Decoding China

The Decoding China Dictionary

What does Xi Jinping mean when he talks about the rule of law? How does the Chinese leadership define multilateralism? Did you know that China’s Socialist Core Values include democracy and freedom? What is Document No. 9 and why does it reject universal values? And what is meant by “a community of shared future for mankind”?

The Decoding China Dictionary seeks to answer these questions and to serve as a guide to understanding the official Chinese meaning of key terms in international relations and development cooperation.

Co-authored by a group of China specialists, the Dictionary introduces a selection of frequently used terms with widely different interpretations between liberal democracies and China. The authors build on previous academic work referenced and acknowledged in the Dictionary, as well as decades of personal experience of working with China.

The intended users of the Dictionary are policy-makers and institutions in Europe and beyond who are engaged in dialogue and exchanges with China. It is our hope that this dictionary will help navigate Chinese official discourse and serve as a point of reference for strategy development and communication. In short, we hope that the Dictionary will enable more informed engagement with China.

Read the introduction first, for an overview of the motivations and goals that underpin the Chinese leadership’s quest for discursive power. Then dive into the different sections in any order you prefer. Each entry provides a brief definition of the term, followed by a longer analysis of the historical and political context in which the term has evolved.

You can also download the full dictionary as a PDF document here.

The dictionary is a living document and currently covers 14 terms. We welcome feedback and suggestions for how it can be further improved and expanded.

Malin Oud and Katja Drinhausen


The great illustrations were made by Anna Formilan.

Sociedad civil





Libertad de expresión

Buena gobernanza

Derechos humanos



Public diplomacy

Estado de derecho