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Charismatic Leadership building through blurriness between the public sphere and private sphere-An analysis of Xi Jinping’s non-verbal communication style

Jiachen Feng*

Department School of journalism and Communication, Tsinghua University, China

*Corresponding Author:
Jiachen Feng
Department School of journalism and Communication, Tsinghua University, China
E-mail: [email protected]

Received Date: September 13, 2021; Accepted Date: September 28, 2021; Published Date: October 12, 2021

Citation: Feng J (2021) Charismatic Leadership building through blurriness between the public sphere and private sphere-An analysis of Xi Jinping’s non-verbal communication style. Global Media Journal, 19:44.

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Unlike previous Chinese political leaders, Xi Jinping's political communication strategy after his election has subverted outside perceptions of the propaganda of Chinese leaders. This article seeks to elaborate the model of building charismatic leadership in the new media era through nonverbal communication. While the research on western countries political leader could be found, the study of how Chinese political leaders build their charismatic leadership is still rare. It finds that the way of being a charismatic leader has been conducted correctively by China president Xi Jinping since he got elected. The strategies of his nonverbal communication enhanced the effect of rhetoric message construction through the utilization of “boundaries invasions effect,” mediated leadership, intercultural communication, and social media. This highlights the noticeable change happened in China political communication that the China political leader is now possessing of skills of charismatic leadership as other leaders globally. The nonverbal symbols president Xi Jinping presented in his communication actions on media or interpersonally shows that the way of build charismatic leadership in China has to be rooted in Chinese values. Implications for charismatic leadership, media ethics, and rhetorical nonverbal symbol are discussed, thus further discussing the uniqueness of Chinese political leadership will be deployed.


Charismatic Leadership; Public Sphere; Boundaries; Nonverbal Communication


This article elaborates the phenomenon that traditional Chinese political leaders are lack of charisma while the new president Xi Jinping has a remarkable performance in building his charismatic leadership. What Xi Jinping has executed in political communication has been accepted as a revolution of China political communication by Chinese political leaders. With the prevailing application of social media and political marketing, the process of political communication are enormously changed: Mutz and Young (2011) represent a framework of three components which focusing on how political communication influence audience" ongoing concerns surrounding the political diversity of the communication environment selective exposure to political communication; and the interrelationship between mass and interpersonal political communication" [1]. Regarding of audiences who are with more cognitive ability, political leaders have to improve their communication strategies to persuade them. Therefore, the topic of charismatic leadership which was popular decades ago comes back to the core area of political communication studies again. The studies on Obama’s strategies of image-building reveal that with more understanding of nonverbal communication, the political leader will have a more acceptable personal brand and personal image. However, while only a few explorations on the question of how Chinese political leaders changed their nonverbal communication strategies, barely any research have inquired what uniqueness of China charismatic leadership building is. Therefore, rarely do we know what has transformed in China political communication realm since president Xi Jinping performed his strategies in international political communication occasions.

This article pursues to fulfill this vacancy. It is organized as the following structure. The Literature review: What is needed for building charismatic leadership in modern society is still uncertain. While the components of charismatic leadership could show us a path to discover the question Starting with Hannah Arendt’s concept of the public sphere and the private sphere, discussing how the boundaries between the public sphere and private sphere are blurred in a more complex narrative context. Drawing on Arendt’s public realm theory, emphasizing on how existing literature answered the question that why Arendt’s theory about the public and the private sphere can be explored to explain the new situation in political communication discourse. Another result changed caused by transforming political communication environment is the emergence of mediate leader effect. Audiences of political communication may not have the chance to conversate with political leaders in person hence the image presented by media is the primary resource they can reach. However, being a charismatic political leader accepted only in own country is not enough. How to build charismatic leadership in an intercultural communication scene in other countries is the necessary task for pollical leaders in the modern global political environment. Since the emergence of social media, it triggers more transformation in political communication, political marketing, political campaign, and political discourse. The capability of using social media to build charismatic leadership is essential for every political leader who is willing to reach a wider audience with more effective perception. The Methodology section represents the methodology applied in the article, including the analyzation of nonverbal symbols in China president Xi Jinping’s political communication scene in the video and the content analysis of the rhetoric message construction. The result indicates that president Xi Jinping noticed the blurriness of the boundary between the public and the private sphere.

