CARGC Colloquium: Maria Repnikova, “The Fragmented Spectacle of Chinese Soft Power in Africa”
November 12 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm EST
This book talk presents the multifaceted story of China’s soft power campaigns in Africa, with a special focus on Ethiopia—one of China’s closest economic and political partners on the continent. Countering the claims of China’s authoritarian export, the analysis of China’s engagement with Ethiopian elites, youth and media audiences, showcases what I describe as a “fragmented spectacle” — a grand, but disjointed display of China’s prowess and generosity. Drawing on rich fieldwork in Ethiopia and China, the analysis illuminates the key tensions or disjunctures in China’s attempts to build recognition and solidarity in the Global South. I introduce the tensions between China’s presentation of itself as at once aspirational and inhibiting; as well as between the material and cultural modes of seduction, and between the immense scale of China’s societal engagement and its inconsistent quality when it comes to implementation on the ground. I further demonstrate the complex reactions of Ethiopian participants to Chinese campaigns, featuring a mix of performance of gratitude, negotiation and racial contestation. Overall, Sino-African solidarity is less rooted in deep bilateral affinities but rather in a shared desire to “enter” the West—as both Chinese and Ethiopian participants take advantage of these interactions to gain competitiveness in the Western-centric global order.
Maria Repnikova is an Assistant Professor of Global Communication at Georgia State University. She is a scholar of China’s political communication, including critical journalism, propaganda, and most recently China’s soft power campaigns in Africa. Dr. Repnikova is the author of Media Politics in China: Improvising Power Under Authoritarianism (Cambridge University Press 2017), which was awarded the best book of the year prize by the International Journal of Press and Politics in 2019. Her articles have appeared in New Media & Society, Journalism, Journalism, China Quarterly, and Comparative Politics amongst other venues. In addition to China research, Repnikova has engaged with comparative dimensions of journalism and censorship in China and Russia, and has written widely for international media, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Foreign Policy. Dr. Repnikova holds a doctorate in Politics from Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar. She is now working on a book on China’s soft power in Africa, with a focus on Ethiopia, and will be joining the Wilson Center as a Wilson Fellow in 2020-21.