The Center for Strategic Translation provides statesmen and scholars with the tools needed to interpret the Chinese party-state of today while training a new generation of China specialists with the skills needed to guide our relations with the China of tomorrow.

The Center meets this need through initiatives in translation and education. The Center locates, translates, and annotates documents of historic or strategic value that are currently only available in Chinese. Our introductory essays, glossaries, and commentaries are designed to make these materials accessible and understandable to statesmen and scholars with no special expertise in Chinese politics or the Chinese language.

Complementing the Center’s published translations are the Center’s training seminars. Starting in the summer of 2023 the Center will host a series of seminars to instruct young journalists, graduate students, and government analysts in the open-source analysis of Communist Party policy, introduce them to the distinctive lexicon and history of Party speak, and train them how to draw credible conclusions from conflicting or propagandistic documentary sources.
The Center is an initiative of the American Governance Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that studies and promotes the betterment of American public institutions and publishes the quarterly magazine Palladium. The Center is directed by Tanner Greer, a noted essayist, journalist, and researcher with expertise interpreting China in the context of American foreign policy.


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Discursive Power

Those who wield discursive power possess the ability to shape, select, or amplify the ideas, frames, and sources of authority that guide political decision making. The concept was developed in response to the puzzlement and frustration many Chinese nationalists felt as their country’s mounting material power failed to translate into commensurate influence over global affairs. They concluded that China’s dazzling economic growth and rising military might was insufficient to change the structure of the international order because the norms that govern interstate relations are downstream of cultural values China had little influence over. The West’s intellectual hegemony allows it to embed its value set and viewpoint in the structure of international politics. This is a form of power: discursive power.

Often translated as “discourse power,” more rarely as “the right to speak,” and sometimes simply as “say” or “voice,” the neologism rose to prominence in Chinese academic writing in the mid-aughts and was subsequently elevated into the Party lexicon in the 2010s. The various alternative translations of the term reflect an ambiguity present in the original Chinese. Huàyǔquán [话语权] is a compound word that combines huàyǔ [话语], the Chinese word for “speech,” “language,” or “discourse,” with the more ambiguous quán [权], whose meaning shifts between “authority,” “rights,” or “power” depending on the context in which it is used. “Right to speak” is therefore a reasonable translation of huàyǔquán [话语权], for the right to speak about the Party’s accomplishments through a “Chinese” frame is precisely what party leaders believe the hegemonic culture of the West denies them. However, neither dictionary listings for the word nor academic discussion of its role in international affairs emphasize freedoms or entitlements. Their focus is on influence and control. They suggest that control of the world rests with those who control the words that the world is using.

This is not an entirely new concept in Party thought. Following in Marx and Lenin’s footsteps, Mao rejected the notion of a neutral public sphere where policy can be hashed out in a process of rational deliberation. He was insistent that the world of ideas was in fact a central domain in the struggle for power, and that no idea could be divorced from the class interest or political program of those who proposed it. Chinese discussions of Western discursive power take a similar approach, treating concepts like “human rights,” “universal values,” and other guiding liberal ideals not as genuine moral or intellectual commitments but as tools of power used to legitimize American hegemony and weaken America’s enemies. Here the Soviet Union’s sad fate serves as a warning: failure to challenge the discursive power of the hegemon abroad can lead to the collapse of discursive power at home. Thus discursive power does not just influence China’s international standing, but also the political security of its ruling regime.

Chinese leaders have found no easy solutions to the problems posed by the West’s discursive dominance.  Censorship at home and interference operations abroad allow the Party to stifle some ideas that might otherwise find their way into discourse. However, the Party leadership recognizes the limits to this negative approach. In their view, if China wishes to successfully reshape the operating norms of the international system, then China must articulate a positive vision of the world it wants to build; if China desires renown and acclaim on the international stage, then it must articulate a value set less hostile to Chinese success than the human rights paradigm now normative across the globe. Xi Jinping has thus directed Chinese academics to develop “new concepts, new categories, and a new language that international society can easily understand and accept so as to guide the direction of research and debate in the international academic community” (Xi 2016). Cadres and diplomats are charged with a simpler mission: “tell China’s story well” [讲好中国故事]. As Xi recently put it, to secure China's NATIONAL REJUVENATION the Party must:

Collect and refine the defining symbols and best elements of Chinese culture and showcase them to the world. Accelerate the development of China’s discourse and narrative systems, tell China’s story well, make China’s voice heard, and present a China that is worthy of trust, adoration, and respect. Strengthen our international communications capabilities, make our communications more effective, and strive to strengthen China’s discursive power in international affairs so that it is commensurate with our composite national strength and international status (Xi 2022).



China Media Project. 2021. “Telling China’s Story Well.” The CMP Dictionary; Friedman, Toni. 2022. “Lexicon: ‘Discourse Power’ or the‘Right to Speak’ [话语权] Huàyǔ Quán.” DigiChina; Rolland, Nadège. 2020. “China’s Vision for a New World Order.”NBR Special Report, The National Bureau of Asian Research; Thimbaut, Kenton. 2022. “Chinese Discourse Power: Ambitions and Reality in the Digital Domain,” Atlantic Council and DFR Joint Report; Xi Jinping. 2016. “Speech at the Symposium on Philosophy and Social Sciences.” Xinhua; Xi Jinping. 2022. “Political Report to 20th Congress.” Xinhua.

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