Moreover, he changed his strategies of building charismatic leadership based on this phenomenon. His utilization of nonverbal communication symbols on media and social networks could be marked as the most evolutional change while comparing with former Chinese political leaders. Furthermore, it finds that his intercultural communication performances should be addressed. President Xi Jinping showed his respects of other culture by nonverbal communication symbols on many international political occasions.

The article concludes by proposing the model of building charismatic leadership in China. It has four components. First, it presents that the comprehension of the blurriness is critical for political leaders to reconstruct their narrative framework during political communication. In this aspect, political leaders should technically expose their privatized message as family and personal experiences in the public sphere to combine one’s identity and political identity as a holistic unit instead of isolated parts. Furthermore, a charismatic leader should be admired by people in his own country first. Emphasizing the connection between personal characteristics and country’s culture value through nonverbal communication in the political scene is acknowledged as an effective way to be perceived as a charismatic leader by the audience. We may lead to the second suggestion, which is that political leaders might wisely employ the nonverbal symbols in a political scene that will endow them the capability to obtain trust from audiences at the scene and from a larger public sphere.

However, even the nonverbal communication strategies were conducted by political leaders near perfectly, the political communication messages might be reinterpreted in the different culture. While in an intercultural communication environment, showing the respect of other culture through nonverbal communication will improve charismatic leadership. The last components are the usage of social media as a platform to expose privatized personal message and personal life. The image of “being a person” will endow political leaders a chance to get more trust from the audience.

Path to building charismatic leadership

Charismatic leadership is defined by Conger and Kanungo as “an attribution based on follower’s perceptions of their leader’s behavior” [2]. Either the mission leaders described or the distinctive way they behave empowers them the ability to influence their audience [2]. While the previous research on charismatic leadership is based on psychology and political disciplines, the studies are usually about the process of charismatic leadership in influencing members of organizations. The principal argument of the charismatic leadership theory is that where an organization’s leader is a charismatic leader, performance of and trust in an organization will be improved. As the definition of organization being expanded into public sphere, the topic that how charismatic leadership influences politics got more attentions. Charismatic leadership has been using as a component of reasons influence people’s perception of political candidates or leaders [3]. Many researchers focused on the rhetoric and actions conducted by Barack Obama. How Obama use charismatic appeal to influence nonvoter audience is the practice of Weber’s theory on charisma authority [4]. An increasing number of studies in charismatic leadership and communication is related to organizational communication and reputation theory. With the communication based on charismatic leadership, the leader of the organization could get more trust and support from workers in organization [5]. However, the majority of researches on charismatic leadership is about how it influences people. Only a few topics are about the process that how charismatic leadership is building. There could be four theories about this process: the public and the private sphere theory, mediated leadership, intercultural communication and media agenda setting.

Personal life into public sphere

Even though the comprehensive discussion of the nature of public emerged since the modernity in Europe, there has been a long history of exploring the term “public”. Hannah Arendt’s work The Human Condition (1958) was written as an account of historical development of this term and social foundation it landed. Especially in the communication and philosophy disciplines, more scholars paid their attention on this issue. There are both academic and practical reasons for this growing concern in narrative environment and political communication research. Arendt wrote her understanding of “public realm” based on Greek philosophers’ work about the term “social [6]. Regarding the basis of Greek social life and political structure, the public sphere and private sphere were separated because “according to Greek thought, the human capacity for political organization is not only different from but stands in direct opposition to that natural association whose center is the home (oikia) and the family. The rise of the city-state meant that man received besides his private life a sort of second life, his bios politico and there is a sharp distinction in his life between what is his own and what is communal.” [6]. Arendt addressed the function of a healthy the public sphere in constructing a discursive environment for political creativity, which endows individuals the power and chance to have political acknowledgment and political cooperation [7]. However, Arendt has noticed the possibility of the collapse of boundary between the public and the private space. The appearance of “third space”, also marked as “social space” by Arendt, which is related to a comprehensive sphere for interactions between people are embodied with two results: losing the freedom of public life and option to retreat back to private life [8].

