In the last few years, China has experienced a think-tank boom in response to the government’s call for “new types of think tanks with Chinese characteristics.” What exactly are these Chinese characteristics? How do Chinese think tanks compare with familiar models of think tanks in Western countries such as the United States and Canada? How do these Chinese characteristics affect the ability of Chinese think tanks to fulfill the mission set for them by China’s leaders? These are the questions explored in this paper. On balance, the Chinese characteristics of these think tanks — their relationship with the government and the way they carry out their functions — limit their effectiveness in improving policy making and increasing the country’s soft power. They may be a useful instrument for the party-state to guide public opinion in China for the time being, but that may not be a sustainable or a particularly valuable role for think tanks in the long run.

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CIGI Papers present in-depth analysis and discussion on governance-related subjects. They include policy papers that present CIGI experts' positions or contributions to policy debates, and background papers that contain research findings, insights and data that contribute to the development of policy positions.
  • Hongying Wang (王红缨) is a CIGI senior fellow and teaches political science at the University of Waterloo. She studies Chinese politics and foreign policy as well as international political economy. 

  • Xue Ying Hu is a math major at the University of Waterloo with a strong interest in Chinese politics, international relations and political economy. She has published her research in academic journals, including a co-authored article on China’s “going-out” strategy and corporate social responsibility in the Journal of Contemporary China.