Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilNuméros26SpicilègesAtypical Wolf Warrior Strategy in...


Atypical Wolf Warrior Strategy in China’s Digital Public Diplomacy during the Pandemic

Zhao Alexandre Huang, Yuwen Zhang et Xifei Wang


La diplomatie du « loup combattant » est devenue la pratique représentative de la diplomatie publique chinoise pendant la pandémie de la COVID-19 pour sa défense des intérêts (géo-)politiques. Les acteurs de la diplomatie publique chinoise ont largement mobilisé les plateformes socio-médiatiques pour diffuser des rumeurs et des déclarations agressives dans leur lutte pour la promotion d’un nouvel ordre international propre à la Chine pendant et après l’ère pandémique. Bien que les études précédentes sur la diplomatie numérique du loup combattant couvrent la dimension à la fois internationale et domestique de la Chine vis-à-vis de ses divers publics, ces études ne sont pas focalisées sur un autre public particulier : celui de la diaspora chinoise. Ainsi, la présente recherche se concentre sur la manière dont la Chine a mobilisé sa plateforme domestique de médias sociaux WeChat pour mener une diplomatie de diaspora pendant la première période du confinement en France. Plus précisément, cette recherche vise à souligner comment les médias locaux pro-chinois ont mobilisé le compte d’abonnement de WeChat pour défendre les intérêts de Pékin tout en dévalorisant les politiques et les mesures sanitaires mises en œuvre par les pays hôtes.

Haut de page

Texte intégral


1Since the spring of 2020, the global health crisis surrounding COVID-19 has shifted international communication, prompting communication scholars and practitioners to pay more attention to the meaning of public diplomacy. Border closures, city lockdowns, and extraordinary social distancing measures have plunged the international economy into uncertainty. During this crisis, the only certainty has been the determination of governments to fight the SARS-CoV-2 virus and to locate development opportunities. They have used public diplomacy instruments, innovated global communication methods and strategies to reach new political outcomes, and strengthened their international reputations.

2Being the origin of the COVID-19 outbreak and concealing information related to the epidemic have severely damaged the international image of China (H. Chen et al., 2021). This reality made Beijing quickly aware of the need to gain control of international public opinion. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Beijing’s has directed its domestic and external propaganda activities toward the goal of “constructing Chinese discourse and Chinese narratives” on the international stage (Xi, 2021b, para. 4). For Xi Jinping (2021), the general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and creator of China’s current diplomatic philosophy, the construction of China’s “discourse power” is not only about “building an internationally influential media cluster and actively promoting Chinese culture going out” to “enhance the influence of international communication” (para. 3). The goal is also to use public diplomacy strategies that can “effectively carry out international public opinion guidance and public opinion struggles [to] strengthen [China’s] international public opinion orientation” (Xi, 2021b, para. 3).

3Wolf warrior diplomacy has become Beijing’s primary public diplomacy method for defending its core interests during the COVID-19 pandemic. The international media (cf. AFP, 2020; Westcott & Jiang, 2020) have described this approach as cruel, offensive, and aggressive communication. For Julienne and Hanck (2021), wolf warrior diplomacy includes the use of social media platforms to “spread rumors” (p. 106) to win over international public opinion. Beijing’s aim is “to place itself on equal footing with Western discursive power” (Julienne & Hanck, 2021, p. 111).

4Many political and communication scholars have examined Beijing’s wolf warrior diplomacy, including its definition and strategic application. From the perspective of institutionalization, Huang (2021) argued that the legitimacy of wolf warrior diplomacy depends on its inheritance of the “diplomatic doctrine of forbearance and patience” (p. 2) that Beijing has long pursued. Beijing has reconceptualized this doctrine as seizing opportunity after strategic forbearance and patience to “promote the establishment of a new international political and economic order” (Deng, 1994, p. 350). Moreover, Wu (2021) and Amar (2021) linked wolf warrior diplomacy to Chinese nationalism because Beijing’s institutional discourse has combined wolf warrior strategies with fierce nationalistic remarks and sentiments. Wolf warrior diplomacy maintains China’s image of fairness and justice on the international stage, underlining that “bending our knee” is not a “Chinese tradition” (Hua, 2020, para. 30). Third, scholars (cf. Jiang, 2021; Martin, n.d.; Shumba, 2021) have examined wolf warrior practices by analyzing the content of Chinese media and diplomats on international social media platforms (e.g., Twitter and Facebook). Some scholars (cf. Brugier, 2021; D. L. Yang, 2021; Yu, Rui, Jia, & Feng, 2020) have interpreted China’s ideological censorship and propaganda strategies during the pandemic by analyzing wolf warrior-themed posts on China’s domestic social media platform Weibo. Although previous findings about wolf warrior diplomacy highlight China’s intermestic strategies and audiences, scholars have not examined the Chinese diaspora.

5Therefore, we focused on how China used its domestic social media platform WeChat to conduct diaspora diplomacy during France’s first COVID-19 lockdown period to influence French and European Chinese-speaking populations. To this end, we observed and analyzed the content released by Nouvelles d’Europe, the largest Chinese publishing newspaper in France, to explore Beijing’s wolf warrior influence on France-based and Europe-based Chinese populations. The first part of this manuscript presents the definition and Chinese conceptualization of diaspora diplomacy within the framework of public diplomacy. The second part introduces the role of WeChat in Chinese diaspora diplomacy, along with our research questions and methods. Finally, by interpreting content released by Nouvelles d’Europe in WeChat, we examined how Beijing framed its influence on Chinese immigrants in France and Western Europe.

Public diplomacy and diaspora diplomacy

6Public diplomacy is a series of government-based international communication practices to steer the thinking of well-connected people and the decisions of networked organizations, and in fine, to influence the policies and the policy-making processes of foreign governments. Unlike traditional diplomacy, which establishes and maintains official intergovernmental relations and government-to-government negotiations, state actors engaging in public diplomacy attempt to build direct interaction channels with foreign publics and wield soft power through long-term and day-to-day political communication. In other words, governments subtly and continually increase political advantage by influencing foreign policy, exhibiting cultural attractions, and managing social dynamics (Nye, 2004).