The blurriness of boundary between the public and the private sphere has meant that once peoples’ private lives changed, those lives also have an impact on political situation where they are embodied in This blurriness or even erasure of boundary deliver two consequences: “one might not be sure where to put the stress - on the private overwhelming the public, or the public saturating the private - but the general perception, here as elsewhere, is of a fundamental shifting of boundaries or, even more significantly, of the increasing difficulty of recognizing any boundary at all” [9]. In a historical aspect, the blurriness of this boundary could be caused by political, economy and social developments or changes. For instance, during 1950s to 1970s, the radical changes happened in China political space enormously forced the elimination of the boundary that the private spheres were almost overlapped by a politicized public sphere. Accompanied by strict state regulation, the private sphere has become adhered to the public sphere with any resistance. The function of the public and the private sphere in political interactions was acknowledged by scholars. The public sphere not only facilitated the public discourse, but also fosters a space for political opinion leaders, as political key interactors, to engage with public and promote democracy [10]. The public sphere ought to be a space of adjustment between civilian community and the political government, a space of constructive debate, of disagreement and contradiction [11]. On this basis, some have theorized the constant blurriness between the public and the private sphere, caused by complex reasons, shaped public culture and the way how people engaged with politics [12].

Mediated leader and “social presence” of leader

Existing literature on political leaders’ communication has largely focused on the relationship between leaders and the media they applied than how they act in political communication, just as what Moraru has mentioned that “the communication of political actors by means of mass communication has imposed the respect of some criteria complying with certain formats that emphasize the rapidity of message transmission - namely, spectacularization and personalization of the political discourse. Consequently, the effort to create a positive image, the participation in political negotiation or struggle with competitors rendered the individual political actors (political leaders) and also the collective political actors (governments, political parties, influential groups) to become more "mediatized" [13]. While the media caught lots attention from scholars who studied political communication, several authors noticed that by the emergence of the blurriness and entrusting more professional political communication agency or practitioners with political leaders’ brand image building work, politicians’ interpersonal communication has more tightly relation to their political involvement. Certainly, only focusing on politicians’ behaviors at the scene while discussing interpersonal communication in the new era of political communication is not enough, how the communication activities represented on media should also be addressed. Social presence, a concept defined as “a sense of being with another” in a computer-mediated environment [14]. Therefore, social presence could be improved while "a person feels as if he/she were 'with' the communication partner, engaging in a direct, face-to-face conversation". Controlling the mechanism of social presence might endow political leaders the power to produce verbal and nonverbal messages in political communication. In other words, they can manage the ration of perceived intimacy with public by choosing the messages they delivered and how to deliver. Audience could be more deeply reached when more privatized information of communicator is embodied; the communicator becomes "real" by creating an emotional link. The employing of political communication filled with consideration of social presence "providing an opportunity to interact with the candidate, encourage a sense of intimacy between the participants and candidate, creating a facsimile of an interpersonal relationship" [15]. Based on the aforementioned researches, the interpersonal communication skills is vital for political leaders in this new media era of political communication, while few scholars payed attention on how political leaders use nonverbal communication to build charismatic leadership.

Global charismatic leadership with intercultural communication

The topic of intercultural communication has been reached in various approaches. Such as reviewing intercultural communication from a mass media approach, concentrates on how message is broadcasting globally with technique and right or power. The intercultural communication acted between nations and international organizations is always as a part of national image build or public diplomacy. Similar as nations, the importance of intercultural communication skills of leaders in organization has been noticed by some scholars. They focused on the how intercultural communication skills influence the operation of a multicultural origination. Because intercultural communication is "direct, face-to-face communication encounters between or among individuals with differing cultural backgrounds [16]. Political leaders who encounter this kind of occasions frequently have to possess the intercultural communication themselves to build their charismatic leadership and show respect to other culture.

The beforehand quoted investigation in this study makes the case that global political leaders are handling the challenge in their performances that resist traditional and out-fashioned charismatic leadership strategies and practices. If we explore the intercultural communication through its relationship with leadership, what are intercultural communication skills for a leader needs to be clarified? One study proposed a model for cross-cultural competencies sprouting from a foundation where “competence in cross-cultural functioning means learning new patterns of behavior and effectively applying them to appropriate settings” [16]. Scholars also remarked that competence refers to the bridging of intercultural sensibility to active intercultural behavior in complex cultural meanings [17]. Defined a globally qualified leader an individual who “has enough substantive knowledge, perceptual understanding, and intercultural skills to interact in our globally interdependent world” [18].

