Restyling propaganda: popularized party press and the making of soft propaganda in China

Sheng Zou*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Propaganda has been increasingly digitized, popularized, and aestheticized globally. This article focuses on the restyling of propaganda in China, particularly the role of Chinese state-run media in the making of soft propaganda – propagandistic content packaged in sleek and entertaining formats. Building upon Bourdieu’s field theory, this article illuminates Chinese state-run media’s capacity to refract external pressures, such as digitization, to enhance their status and the resilience of the political regime. It reveals their brokering role in a heterogeneous ‘thought work’ network, comprised of state-affiliated units and private actors, where different forms of capital are exchanged. Drawing on in-depth interviews with online news staff in three central-level state-run outlets in China, my analysis challenges the discourse of digital technologies as inherently liberating forces and accentuates their multivocality, namely the flexible ways in which technological innovation is interpreted and practiced in concrete institutional contexts, serving pre-existing priorities and interests. It shows how innovation can function as a legitimation device serving organizations’ and individuals’ quests for political and symbolic capital within bureaucratic systems.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInformation Communication and Society
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Jun 2021
Externally publishedYes

User-Defined Keywords

  • Propaganda
  • China
  • state-run media
  • field theory
  • web metrics
  • digital innovation


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