7French political scientists (cf. Charillon, 2020; Tenzer, 2013) and communication scholars (cf. Alcantara & Peyre, 2021; Desmoulins & Rondot, 2018; Huang & Arifon, 2018; Rouet & Radut-Gaghi, 2018) used the term “influential diplomacy” (diplomatie d’influence) when discussing public diplomacy strategies. From this point of view, public diplomacy is a set of discourses and practices through which countries discreetly influence foreign public opinion on specific political issues to improve their image, reputation, and agenda-setting capacity on the international scene.

8Digitalization advanced the development of constructivist conceptualizations of public diplomacy (Huang & Hardy, 2019; Huang & Wang, 2021). Indeed, accelerating globalization and developing information and communication technology have made international communication content more accessible, interactive, and shareable on various social media platforms. The scope and frequency of global political communication have increased, and costs have gone down, enabling state actors to engage non-state actors and various publics to create and transform messages in a networked and coordinated environment (Golan, Manor, & Arceneaux, 2019). Thus, the term “digitalization of public diplomacy” refers to the role of connectivity and interactivity in meaning construction. Public diplomacy allows for “social construction” and “identity formation” in intercultural dialogue (D. Wu & Wang, 2018, p. 245) because the social construction and maintenance of power depend on the “discursive and symbolic construction of meaning” (Graham, 2014, p. 522). In other words, public diplomacy represents an institutional toolset of organizational communication, a series of well-organized communication actions initiated by an actor or agent in which norms, rules, and language play pivotal roles.

9As the significant result of international immigration, diaspora refers to an “ethnic community separated by state borders” (Dufoix, 2008, p. 30). In the public diplomacy arena, diaspora refers to independent actors who actively influence the foreign policies of the homeland and host country while defending “their identity-based interests, both directly through lobbying and indirectly by providing information to the institutional actors” (Shain & Barth, 2003, p. 462). If the aim of public diplomacy digitalization is to extend the coverage of a government’s international communication, then diaspora diplomacy and its digitalization should help a government affect, persuade, and enroll its diaspora as local agents and political communication relays in host countries. In this way, diasporas convey information to target societies (Dolea, 2021). For Brinkerhoff (2019), diasporas often play different roles in their respective communities due to linguistic and cultural connections. First, the home government regards them as target audiences for organized public diplomacy action in the host country. Second, the home government preferentially engages them in the process of deploying its influence in the host community. Third, they are potential executors and practitioners of public diplomacy, representing and defending the image and reputation of their homeland. This view aligns with the constructivist perspective of organizational communication: the actants and actors of the organization are hybrid agents who can tele-act and represent the organization (Cooren, 2006).

10Therefore, diasporas participating in the public diplomacy of their homeland play a hybrid role. They are not only agents representing homeland interests (i.e., agency role) but also defenders of homeland presence and development in the host country (i.e., instrumental role) (Brinkerhoff, 2019; DeWind & Segura, 2014). Moreover, the social roles of diasporas in their local communities (e.g., citizens, community members, employees, representatives) enable them to share common identities and cultural symbols with others. Doing so helps them influence local public opinion, target non-state actors, and collective attitudes through a long-term communication process that advances homeland diplomatic objectives (Ho & McConnell, 2019).

Beijing’s conceptualization of diaspora diplomacy and the wolf warrior strategy

11The Chinese government’s conceptualization of public diplomacy began in the 1980s when political scholar Zi (1988) analyzed the role of cultural elements and customs in a nation-state’s ideological propaganda in foreign countries. Until 2012, public diplomacy was part of the official doctrine of the CPC, emphasizing Beijing’s investment in strengthening external propaganda (Huang, 2019). According to CPC Official Yang Jiechi (2011b), public diplomacy with Chinese characteristics “must adhere to the leadership of the government” (para. 2). The goal is to use a variety of communication methods and skills to “introduce the country’s national conditions and policy concepts to the foreign public and introduce the country’s domestic situations and foreign policies to both international and domestic (intermestic) audiences” (Yang, 2011a, para. 2) in order to gain “the understanding, recognition, and support of the public at home and abroad while winning their hearts and minds” (Yang, 2011a, para. 9). Thus, Chinese politicians and scholars (cf. Zhao & Lei, 2015; Zhou, 2018) have considered public diplomacy the renewal and extension of the CPC’s external propaganda.

12Although the term “propaganda” contains a negative connotation in Western communication theory (e.g., Ollivier-Yaniv, 2010b, 2010a), in Chinese political, historical, and social contexts, propaganda (xuanchuan) is synonymous with public relations, public communication, political communication, and publicity (X. Chen, Hung-Baesecke, & Chen, 2019; Wang, 2008). Referring to the superiority of knowledge and scientific communication represented by the CPC, propaganda is fundamental to CPC ideology, representing a glorious stage of contemporary Chinese history characterized by “intellectuals’ pursuits of national independence and the awakening of the public, which are regarded as the result of modernization and, in turn, further promote modernization” (Lu, 2015, p. 329).

13For the CPC, the aim of propaganda is to censor and control public opinion and to establish an extensive united front. According to Mao Zedong’s realist conceptualization of “protracted-war” (1967, p. 109), a united front requires the use of large-scale propaganda mechanisms to “obtain the voluntary support of the target audience for the regime” (Mao, 1977, p. 460); that is, “unite all forces that can be united” (Mao, 1956, para. 1). This point of view is fundamental to CPC doctrine and has guided Beijing’s public diplomacy and diaspora communication.

14Xi Jinping’s diplomatic thoughts inherited Mao’s “spirit of struggle” (MFA of the PRC, 2020, para. 4) to echo the “long-term and complex nature of various unfavorable factors at home and abroad, and to properly prepare for various difficult situations” (Xi, quoted by Stevenson, 2019, para. 6). To this end, Xi Jinping (2021b) called for the strengthening of public diplomacy, led by the Party, to “tell China stories and show their ideological and spiritual power” (para. 4) in a comprehensive and three-dimensional manner. The goal was to promote and legitimize “China’s Proposition, China’s Wisdom, and China’s Plan” for global governance (Xi, 2021b, para. 4). Meanwhile, Xi considered the Chinese diaspora “an essential bridge between China and the world” (Xi, quoted by Zhang, 2021, para. 19) because “people’s minds are the greatest politics” (Xi, quoted by Y. Yang, 2021a, para. 4). The goal of public diplomacy involving the Chinese diaspora is to “build a bridge for exchange and cooperation between the host country and China in various fields while promoting a mutual understanding of the two sides” (Zhang, 2021, paras. 20–21).

