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The ‘Chinese Dream’ and the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’: narratives, practices, and sub-state actors

The ‘Chinese Dream’ (CD) and the ‘Belt Road Initiative’ (BRI) are signature programs of President Xi Jinping. Much of the scholarships on these two projects have concerned itself with either domestic propagandistic effects or external foreign policy impact. These concerns have underpinned the literature’s focus on material expressions of such projects, be it through infrastructural construction in the case of the BRI or propaganda tools in the example of the CD. Yet, an important but understudied element of these two projects is the narratives that they tell and the impact of these narratives. In that regard, this article complements existing studies of the CD and the BRI by reading the projects as grand narratives. Drawing on international practice theory, I trace an explicit link between narratives and practices to demonstrate how narratives activate, anchor, produces and contest political practices of some sub-state actors in China. That is to say narratives: (i) serve as signposts for sub-state actors’ orientations in clarifying what are relevant/irrelevant and appropriate/inappropriate practices; (ii) provide ‘background’ stock of information where actors draw on to legitimize their practices when they speak of the BRI and CD; and (iii) create conditions for both the creation of new practices and contestation of existing ones. I then argue that four narrative-practice processes are seen in the Chinese example: contestation, sustenance, activation, and production.

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