Chinese Cultural Diplomacy in the 21st Century: The China Cultural Centre Project

Author: Minglei Wang

Wang, Minglei, 2024 Chinese Cultural Diplomacy in the 21st Century: The China Cultural Centre Project, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

Terms of Use: This electronic version is (or will be) made publicly available by Flinders University in accordance with its open access policy for student theses. Copyright in this thesis remains with the author. You may use this material for uses permitted under the Copyright Act 1968. If you are the owner of any included third party copyright material and/or you believe that any material has been made available without permission of the copyright owner please contact with the details.


This thesis examines the China Cultural Centre (CCC) project in the context of Chinese cultural diplomacy. CCCs started to expand globally since the beginning of the 2000s and have now come to the forefront of China’s cultural diplomacy. By 2022, the Chinese government had set up 45 CCCs in countries across Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, with the goal to increase their number to 55 by 2025. Despite this, these institutions are understudied. The existing academic literature on CCCs presents two major weaknesses. Firstly, it relies primarily on Chinese media reports, which tend to be descriptive regarding CCCs and their activities. Related to this issue, current research on CCCs offers little in-depth analysis of their structure, operation, and programming. Drawing on a diverse range of data collected from policy/official documents, media/journalistic publications, academic literature, non-academic material (including memoirs, catalogues, personal letters, and speech notes), and 13 semi-structured interviews in Australia, this study aims to fill this gap by investigating the CCC project through the lens of its development, purpose, key relations, setup, working modes, and cultural programs.

This study makes an original contribution to furthering knowledge of the CCC project by mapping out its establishment, operation, and programming through varied data sources. More specifically, it highlights the main structural and operational characteristics of the CCC project at various points in this thesis. It also provides insights into its working modes and associated activities primarily based on the case of the CCC in Sydney (CCCS), complemented with relevant information concerning CCCs elsewhere. Furthermore, it sheds light on implications of the above aspects for the CCC project, adding to the understanding of China’s cultural diplomacy in the 21st century, and expands current discussions about Chinese cultural diplomacy.

Led by the Chinese government, CCCs, representative of national-level cultural organisations, are set up as physically independent entities without fixed partners in host countries, with a primary programming focus on delivering arts and cultural activities. These aspects partly explain why CCCs are less controversial (especially compared with China’s other flagship cultural diplomacy project, the Confucius Institutes), despite their close links to the Chinese government.

From a programming perspective, CCCs mainly operate through three working modes, namely, global coordination, partnership with Chinese provincial-level governments, and collaboration with partners in host countries. These working modes, as this thesis will demonstrate, reflect how China perceives cultural diplomacy and have multiple implications regarding the foreign audience’s reception.

Overall, this thesis holds that while the CCC project has attracted less criticism abroad, this does not equate to its success as a cultural diplomacy initiative. It further argues that the success of the CCC project is first dependant on how its practical challenges, including funding and staffing, can be further tackled to ensure a sustainable and effective operation abroad. Secondly, the success of the CCC project is also hinged on the reception of its cultural programs and the impact they have on the foreign public. In this light, this study suggests a less top-down approach to managing CCCs and calls for more flexibility and autonomy for their operation in host countries.

Keywords: China Cultural Centres, cultural diplomacy, China, diplomacy, CCCs

Subject: Cultural Studies thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2024
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Dr. Jeffrey Gil