15As a “magic weapon” for gaining power (Groot, 2021, p. 42), Beijing combined the united front with ideological propaganda to influence and change the thinking of target audiences in subtle ways over the long term. China’s current united front concept has an endogenous connection to its public diplomacy strategy: “relatively informal and soft tactics adopted to build friendship and its following, which include the work to educate, persuade, coopt, and integrate people” (Lam & Lam, 2013, p. 302).

16However, the united front is not an institutionalized alliance but a temporary and flexible cooperation between the CPC and its counterparts and target audiences (Groot, 2014). Therefore, Beijing has often used the pragmatic discourse of “making friends” or “doing business” (Mao, 1998, pp. 62–63) when describing united front activities. Cheng (2020) regarded the united front as a functional and pragmatic strategy for communication and cooperation because this loose organizational structure “can be readjusted according to shifts in the principal contradiction [Chinese political expression: zhuyao maodun, which means “main strategic objectives”] as new enemies and new situations arise” (p. 5). Furthermore, the united front and public diplomacy are different in terms of target audience. The united front strategy often entails spreading a nationalist sentiment to two types of audiences: (a) Chinese descendants with different political stances (e.g., Taiwanese and Hongkongese) and (b) members of the Chinese diaspora who are friendly with China (Armstrong, 1980).

17Based on previous findings, we regarded China’s diaspora diplomacy as a particular use of public diplomacy to establish a united front with the Chinese diaspora (e.g., Chinese descendants, Chinese citizens living, working, and studying in foreign countries). Diaspora diplomacy can cross cultural and language barriers, allowing actors to communicate with target audiences in the host country and allowing Beijing to expand its overseas “mass base to support its policies” (Y. Yang, 2021a, para. 1). From the perspective of China’s propaganda institutions, diaspora diplomacy aligns with the “strategy of enhancing international communication effectiveness” advocated by president Xi (2021b, para. 6): “using precise communication methods that are close to different regions, countries, and groups of audiences to promote the globalization of China stories and China voices. […] make friends, unite and win the majority; […] expand the international public opinion circle of friends of China; […] innovate the strategies and tactics of public opinion struggle” (para. 6).

WeChat as a promising platform for diaspora diplomacy

18As a one-stop social media application integrating mobile text, voice messaging, news release, social networking, and mobile payment, WeChat had more than a billion monthly active users globally in 2018 (Ma, 2018). In part because Beijing’s Internet censorship has blocked access to international social media platforms in mainland China (Arsène, 2016), WeChat has become an essential tool for Chinese people at home and abroad to interact and communicate. It is also Beijing’s primary platform for conducting diaspora diplomacy.

19The WeChat subscription account function became available in 2012, making this application a “news media platform” (Peng, 2017, p. 116). The WeChat subscription account is similar to the News Feed and Page functions of Facebook. However, WeChat features a push message model that Chinese official media use for information and news releases, editorial commentary, and commercial and advertising messages. Since 2016, WeChat has become the first mobile platform to follow the news in mainland China, reaching 74.6% of Chinese Internet users, according to China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) (CNNIC, 2017). According to CNNIC (2021), WeChat had the most active user rate and information penetration rate during China’s COVID-19 lockdown. Therefore, the WeChat subscription account is an essential channel for public and political communication led by the Chinese government.

20In this study, we examined how China used WeChat for diaspora diplomacy in France. To do so, we observed the WeChat subscription account of Nouvelles d’Europe, the largest Chinese publishing newspaper in France, to understand Beijing’s wolf warrior influence on France-based and Europe-based Chinese populations. Two research questions guided our analysis :

  • RQ1. How did Nouvelles d’Europe participate in China’s diaspora diplomacy in France and Europe?

  • RQ2. What narrative strategies did Nouvelles d’Europe to defend Beijing’s interests regarding the COVID-19 pandemic?


21To build the corpus for this study, we collected all content published by Nouvelles d’Europe on WeChat from January 23, 2020 to May 11, 2020. This period covers the first French diagnosed case of COVID-19 in Bordeaux on January 24 and the first lockdown in France (March 20–May 17). This time frame allowed us to understand the wolf warrior strategy used by Nouvelles d’Europe in diaspora diplomacy.

22As one of the largest Chinese-publishing presses in Europe, the Paris-based newspaper Nouvelles d’Europe began in 1983, covering various Western European countries (e.g., United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Spain). According to the Franco-Chinese exchange committee of the Paris Île-de-France Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry, this media outlet serves “local Chinese citizens, Chinese students living in Europe, and European readers, such as French citizens interested in Chinese culture, and closely follows China’s current affairs” (n.d., para. 2). In the official report of Nouvelles d’Europe (2021), this France-registered, Paris-based, Chinese-publishing media outlet is engaged in a long-term collaboration with China News Service, which is a public institution directly under the United Front Work Department of the CPC’s Central Committee. Meanwhile, other Chinese state-owned media, such as Xinhua News Agency, People’s Daily, and CGTN, as well as Chinese cultural centers and Chinese embassies in European countries, are also cooperative partners of Nouvelles d’Europe.

23Although Nouvelles d’Europe has various social media accounts (e.g., Facebook and Twitter), its primary digital communication occurs on WeChat, attracting over 1.12 million Chinese-speaking followers. Indeed, while the print edition readers of Nouvelles d’Europe exceed previous generations of the Chinese diaspora, its WeChat account additionally targets young Chinese people, especially new immigrants who are not yet able to read French news. In other words, through the daily push of electronic news reports, Nouvelles d’Europe has become an indispensable channel for many local Chinese people, updating them about current European affairs and Chinese news in their native language (Nouvelles d’Europe, 2021).

24Due to WeChat’s censorship system, we could not collect relevant subscription account data through the application programming interface (API). Therefore, inspired by previous research involving WeChat data collection (Zixuan Cheng, Zhang, Lu, & Guo, 2021), we used the WeChat subscription accounts search engine, Sogou Wechat Search, to collect the publication records of Nouvelles d’Europe. By typing the account name of Nouvelles d’Europe (i.e., @oushi1983) into Sogou Wechat Search, we were able to download all publications of this media outlet on WeChat. Then, we manually filtered by date, collecting 383 related publications.