Agenda setting in social media

Agenda setting research played an essential role of political communication study no matter what media environment are considered. The television debate in election campaign, as a stage of political leaders, has accountable importance for agenda setting during election campaigns. Agenda setting can offer the political candidates a path to manage the message well organized and comprehensive and the issues happened in private sphere could be remodeled as a privatized personal life story of political candidates through agenda setting. Agenda setting may also be proved useful for public issues that political leaders could involve in, either media messages or social presence that can be deliberatively planned. The rise of consumer culture as a new dynamic factor of political communication is critical because the commercialization of media product enhances political leaders’ capabilities of connects their private image with public image. Creating a personal brand of political leaders becomes the fatal mission for them in new era of political communication. Thus, they choose to play the role of “political actor”, same as the star in a show, being more intimate and emotional to public. Just like the actor, the core of “acting” is amplifying personality and building personal communication style [13]. What media creates is the “social sphere” Arendt represented, as a communication environment allows voters to interactively engage in political communication actions through e-mails, SMS, websites and social networks [13]. The social media as the expected form of “social sphere” could be the place where political leaders using for building charismatic leadership.

Nonverbal communication and rhetoric symbols

Scholars have settled rhetoric as the core of political communication. As Arendt put it, “action and speech separated and became more and more independent activities to be political; to live in a polis meant that everything was decided through words and persuasion and not through force and violence.” [6]. in this sense, involving in polis, which is the public sphere, is a way of life in which speech and only speech made sense. Hence, comparing with the sphere of household and family, the sphere of polis is a political realm with more proper speaking. Therefore, rhetoric has the potential of being the key element of political leaders’ communication. Regarding of rhetorical construction and semiotics, scholars extend the rhetorical to both personal rhetoric and political parties rhetoric strategies, especially focusing on political campaign rhetorical. Rhetoric now is the prevailing approach to understand how political leaders construct their leadership and form personal communication model. The reason why the rhetoric could be the applicable approach is that either context or verbal and nonverbal messages are able to be examined their persuasive and influential performance occurred in management and organizations through rhetoric theory. The constructed political rhetorical message of a leader is what framing the image of him or her.

As well as rhetoric, persuasion is the legacy of Greek political scholars. Persuasion is the most common purpose of political leader’s communication while only few scholars refined their studies on this field. Catellani and Coveilli’s research on persuasion focused on the way how politicians construct political argument which shows “upward, controllable, and additive counterfactuals were more frequent than downward, uncontrollable, and subtractive counterfactuals, respectively While politicians more often employed upward controllable counterfactuals when speaking about targets other than themselves, they more often used downward controllable and upward uncontrollable counterfactuals when referring to themselves [19]. In other words, results have largely confirmed persuasion strategies used in political context, either verbal or nonverbal, place more influence on perception of public and relationship distance with audience.

However, political and communication researcher pay more attention on the interpersonal communication between opinion leaders among group instead of what political leader are conducted. Hutchens was tried to reveal the mechanism how individuals act as communicator while only treat public individuals as communicators and "argue that the emphasis of the literature on political conversation as a weak form of deliberation or as an afterthought from the media effects perspective has led to neglect of important aspects of the interpersonal communication process that require careful consideration.” [20]. In other words, even though scholars may have attention on interpersonal communication, few works get engaged with theoretical framework of political leader personal verbal and nonverbal communication. It may be true that political leaders were lack of awareness and abilities of using interpersonal communication skills in political communication, but it is prevailing strategies in communication at the scene or through media since new communication channels emerged. Furthermore, interpersonal communication strategies could be enhanced by coherent with specific need of political communication.

The type of nonverbal communication actions was separated into two kinds by functions. One is the supplement of verbal communication whereby nonverbal communication actions is applied with verbal discourse usually with regular pattern. Another type is the pragmatic nonverbal communication actions which proponents of nonverbal communication actions could signally interact trough nonverbal communication actions. Two types of nonverbal communication action have a solid relationship with the pattern of verbal discourse and rhetoric coherence.

