The Chinese Diaspora and China’s Public Diplomacy: Contentious Politics for the Beijing Olympic Float

Hongmei Li


This article examines the controversy over the Beijing Olympics–themed float for the 2008 Pasadena Rose Parade in the broad context of China’s public diplomacy and contentious international politics involving the Chinese community in Los Angeles, human rights activists, the City of Pasadena, and other players. It aims to understand the ways in which a nation’s public diplomacy strategy can be contested in a local setting and how different players mobilized their resources to strategically frame their messages. It explores three questions: (1) How did different parties draw on the repertoire of contentious politics to frame the controversy? (2) What role did the Chinese diaspora play in the development of the controversy? How does the controversy clarify the function of Chinese immigrants in China’s public diplomacy? (3) What did this controversy imply for China’s soft power and international communication? This article draws on materials from media reports, official records, videotaped meeting records, personal observations, and semi-structured interviews with the float sponsors, organizers, officials in Pasadena, and human rights activists.

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