25To analyze the data, we worked together to read and code each publication according to various categories of strategy and tactic. Our content analysis method combined emergent thematic coding (Huang & Hardy, 2019; Stemler, 2001) and grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 2009). Instead of relying on existing studies, we coded, classified, and reviewed 62 messages to determine the analytical categories, checking and improving the codebook during this process. Then each coder worked individually, coding 60 posts each to verify intercoder reliability. Krippendorff’s Alpha for the two variables were .97 (general strategy) and .84 (diaspora communication tactics). Finally, each coder coded 87 WeChat subscription account publications separately.


26After carefully reading and categorizing 383 Chinese-language news stories pushed by Nouvelles d’Europe, we found that the messages were primarily translations of local media content or excerpts and reprints of news released by China’s state-owned media. As a Chinese publishing media outlet in France, Nouvelles d’Europe rarely published original news produced by its own reporters. A small number of self-acquired news stories reported on the public affairs of the Chinese Embassy in France and interviews that its reporters had conducted with the ambassador.

27As Table 1 shows, Nouvelles d’Europe used four diplomatic communication strategies for the Chinese diaspora during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  1. Daily news reports (n= 149).

  2. Narratives promoting China’s image and policies (n= 77).

  3. Distorted local media reports devaluing the efforts of France and other European countries to fight the COVID-19 pandemic (n= 107).

  4. Negative information about foreign countries to highlight the superior leadership of the Chinese government in international affairs (n= 32).

Table 1. Diaspora diplomacy of Nouvelles d’Europe on WeChat.




Cumulative Percent

New report




Promoting China’s image and policies




Devaluing efforts of France and Europe




Highlighting superior leadership of China











28The release of daily news reports (n= 149) means that Nouvelles d’Europe used WeChat to mediate information, pushing messages to notify people about public and social affairs while reducing the political influence and strategic attributes of its communication (Broudoux, 2007). The other messages (n= 216) released by Nouvelles d’Europe on WeChat, especially reports related to the host government’s COVID-19 measures, added local news out of context, eliciting negative sentiment about local governments for persuasive purposes (Huang & Wang, 2021). Indeed, journalists from Nouvelles d’Europe frequently referenced in their narratives examples of China’s effective management in controlling its domestic COVID-19 pandemic, attempting to create a clear contrast with foreign countries and implying the charm and rationality of the Chinese system.

29To address RQ2, we conducted discourse analysis to re-categorize the messages pushed by Nouvelles d’Europe on WeChat and identified 11 operational tactics for communicating with the Chinese diaspora at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic (see Table 2). These communication tactics, combined with our analysis of the discourse released by Nouvelles d’Europe, revealed four types of influence used by Chinese journalists in France (see Table 1): (a) publish neutral information, (b) use positive emotion and empathy to engage local diaspora, (c) use humor and satire to belittle the anti-pandemic efforts of the host country, and (d) apply a comparative narrative strategy to highlight the superior efforts of China.

Table 2. Communication tactics of Nouvelles d’Europe on WeChat.





Cumulative Percent


News report

Translate and publish news reports from mainstream European media





Promoting China’s image and policies

Diffuse positive reports about the lives of the Chinese diaspora during the COV1D-19 pandemic to encourage Chinese compatriots





Quote favorable Western voices (authoritative opinions and news reporting) to defend Beijing’s health crisis management




Devaluing efforts of France and Europe

Use one-sided transcription and translation of news reports from French media to satirize France’s pandemic management and amplify the inaction of the French government in managing the health crisis





Publish negative or subjective comments about the French government’s steps to fight the pandemic




Cite expert opinions to criticize the pandemic management of France and Europe




Report local opinions of the Chinese diaspora about social life and pandemic measures in the host country




Use one-sided transcription and translation of news reports from other European countries’ media to show the disorder of local life during the pandemic




Highlighting superior leadership of China

Arrange negative information related to Europe’s measures of the health crisis and China’s favorable efforts in the same news stories to create a contrast to praise Beijing and its contributions to the fight against the pandemic





Publish “Stop-Asian-Hate” discourse and show the self-defense of the Chinese people against local discrimination














Publish neutral information

30Nouvelles d’Europe often produced short newsletters or text messages to update COVID-19 pandemic data for its subscribers (see Figure 1). This information came from authoritative institutions such as the Ministère des Affaires étrangères and the Ministère des Affaires sociales et de la Santé of France. Furthermore, reporters from Nouvelles d’Europe also translated content published by French and European media that involved “public communication for general interest” (Bessières & Huang, 2021, p. 201) into Chinese. Such info-mediation practices covered local official information released by authorities, keeping target audiences (i.e., framing) in host countries informed (Broudoux, 2007; Iyengar & Simon, 1993).

Figure 1. Example of publishing neutral information.

Figure 1. Example of publishing neutral information.

Use positive emotion and empathy to engage local diaspora

31As a France-registered Chinese-publishing media outlet cooperating with the media group headed by the United Front Work Department of the CPC, Nouvelles d’Europe also released a large number of WeChat narratives to show local Chinese people the extent of China’s development, the friendship of their compatriots at home and abroad, and the effectiveness and superiority of the socialist system in times of crisis. These narratives, full of nationalistic emotions, echo Xi Jinping’s instructions for public diplomacy during the pandemic: to show Beijing’s efforts in this “People’s War” for health prevention (Xi, 2020, title) and to demonstrate the CPC’s responsible protection of Chinese citizens. By illustrating the happy and orderly lives of Chinese people in France and Europe during the pandemic and their blessings to their homeland compatriots, Nouvelles d’Europe delivered a kind of “positive energy with Chinese characteristics” to local Chinese communities (Pengpai, 2020, para. 8). The Chinese ideological term “positive energy” refers to nationalist sentiments and socialist values that promote healthy, inspiring, and hopeful ideas in people’s lives, thereby spreading positive emotions (Huang & Wang, 2020). Due to their constructivist role (cf. Alloing, Yates, & Cordelier, 2021), which contributes to “organizing the experience of creating and shaping cultural meaning” (Huang & Wang, 2019, p. 72), positive emotions can define the tonality and attractiveness of a framed topic in public diplomacy (Cheng, Golan, & Kiousis, 2016), helping deploy “persuasive power” (Graham, 2014, p. 524).