First, the time between verbal and nonverbal communication the political leaders acted contains the information of rhetoric meanings and implications. With recent change that the blurriness was brought with more vivid media than ever before, the nonverbal communication actions that could not be noticed before is becoming visible and possible to be amplified by media. Second, the link of between verbal discourse and nonverbal communication actions are normally changeless based on culture and personal communication habits. This brought a new challenge for political leaders, regarding of intercultural communication and the blurriness, the nonverbal communication actions acted by political leaders with their own culture background audience which happened in private sphere now could be misinterpreted by audience from other culture backgrounds. The source of this challenge is the blurriness which caused issues occurred in private sphere now are forced to be espoused to the public sphere without permission by these political leaders.


To summarize so far, this article narrows down the research to one question: How to build charismatic leadership through nonverbal communication? One main research content analysis is applied: analysis of nonverbal communication strategies executed by China president Xi Jinping in four aspects.

This section describes the methodology used to answer these questions. The empirical basis of this study is a selection of video clips drawn from the YouTube website. YouTube was chosen because it is a fully operative video website that generates video contents within different languages, something that facilitates the systematic assessment of the utilization of nonverbal communication strategies. Scope of data collection for this article took place since 2014, when Xi Jinping got elected as China president, using the key words both English and Chinese characters “Xi Jinping (习近平)” which include his video shoot in both languages by selection criteria devised specifically for the research project. Videos of four topics are selected intentionally according to four theories discussed before.


Video 1: Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers 2018 New Year Address in Beijing

Figure 1


Figure 1 Over 15 photos are shown in the background.

Ten photos are about president Xi Jinping’s visiting while working. The topics of photos are related to the core of China national policy and diplomacy policy. What is worthy to be noticed is that these five photos of Xi Jinping’s family are keep exposed during New Year address since 2014 which includes his old photo with parents and wife, especially of his youth dressed in military uniform. Comparing with the traditional Chinese political leaders, Xi Jinping is good at using public media occasion to expose personal life with nonverbal communication symbols. No matter in which culture around world, family is always being seen as privatized information and privacy only shared in private sphere. As the boundary between the public and the private sphere is blur, private issue could be revealed in public sphere. The nonverbal symbols like pictures, gestures, body language, and facial expression could be the effective and unconscious way to transmit some information.

The stereotype of Chinese political leaders is that they only posed as political formal identity whilst are lack of personality. What China adheres to is a socialist system with Chinese characteristics. The characteristics of political leaders are not exercised and displayed in the elections but are widely known in the ruling process. Even so, reports on political leaders in China cannot be reported without censorship but must follow a certain quality and reporting policy. It is not difficult to understand that the media image of China's political leaders is somewhat rigid. The personal life of former Chinese political leaders is mysterious and unspeakable in any public occasions especially in media content. As a complete However, Xi Jinping bravely and actively uses every public and informal occasion to deliver the information of his personal life including personal experience and family.

This apparently contradicts the principles of image-building before in China, while Xi Jinping made these strategies as a dazzling personal mark of personality. These figure shows that the nonverbal communication actions of Xi Jinping more likely represents as individualized person instead of typical political leader in our stereotype of China political leaders. The gesture and facial expression Xi Jinping acted is full of emotion and respect. In many cases, smiles over 80% of the total time could be observed on Xi Jinping, and especially the relax laugh that it was barely to observe from the news of former China pollical leaders. Moreover, as expected, there are also some marked changes in nonverbal communication when comparing Xi Jinping with former political leaders. Since 1940s, the personal image of China political leaders on media and the way how they use nonverbal communication to build their image is based on power distance and excluding all emotional factors of themselves. Along with the consumption culture and new media environment, more privatized and personalized political communication message is prevailing.

