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UN celebrity diplomacy in China: activism, symbolism and national ambition online

In this article in International Affairs, Saskia Postema and Jan Melissen examine Chinese celebrities' UN-affiliated Weibo activism in the context of China's increasing engagement in the United Nations, which coincides with a shrinking domestic public sphere under Xi Jinping's leadership.

Saskia Postema and Jan Melissen
10 May 2021
Link to article (available open access)


 Our article sheds light on how Chinese celebrity diplomacy is balancing contradictory expectations by the UN, the Chinese party-state and the domestic public in China. In doing so, we offer an important conceptual update of the western-centric literature on ‘celebrity diplomacy’, which focuses mostly on celebrity politics instead of diplomacy and tends to neglect the digital sphere. Based on a combined qualitative and quantitative approach, we draw fresh conclusions from nine Chinese celebrities' communication on Weibo since 2013. Our research covers the years marking China's growing self-confidence and a more assertive Chinese diplomatic style in global affairs. Although accredited by the UN, on balance Chinese celebrities' activism has become more symbolic than real, and as a rule aligned with the Chinese leadership's domestic and international ambitions. At a time of greater Chinese global activism, we are sensitive to the policy implications of Chinese celebrities' engagement on the cusp of the political and diplomatic spheres.

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