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Li, Hangwei (2021) Global China, African Agency and the Prism of Soft Power: Media Interaction and Newsroom Politics Between China and Africa. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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Using comprehensive ethnographic rigor, large number of interviews and data with theoretical sophistication, the thesis discuss the historical and contemporary media interactions between China and Africa. Drawing on years of fieldwork in China, Ethiopia, Kenya, Zambia and Tanzania, including participant observation in newsrooms, this thesis explores China’s soft power and African agency, and how African journalistic autonomy is manifested in different countries and political contexts. The thesis proposes a new framework – a variety of media – that offers a more pluralist understanding of Chinese media engagement with Africa. Through a more balanced approach by conducting over 250 interviews with Chinese and African journalists, media practitioners, and officials, the thesis aims to present a more balanced picture from both sides. Inspired by the refractive index of a prism, this paper argues that China’s efforts to use the media to penetrate soft power in Africa, cannot avoid passing through a sophisticated and complex prism, through which the effectiveness can be reduced/discounted/redirected, as light bends once entering the prism. The complexity of the prism is reflected in Chinese internal politics and constraints within the Chinese media and propaganda system, such as ‘perfomative implementation’. It also includes African media workers (especially journalists) and civil society’s resistance to Chinese media and its content, coloured by distrust, criticism and rising populism. Moreover, by examining how multiple levels of African actors interact with Chinese media organisations and impact the media relations with China, this study highlights the fragmented nature of African agency. I argue that fragmented African agency leads to a complex internal composition of the prism, with light passing through the prism at widely varying angles of refraction, which explains the uneven effects of soft power penetration. The research argues that examining the mechanisms in which Chinese media, Africa and Beijing correlate and interact can provide an alternative way to understand the origins and dynamics of China-Africa relations.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Stephen Chan
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 08 Mar 2022 17:53

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