Many have called the 21st Century "China's century" and regardless of what aspects of society you are interested in, whether scientific, cultural, ethical, economic, industrial, or environmental, China is playing an increasingly important role.
In many areas humanity will be faced with difficult choices and often there will be disagreements, therefore dialogue is crucial.
To support dialogue, an international initiative to explore how China is portrayed in the global media was instigated. As part of this, a study was done on how China was portrayed on the covers of leading global magazines, such as The Economist, Time, Newsweek and Der Spiegel.
The findings of the study were revealing of a widespread misrepresentation of China.
Of the 100 covers analyzed, 44 percent portrayed China as hostile, 16 percent portrayed China as not open to dialogue, 19 percent portrayed China as "neutral" and 16 percent portrayed China as open to dialogue. Only 6 percent portrayed China as very open to dialogue.
Of the covers that portrayed a power relationship, 57 percent portrayed China as stronger than the other country, 27 percent portrayed it as equal and 16 percent portrayed the other country as stronger.
The good news is that the research indicates that to a large extent the hostile image of China is based on two factors: a lack of knowledge about China and a lack of focus on Chinese readers. As the Chinese readership of global magazines is increasing rapidly and accurate first-hand knowledge about the country is becoming more valued, there is a window of opportunity for constructive engagement.
A more systematic and comprehensive exchange program should be encouraged between journalists and media students from China and overseas to promote dialogue. International forums for journalists should also spend more time discussing how emerging countries, like China, are portrayed and whether the portrayals are accurate.
To encourage interesting articles, including illustrations, that portray dialogue and collaboration, an international competition could be initiated by leading media stakeholders. Of particular interest would be showing that dialogue is possible even when there is a significant disagreement, as it is in such situations that dialogue is most important.
Two different kinds of dragons were used to symbolize China on the magazine covers. The Western dragon was almost always used when portraying China as hostile or aggressive, while the Chinese dragon, long, was used when China was portrayed in a neutral way.
This is the Year of the Dragon and it is a unique opportunity to show that China is not the destructive Western fire-breathing dragon, but the Chinese long, which brings good luck.
We are not suggesting that difficult issues be avoided and that there should not be criticism where necessary. But a clear perspective should see both the good and the bad. Solving important challenges, including those where disagreement exists, requires an open mind and a comprehensive exchange of viewpoints.
To facilitate a dialogue we have launched a web page focusing on how China is portrayed on global media covers. This allows visitors to view and rate different covers in order to encourage interaction and an open dialogue.
In the Year of the Dragon we have the opportunity to establish a nurturing culture for dialogue in order to better address the challenges ahead, hopefully many people around the world will take this opportunity to participate.
We look forward to an interesting dialogue.
Zheng Baowei is a professor of journalism at Renmin University of China and Dennis Pamlin is CEO of 21st Century Frontiers.