32As Figure 2 shows, in a message on April 11, 2020, Nouvelles d’Europe released a video clip in which 17 France-based Chinese influencers expressed their love for China and called for solidarity with France and the world. The topic was “all Chinese in France join hands to encourage each other in fighting the pandemic so that the motherland can rest assured.” As a joint digital communication on Chinese domestic social media, this themed activity invited the Chinese diaspora (especially in Italy, Japan, and Australia) to express their love for China and their solidarity in facing the COVID-19 crisis. The aim was to transfer “positive energies” online to show unity and hope as part of China’s national spirit. In this video clip, all interviewees repeatedly expressed, “Good luck, China! Good luck, France! Good luck to the world!” Combined with soft background music, these repeated expressions had a cumulative effect in eliciting sympathy.

Figure 2. Example of diffusing “positive energy”.

Figure 2. Example of diffusing “positive energy”.

Use humor and satire to belittle the anti-pandemic efforts of the host country

33When reporting on efforts and measures to fight COVID-19 in France and Europe, Nouvelles d’Europe abandoned the principle of neutrality and objectivity. Instead, reporters quoted the content of its European counterparts one-sidedly, distorting and emotionally exaggerating it to satirize the confusion and inefficacy of European governments in managing the pandemic. To mobilize target audiences in the public diplomacy process, strategic humor and satire in narratives help influence audience perception, understanding, and cognition of communicated events (Chong & Druckman, 2007). Actors can use rhetorical, emotional, and cognitive influence to frame foreign policy issues in the target society. For Chernovrov (2021), strategic humor and satire not only provide “a simplified interpretation of events that appeals to wide audiences and media conceptions of newsworthiness” (p. 6) but also form perception and memory. In other words, the tactics of Nouvelles d’Europe helped Beijing convey profound political messages and initiatives that implied ideological confrontation informally, excitingly, and amusingly (Shilikhina, 2013). The aim was to tell distorted and one-sided stories to downgrade the legitimacy of the COVID-19 pandemic measures and solutions offered by European governments. Reporters pushed news stories “stripped of inessential detail, structuring its decisive point around the incongruity between the real and unreal, the expected and the realized” (Chernovrov, 2021, p. 6), encouraging Chinese people to identify with Beijing’s point of view.

34In an information push released on April 9, 2020, by zooming in on Macron’s face (see Figure 3), Nouvelles d’Europe journalists reinterpreted the scene with jokes and entertaining words: “Macron makes a gesture to bow and scrape before the public.” In the Chinese cultural context, such a gesture represents deference and implies the need for help. That is to say, by adding such words to Macron’s pictures, journalists distorted Macron’s intentions in this BFM TV coverage. They also implied the powerlessness of Macron in front of the French people, hinting at his helplessness and incompetence in managing the crisis. In a post released on April 9, 2020, Nouvelles d’Europe reported a disorderly scene of French people entering the supermarket without respecting social distancing measures. The journalists used an optimistic Chinese proverb to describe the scene ironically: “The splendor of the occasion surpassed anything heretofore seen.”

Figure 3. Example of strategic humor and satire.

Figure 3. Example of strategic humor and satire.

Apply a comparative narrative strategy to highlight the superior efforts of China

35The last narrative tactic used by Nouvelles d’Europe in diaspora diplomacy was to amplify the inaction and ineffectiveness of the host country in their health crisis management to highlight the effectiveness of the Chinese approach. In the 32 news stories we analyzed, Chinese reporters adopted this tactic to create China-Foreign comparisons in narratives about COVID-19 prevention and measures. This tactic aligns with the new objective of external propaganda emphasized by Xi Jinping (2021): diffusing narratives to legitimize and publicize “China’s propositions, China’s wisdom, and China’s solutions” in international affairs (para. 5).

Figure 4. Example of praising China by trashing others.

Figure 4. Example of praising China by trashing others.

36As shown in Figure 4, in a commentary entitled “If French people build the Huoshenshan Hospital,” a Nouvelles d’Europe journalist analyzed the possibility of French engineers building a hospital in ten days. Despite pointing out that France had sufficient technology for the construction, the author suggested that general poor time management and complicated bureaucratic procedures would prevent progress. The author also criticized the lack of labor and high labor costs in France. In conclusion, the journalist quipped, “The French should never try to break the Chinese record.” This commentary promoted China’s rapid construction of a hospital in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in Wuhan. By belittling France’s backward management system, the pro-China reporter praised the superiority of China’s socialist system and the rationality and efficiency of China’s politics and methods to control the spread of the virus. Such viewpoints permitted the target audience to exaggerate a sense of national pride.


37In the current study, we examined a concept long ignored among Chinese public diplomacy scholars: digital diaspora diplomacy. In the context of China’s large-scale mobilization of wolf warrior diplomacy, our findings offer public diplomacy and political communication scholars a more comprehensive understanding of China’s particular methods and strategies for international communication.

38Indeed, the use of WeChat subscription accounts for targeted diaspora diplomacy is a subtle practice. Due to language barriers and technical differences, unlike Facebook and Twitter, WeChat subscription accounts are not accessible to all audiences. In addition, user relationships on WeChat are typically “strong” (Peng, 2017, p. 121) because they are based on genuine interpersonal relationships (e.g., classmates, friends, and family members). Such vital relationship attributes enable users who know each other to form virtual communities, provide mutual emotional support, nurture friendships, develop a sense of belonging (Nie, Fu, & Chen, 2013, p. 72), and strengthen the privacy of communication between users. These characteristics have allowed China’s public diplomacy actors to carry out long-term, subtle, continual, targeted information pushing and user interaction, thereby influencing the thinking framework and behaviors of target audiences.

