global Views of China

What does the world think about a rising China, and why?

A magnifying glass centred on China on a world map

With nearly a fifth of the world’s population (over 1.4 billion people), the world’s second largest economy (a GDP of $15 trillion), the world’s largest standing army (over two million soldiers), and by far the world’s greatest emissions of greenhouse gasses, China is intrinsically important. China has become a twenty-first century superpower, and anyone who wishes to understand the world of today and tomorrow needs to engage the China question. 

But China’s rise does not speak for itself. How is it understood around the world? For instance, why does the average Briton feel more negatively about China than, say, the average Greek? And what best explains differences between subgroups within countries? For instance, how might pre-existing identities (e.g. being more nationalist or cosmopolitan) or ideological commitments (e.g. to the left or right) shape views of China?

And what role might shared pasts play in shaping 21st century views of China? For instance, how might their shared communist pasts shape views of China among Central and Eastern European publics? Or how might Chinese history writing about its past empires shape how China’s East Asian neighbours view it?

Publications on global views of China

MCI has partnered with scholars around the world to study global views of China. Recent publications include:

  • The East is red… again! How the spectres of communism and Russia shape Central and Eastern European views of China,” Communist and Post-Communist Studies (2022), 55(1): 1–23. Peter Gries & Richard Turcsányi.

    ABS. Over the past decade, China has rapidly emerged as a major player in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). Will it divide Europe? Might these formerly communist countries align themselves again with a communist superpower to their East? Or does their past experience of Russia and communism generate suspicions of China? This article explores what public opinion data from a fall 2020 survey of six CEE countries (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Serbia, and Slovakia) can teach us about the drivers of CEE attitudes towards China. It suggests that China has become a “second Eastern power” beyond Russia against which many in the CEE have come to define themselves. Although there are large differences between CEE publics in their views of China, individual-level self-identifications with the East or West, and attitudes towards the communist past and communism today consistently shape views of both Russia and China. Russia looms large for all in the CEE, but especially for Latvia and Poland, whose views of China appear to be almost completely mediated through attitudes towards their giant Russian neighbour. We conclude with thoughts on the implications of these findings about the structure of CEE public opinion towards China for the future of the “17+1” mechanism, and CEE-China relations more broadly.

  • How History Wars Shape Foreign Policy: An Ancient Kingdom and the Future of China-South Korea Relations,” Journal of East Asian Studies (2022), 22(1). Peter Gries & Yasuki Masui.

    ABS. Do history wars shape international affairs? If so, how and for whom? Taking the historical dispute between China and South Korea over the ancient Gaogouli/Goguryeo Kingdom as a case study, this article explores the individual-level psychological micro-foundations of history wars. A 2020 survey experiment in South Korea pit “ours” vs “theirs” Goguryeo Wikipedia entries to explore their downstream consequences. It revealed direct, indirect, and conditional effects. Exposure to China’s claim to the Kingdom reduced pride as a Korean, increasing dislike of China, and lessening desires to cooperate with it. Pre-existing levels of Korean nationalism polarized the impact of the Wikipedia primes on national anger, but that anger only shaped the China policy preferences of those South Koreans who viewed the balance of military power with China favourably. Implications for ownership disputes over kimchi and other national possessions are also discussed, as are the implications of history wars for war and peace in 21st century East Asia.
  • Chinese Pride and European Prejudice: How Growing Resentment of China Cools Feelings toward Chinese in Europe,” Asian Survey (2021), 61(5): 742–766. Peter Gries & Richard Turcsányi.

    ABS. The Chinese government’s cover-up of the origins of the new coronavirus, and its more openly prideful and aggressive foreign and human rights policies, triggered a dramatic deterioration of foreign views of China in 2020. That year also witnessed a significant increase in anti-Chinese/Asian prejudice around the world. Could the former have shaped the latter? Drawing on theories of prejudice and ideology, and using an Autumn 2020 13-nation European survey about China, this paper explores whether increasingly negative attitudes toward Chinese government policies prejudiced European views of local Chinese students, tourists, and communities. It finds substantial evidence of a spillover effect, an effect which is stronger among conservative Europeans than among progressive Europeans more motivated to avoid prejudice. The paper concludes with thoughts on the danger that China’s prideful “wolf warriors” pose for Chinese students, tourists, and local Chinese communities confronting prejudice in Europe today.

  • "No Common Ground: A Spatial‑Relational Analysis of EU‑China Relations," Journal of Chinese Political Science, online 2021. Katja Levy & Ágota Révész.

    ABS. It is no secret that EU member states cannot come to terms on a unified China-policy. Most studies on EU-China relations come to the conclusion that disagreement exists and that this fragmentation is utilized by Chinese foreign policy in a kind of divide and rule strategy. However, the question as to why the EU members disagree has not been answered satisfactorily. This paper investigates the reasons for this discord from the perspective of the core-periphery theory. We illustrate how the spatial position of nations within Europe–in a geographical and political sense–shapes their outlook on China. As a case study to illustrate the differences in the outlook on China of among EU member countries, we analyse the discourses on Chinese COVID-19 vaccines in the Hungarian and German press from April 2020 until summer 2021. We argue that these differences have their grounds in the spatial-relational positioning at either the core or the semi-periphery of the EU. Based on our findings we suggest that a sustainable EU China-policy has first to address these differences in foreign policy outlook and then find a common ground.