Basketball star Yao Ming, movie director John Woo and piano prodigy Lang Lang are among dozens of celebrities who will appear in television commercials later this year in a bid by China to boost its image abroad.
Experts say Chinese leaders have been unhappy over international coverage of sensitive aspects of the country, such as human rights and Beijing's control of Tibet. The government has accused international media organizations of being biased and focusing on negative news.
China has started making the commercials along with a short film using 50 celebrities, including astronaut Yang Liwei and Olympic gold medalist diver Guo Jingjing, state broadcaster CCTV reported this week.
The stars will promote China's economic, cultural, sports and other achievements in 30-second television commercials, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
The State Council, China's Cabinet, said the ads will promote an image of prosperity, democracy, openness, peace and harmony. Filming is to be completed by October and the ads will air on international networks such as CNN, Xinhua said. No dates were given for when they will be broadcast.
The ads reflect Chinese leaders' desire to change negative perceptions of the government, which is often seen as secretive and closed, as the country's presence on the global stage grows, Zhu Feng, a professor of international relations at Beijing University, said Wednesday.
"China now has the economic means and wants to promote its message abroad," he said. "China's desire to change its image abroad is partially a reflection of the leaders' anxiety as to why there are negative perceptions of China. They want to promote the country as peaceful and full of goodwill."
China is the world's biggest exporter and is poised to overtake Japan as the world's second-largest economy. In recent years it has stepped up a campaign to boost its influence with Confucius Institutes — which teach Chinese language and culture — and overseas news channels.
In July, the country launched a global English-language television channel, CNC World, which is geared toward Western audiences and provides international and Chinese news from a Chinese perspective. It is run by Xinhua, a propaganda arm of the Communist Party.
The Ministry of Education began providing financial incentives to universities in the U.S. and other countries in recent years to open Confucius Institutes, named for a renowned Chinese philosopher. More than 60 colleges in the U.S. now have the institutes.