39According to our findings, China’s digital diaspora diplomacy features a more radical wolf warrior strategy to attract audience attention. Compared with the conventional methods of Chinese diplomats and state-owned media on Twitter and Facebook (cf. Brugier, 2021; Huang, 2021; Julienne & Hanck, 2021), this wolf warrior strategy during the COVID-19 pandemic has two significant characteristics. First, using the Chinese language, pro-China media outlets unilaterally quoted information from their foreign counterparts to create narratives. They also took out of context the speeches of foreign politicians and measures taken by the local government to manage the COVID-19 crisis. The purpose was to show the incompetence of foreign governments while highlighting Beijing’s orderly pandemic management. In other words, the aim of this digital diaspora diplomacy strategy was to frame a nationalist sentiment among the Chinese diaspora and to stimulate the national pride of target audiences through mass dissemination of positive news about China and negative coverage of Western countries. Second, due to their use of Chinese for daily communication, journalists who were pro-China no longer had to evade deontological restrictions. Rather, they integrated Chinese slang and popular social media expressions to make their political narratives more entertaining. This kind of “politainment” information (Nieland, 2008, p. 1) is much less common, if appearing at all, in other Chinese public diplomacy channels.

40Based on the results of this exploratory study, we will continue to examine China’s digital diaspora diplomacy conducted by pro-Chinese media overseas, especially their rhetorical devices and “politainment” with Chinese characteristics. Doing so will help public diplomacy and political communication scholars understand the various aspects and methods of China’s wolf warrior diplomacy in the post-COVID-19 period.

Haut de page


AFP. (2020, May 26). Diplomatie chinoise : Pékin sauveur ou loup combattant. Retrieved from

Alcantara, C. & Peyre, N. (2021). Instagram, un soutien contrasté à la mondialisation des marques muséales et à la diplomatie d’influence. Les cas du Louvre et du Centre Pompidou. Les Enjeux de l’information et de la communication, 3A(22), 89–106.

Alloing, C., Yates, S., & Cordelier, B. (2021). Influence et organisations : Cultures, pratiques et mises en perspectives. Retrieved from

Amar, p. (2021). Insurgent African Intimacies in Pandemic Times: Deimperial Queer Logics of China’s New Global Family in Wolf Warrior 2. Feminist Studies, 47(2), 419–448.

Armstrong, J. D. (1980). Revolutionary Diplomacy: Chinese Foreign Policy and the United Front Doctrine. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Arsène, S. (2016). Global Internet Governance in Chinese Academic Literature: Rebalancing a Hegemonic World Order? China Perspectives, (2), 25–35.

Bessières, D., & Huang, Z. A. (2021). La communication publique et d’intérêt général. In C. Guillot & S. Benmoyal (Eds.), Les fondamentaux de la communication : Pratiques et métiers en évolution (pp. 201–220). Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgique: De Boeck.

Brinkerhoff, J. M. (2019). Diasporas and Public Diplomacy: Distinctions and Future Prospects. The Hague Journal of Diplomacy, 14(1–2), 51–64.

Broudoux, E. (2007). Construction de l’autorité informationnelle sur le web.

Brugier, C. (2021). La diplomatie des « loups guerriers  » ou la nouvelle politique de légitimation du Parti communiste chinois. Note de Recherche - IRSEM, (114), 1–14.

Charillon, F. (2020). Public diplomacy à la française. In N. Snow & N. J. Cull (Eds.), Routledge handbook of public diplomacy (pp. 264–272). New York, NY: Routledge.

Chen, H., Zhu, Z., Qi, F., Ye, Y., Liu, Z., Sun, M. & Jin, J. (2021). Country Image in COVID-19 Pandemic: A Case Study of China. IEEE Transactions on Big Data, 7(1), 81–92.

Chen, X., Hung-Baesecke, C.-J. F. & Chen, Y.-R. R. (2019). Constructing positive public relations in China: Integrating public relations dimensions, dialogic theory of public relations and the Chinese philosophical thinking of Yin and Yang. Public Relations Review.

Cheng, E. W. (2020). United Front Work and Mechanisms of Countermobilization in Hong Kong. The China Journal, 83, 1–33.

Cheng, Zhuqing, Golan, G. J. & Kiousis, S. (2016). The second-level agenda-building function of the Xinhua news agency: Examining the role of government-sponsored news in mediated public diplomacy. Journalism Practice, 10(6), 744–762.

Cheng, Zixuan, Zhang, X., Lu, H. & Guo, S. (2021). Knowledge aggregation of the WeChat Official Accounts Platform based on tag clustering. Journal of Ambient Intelligence and Humanized Computing.

Chernobrov, D. (2021). Strategic humour: Public diplomacy and comic framing of foreign policy issues. The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 136914812110239.

Chong, D. & Druckman, J. N. (2007). A Theory of Framing and Opinion Formation in Competitive Elite Environments. Journal of Communication, 57(1), 99–118.

CNNIC. (2017). Behavior Research Report of Chinese social application users in 2016. Beijing, China: China Internet Network Information Center.

CNNIC. (2021). The 47th China Statistical Report on Internet Development. Beijing, China : China Internet Network Information Center.

Comité d’échanges franco-chinois. (n.d.). Nouvelles d’Europe. Retrieved from

Cooren, F. (2006). The Organizational World as a Plenum of Agencies. In F. Cooren, J. R. Taylor, & J. V. Every (Eds.), Communicating as Organizing (pp. 81–100). Mahwah, NJ: L. Erlbaum.

Deng, X. (1994). Textes choisis, Deng Xiaoping. Tome 3. Pékin, Chine : Editions en langues étrangères.

Desmoulins, L. & Rondot, C. (2018). Inscrire la diplomatique intellectuelle dans une capacité d’agir : L’Unesco et l’argument des think tanks. Hermes, La Revue, no 81(2), 158–165.

DeWind, J. & Segura, R. (2014). Diaspora-Government Relations in Forging US Foreign Policies. In J. DeWind & R. Segura (Eds.), Diaspora Lobbies and the US Government (pp. 3–28). New York, NY : NYU Press.

Dolea, A. (2021). Transnational diaspora diplomacy, emotions and COVID-19: The Romanian diaspora in the UK. Place Branding and Public Diplomacy.

Dufoix, S. (2008). Diasporas. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Glaser, B. G. & Strauss, A. L. (2009). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research (4. paperback printing). New Brunswick, Canada: Aldine.

