Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Social Sciences



First Reader/Committee Chair

Murray, Jeremy


As the People’s Republic of China begins to accumulate influence on the international stage through strategic usage of soft power, the history and application of soft power throughout the history of China will be important to future scholars of the politics of Beijing. This study will examine Beijing and its government official’s perceptions of its soft power and how there have been historical parallels between the modern People’s Republic of China and the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in regard to soft power politics and China’s search for its legitimacy as a rising global power. This study will use two examples that have similar parallels: The eunuch admiral Zheng He (1371-1433) and his journey’s through the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Middle East and the Confucius Institute, a teaching and cultural exchange program under the auspices of the Office of Chinese Language International, known colloquially as Hanban, an organization under the direct control of the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership.

What connects these two topics is the subject of soft power, a term coined by Joseph S. Nye, relating to the kind of power wielded by countries that does not involve military force and uses a “Charm Strategy” to support favorable treatment amongst its trading partners. Zheng He sailed the oceans to neighboring countries, in an attempt to give legitimacy to Ming China through the imperial tribute trade system. The Confucius Institute continues that legacy today, teaching a view of China that is shaped in Beijing. I will show the parallels between this historical figure and that of the Confucius Institute, showing that the pursuit of soft power is not a recent phenomenon in Chinese politics but a theory and a motivation that has existed in China since medieval times in China’s endless search for legitimacy in the eyes of its neighbors. I will be researching the life and journeys of Zheng He, along with the controversies surrounding the Confucius Institute and how all of these factors relate to China attempting to re-instate a legacy that the nation has was lost over since the nineteenth century’s “Century of Humiliation”. This loss of prestige was a result of European colonial power’s ambitions in the area. I will also use evidence to prove the importance of Confucianism in regard to the development of soft power in China. As China seeks to find its legitimacy, we will see that this has been some centuries in the making and plays a crucial part of Chinese politics today. The re-assertion of China’s place in the world as a rising world power will have geopolitical implications for decades to come.

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