Golan, G. J., Manor, I. & Arceneaux, P. (2019). Mediated Public Diplomacy Redefined: Foreign Stakeholder Engagement via Paid, Earned, Shared, and Owned Media. American Behavioral Scientist, 63(12), 1665–1683.

Graham, S. E. (2014). Emotion and Public Diplomacy: Dispositions in International Communications, Dialogue, and Persuasion. International Studies Review, 16(4), 522–539.

Groot, G. (2014). The United Front in an Age of Shared Destiny. Retrieved from

Groot, G. (2021). The CCP’s united front work department: Roles and influence at home and abroad. In C. Shei & W. Wei (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Chinese Studies (1st ed., pp. 41–55). London, UK: Routledge.

Ho, E. L. E. & McConnell, F. (2019). Conceptualizing ‘diaspora diplomacy’: Territory and populations betwixt the domestic and foreign. Progress in Human Geography, 43(2), 235–255.

Huang, Z A. (2019). Étudier le chinois et fêter le Chun Jie à Nairobi : Les Instituts Confucius au service de la diplomatie publique et du soft power chinois. Communiquer. Revue de communication sociale et publique, (25), 39–59.

Huang, Z. A. (2021). “Wolf Warrior” and China’s digital public diplomacy during the COVID-19 crisis. Place Branding and Public Diplomacy.

Huang, Z. A. & Arifon, O. (2018). La diplomatie publique chinoise sur Twitter : La fabrique d’une polyphonie harmonieuse. Hermès, La Revue, (81), 45–53.

Huang, Z. A. & Hardy, M. (2019). #Guanxi @ChineAfrique : La mobilisation des relations interpersonnelles dans la diplomatie publique chinoise à l’heure de numérique. MEI.Médiation et Information, (48), 75–86.

Huang, Z. A. & Wang, R. (2019). The New ‘Cat’of the Internet: China’s Panda Diplomacy on Twitter. In Big ideas in public relations research and practice. Bingley, UK: Emerald Publishing Limited.

Huang, Z. A. & Wang, R. (2020). ‘Panda engagement’ in China’s digital public diplomacy. Asian Journal of Communication, 30(2), 118–140.

Huang, Z. A. & Wang, R. (2021). Exploring China’s Digitalization of Public Diplomacy on Weibo and Twitter: A Case Study of the U.S.-China Trade War. International Journal of Communication, 15(2021), 1912–1939.

Iyengar, S. & Simon, A. (1993). News coverage of the Gulf crisis and public opinion: A study of agenda-setting, priming, and framing. Communication Research, 20(3), 365–383.

Jiang, Y. (2021). The Rise and Fall of the Wolf Warriors. In J. Golley, L. Jaivin, & S. Strange (Eds.), Crisis (1st ed.). ANU Press.

Julienne, M. & Hanck, S. (2021). Diplomatie chinoise : De l’« esprit combattant » au « loup guerrier » : Politique étrangère, Printemps(1), 103–118.

Lam, W. & Lam, K. (2013). China’s United Front Work in Civil Society: The Case of Hong Kong. Undefined. Retrieved from

Lu, J. (2015). Xuanchuan: Guannian Huayu Jiqi Zhengdanghua [Propaganda: Concept, discourse and its legitimation], by Hailong Liu. Chinese Journal of Communication, 8(3), 326–331.

Ma, H. (2018, March 5). During the 2018 Spring Festival, the number of WeChat’s global monthly active users exceeded 1 billion. Retrieved from

Mao, Tsé-Toung. (1977). Intervention à la Conférence nationale du Parti Communiste Chinois sur le travail de propagande. In Oeuvres Chinoisies de Mao Tsé-Toung Tome V (pp. 462–473). Beijing, Chine : Éditions en Langues Étrangr̀es.

Mao, Tse-Tung. (1956, April 29). Yao tuanjie yiqie keyi tuanjie de liliang [To unite with all forces that can be united]. Retrieved from

Mao, Tsé-Toung. (1967). Œuvres choisies de Mao Tsé-Toung tome I. Beijing, Chine : Éditions en Langues Etrangères.

Mao, Z. (1998). Systematically and Completely Destroy Imperialist Domination in China. In Mao Zedong on Diplomacy (pp. 62–63). Beijing, China: Foreign Language Press.

Martin, P. (n.d.). Understanding Chinese “Wolf Warrior Diplomacy.” Retrieved from

Nie, L., Fu, C. & Chen, D. (2013). WeChat Moments: A virtual community from the point of view of social networks. Shanghai Journalisme Review, 5, 71–75.

Nieland, J.-U. (2008). Politainment. In The International Encyclopedia of Communication.

Nouvelles d’Europe. (2021, April 12). Nouvelles d’Europe—Presentation. Retrieved from

Nye, J. S. (2004). Soft power: The means to success in world politics (1st ed). New York, NY : Public Affairs.

Ollivier-Yaniv, C. (2010a). De l’opposition entre “propagande” et “communication publique” à la définition de la politique du discours : Proposition d’une catégorie analytique. Quaderni. Communication, Technologies, Pouvoir, (72), 87–99.

Ollivier-Yaniv, C. (2010b). Discours politiques, propagande, communication, manipulation. Mots, (94), 31–37.

Peng, L. (2017). Wangluo chuanbo gailun (Introduction to network communication). Beijing, China : China Renmin University Press.

Pengpai. (2020, March 3). Yiqing chui shaoren Li Wenliang: Yingxiong, qing yilu zouhao (Epidemic “whistleblower” Li Wenliang: Hero, please go all the way). Retrieved from

Rouet, G. & Radut-Gaghi, L. (Eds.). (2018). Hermès, La Revue : De la communication en diplomatie. Paris, France : CNRS Éditions.

Shain, Y. & Barth, A. (2003). Diasporas and International Relations Theory. International Organization, 57(3), 449–479.

Shilikhina, K. (2013). Canned jokes in Russian public political discourse. The European Journal of Humour Research, 1(2), 84–100.

Shumba, E. (2021). An investigation into ‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomacy in Africa via Twitter and Facebook at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. South African Journal of International Affairs, 28(3), 471–483.

Stemler, S. (2001). An overview of content analysis. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 7(17).

Stevenson A. (2019, May 23). Xi Jinping Warns of New ‘Long March’ as Trade War Intensifies. Retrieved from

Tenzer, N. (2013). La diplomatie d’influence sert-elle à quelque chose  ? Revue internationale et stratégique, no 89(1), 77–82.

The MFA of the PRC. (2020, February 5). Wang Yi wei wen wai jiao bu fu wu han gong zuo zu [Wang Yi condolences the working group of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Wuhan]. Retrieved from

Wang, Y. (2008). Public diplomacy and the rise of Chinese soft power. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 616(1), 257–273.

Westcott, B., & Jiang, S. (2020, May 29). China is embracing a new brand of wolf warrior diplomacy. Retrieved from

Wu, D. C. (2021). China’sWolf WarriorDiplomacy: How Chinese Nationalism Is Changing. Tamkang Journal of International Affairs, 25(1), 253–286.

Wu, D. & Wang, J. J. (2018). Country Image in Public Diplomacy: From Messages to Relationships. In D. Ingenhoff, C. White, A. Buhmann, & S. Kiousis (Eds.), Bridging Disciplinary Perspectives of Country Image Reputation, Brand, and Identity (pp. 244–262). New York, NY : Routledge.

Xi, J. (2020, February 11). Xi Jinping zai Beijing shi diaoyan zhidao xinxing guanzhuang bingdu yiqingfangkong gongzuo shi qiangdiao, yi geng jianding de xinxi geng wanqiang de yizhi geng guoduan de cuoshi, jianjue daying yiqing fangkong de renmin zhanzheng zongjizhan jujizhan [When conducting research and guidance on the prevention and control of the Covid-19 epidemic in Beijing, Xi Jinping emphasized that with stronger confidence, more tenacious will, and more decisive measures, resolutely win the overall prevention and control of the people’s war against the epidemic]. People’s Daily, p. 1.

Xi, J. (2021b, June 1). Xi Jinping zai zhonggong zhongyang zhengzhiju di sanshici jiti xuexi shi qiangdiao, jiaqiang he gaijin guoji chuanbo gongzuo, zhanshi zhenshi liti quanmian de zhongguo [During the 30th collective study session of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, Xi Jinping emphasized strengthening and improving international communication work, showing a real, three-dimensional and comprehensive China]. Retrieved from

Yang, D. L. (2021). The COVID-19 Pandemic and the Estrangement of US-China Relations. Asian Perspective, 45(1), 7–31.

Yang, J. (2011a). nuli kaichuang zhongguo tese gonggong waijiao xinjumian [Strive to Open up a New Situation of Public Diplomacy with Chinese Characteristics]. Qiu Shi Theory, (4). Retrieved from

Yang, J. (2011b, July 1). China’s Public Diplomacy. Retrieved from

Yang, Y. (2021a, April 29). Zai xinshidai datongzhan gongzuo geju zhong zhangxian fabao zuoyong [Demonstrate a magic weapon in the work pattern of the new era united front]. Retrieved from

Yu, D., Rui, L., Jia, Y. & Feng, Y. (2020). Decreasing Chinese Cultural Competence Level During COVID-19 and Ways to Better the Situation: Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Literature, Art and Human Development (ICLAHD 2020). Presented at the proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Literature, Art and Human Development (ICLAHD 2020), Xiamen, China.

Zhang, C. (2021). An Analysis of the Practice and Theoretical Origins of General Secretary Xi Jinping’s Important Statements on Overseas Chinese Affairs. Retrieved from

Zhao, Q. & Lei, W. (Eds.). (2015). Blue Book of Public Diplomacy—Annual Report of China’s Public Diplomacy Development (2015). Beijing, China: Social sciences academic press (China).

Zhou, Q. (2018). Beyond Visible Border: Public diplomacy in global communication (Chaoyue Youxing Jiangjie: Quanqiu chuanbozhongde gonggongwaijiao). Beijing, China : Communication University of China press.

Zi, Z. (1988). Lüe lun mei guo zhan hou wai jiao de ruo gan te dian (Some Characteristics of Post-war U.S. Diplomacy). mei guo yan jiu (American Studies), (1), 3–15.

Haut de page

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Example of publishing neutral information.
Fichier image/jpeg, 228k
Titre Figure 2. Example of diffusing “positive energy”.
Fichier image/jpeg, 148k
Titre Figure 3. Example of strategic humor and satire.
Fichier image/jpeg, 167k
Titre Figure 4. Example of praising China by trashing others.
Fichier image/jpeg, 296k
Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Zhao Alexandre Huang, Yuwen Zhang et Xifei Wang, « Atypical Wolf Warrior Strategy in China’s Digital Public Diplomacy during the Pandemic »Revue française des sciences de l’information et de la communication [En ligne], 26 | 2023, mis en ligne le 01 mai 2023, consulté le 01 juin 2023. URL : ; DOI :

Haut de page


Zhao Alexandre Huang

Dr. Zhao Alexandre Huang is an Associate Professor of Communication at the Université Paris Nanterre. He works at the DICEN-IDF laboratory. He studies institutional practices, political and public communication strategies, and the formation of strategic narratives in the practice of public diplomacy. His research interests include public diplomacy, strategic communication, public relations, social media, and China’s propaganda and international communication. Mail: ORCID: 0000-0002-1284-0862.

Articles du même auteur

Yuwen Zhang

Dr. Yuwen Zhang is researcher at the CRIPIC laboratory of Sorbonne Université. Her research interests include media transformation, social media, the economy of the Internet and the QR code. Mail:

Xifei Wang

Dr. Xifei Wang is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Communication at the Université de Lorraine. She is part of the CREM (Centre de Recherche sur les Médiations) laboratory and an associated member of the CARISM (Centre d’analyse et de recherche interdisciplinaire sur les médias) laboratory of the Université Paris 2 Panthéon-Assas. Her research interests include public media spaces, social media, media convergence, the internationalization of media and intercultural communication. Mail:

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur


Creative Commons - Attribution - Pas d’Utilisation Commerciale - Partage dans les Mêmes Conditions 4.0 International - CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Haut de page
  • Logo SFSIC
  • Logo ICA
  • DOAJ - Directory of Open Access Journals
  • OpenEdition Journals
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search