As a family member of China president, the first lady used to be irritated to politics. Unlike the former first lady of China, Peng Liyuan represents her as a wife, a diplomacy official and a friend of other political leaders globally. As the first lady of China, Peng Liyuan conquered the world with her charming temperament and elegant charm. She is committed to promoting Chinese culture on various occasions and is also actively engaged in fighting against AIDS and other public welfare undertakings. During Xi's state visit to the United States in 2015, Peng Liyuan visited Julia College and personally demonstrated the public singing method to students. In 2014, she accompanied the first lady of the United States, Michel Obama, and her mother and two daughters, to visit the Imperial Palace. In the summer, she invited the foreign heads of the Nanjing Youth Olympic Games to experience Suzhou embroidery. She uses her actions to spread Chinese culture. People can feel the charm of Chinese culture from her dress and think.

Since the boundary between the public and the private life is blurring, what political leaders real live in their lives become the media products with or without permission. Therefore, under such a circumstance, smart exploration of personal life could be nice path of building personal brand image, whilst nevertheless the regulated invasion or exposure of personal life could be disaster for political leaders. Unlike former the First Lady in China, Peng Liyuan show more participation in public political issues and more engagement with Xi Jinping’s personal life. The interpersonal communication between them in their daily life, such as the eye contact, gentle body language by Xi Jinping, is quite successful. All of the Xi Jinping’s show a trend in increasing individual characteristic and emotional communication. Beyond the boundary between nations, increasing global culture identity and declining of national culture identity is accompanied with the popularization of values of freedom, democracy and human rights. Taking these topics into interpersonal communication verbal contexts would offer political leaders’ abilities to gain more credibility from public. As Arendt described, a “social sphere” make it possible that a new global culture identity will be gradually perceived and promoted by political leaders then eventually becomes to be the most active sphere where communication occurs.

Video 2: Xi visits cataract surgery patients in Laos

Figure 2


Figure 2 Xi Jinping actively puts out two hands to shake with elder patients.

Xi Jinping put out two hands before the elder patients present that a clear sign of friendly and respect intention. Xi Jinping is a political leader who concentrates on the legacy of Chinese culture. In many occasions, he uses nonverbal communication actions like gesture and body language shows his respect of traditional Chinese virtues and cultures.

Video 3: Xi Jinping invites elder Chinese scientist to be seated in front

Figure 3 Figure 4


Figure 3 Xi Jinping found elder scientist and invited him.


Figure 4 Xi Jinping invites elder Chinese scientist to be seated.

Before the meeting started, Xi Jinping found out the 93 years old scientist was standing in crowd. He sincerely invited him to be seated with him in front. He just says something really simple” please seat with me” and pull the chair for this old scientist. Xi Jinping use clear body languages to show his respect to Chinese traditional virtues which are not normally accepted in western cultures In Chinese’s traditional culture, manner and virtue are the most important moral principles accepted by Chinese.

More and more political leaders embrace the nonverbal communication strategies as shortcut to build a low-context and easily comprehensive sign of respect to culture and people. The employing of gesture and body language could transmit emotion and enhance the attraction of communication actions. Understanding of symbols embodied in nonverbal communication is important for political leaders to construct effective and appealing rhetorical message. One of the three persuasion paths is ethos, which is promoted by Aristotle, encourages political leaders to amplify their personal moral and other emotional excellence. Xi Jinping formed a strong credibility and emotional recognition through his sincere body language and facial expression. On such occasions, showing respect for their own culture and understanding and recognition of national values can make their people feel the identity of political leaders as ordinary patriots.

Video 4: Xi Jinping experiences cooking with Putin

Figure 5


Figure 5 Xi Jinping unfold right hand and point to food.

Xi Jinping unfolds his one hand upward is the meaning of inquiry. This gesture is shared by many different cultures globally. Even though Xi Jinping doesn’t say anything, Putin understands what it means. Figure 6


Figure 6 Xi Jinping forwardly have a toast with Putin.

When Putin was introducing the vodka of Russia, he invites Xi Jinping to have a taste of Vodka. Xi Jinping forwardly have a toast with Putin while it can be told from Putin’s facial expression that Putin seems not expect for this. Figure 7


Figure 7 Xi Jinping is laughing relax.

Regarding of the stereotype of China political leader, barely we can find the relax facial expression on them, While, Xi Jinping is trying to be the most relax and charming political leader since Mao Zedong. Figure 8


Figure 8 Xi Jinping is making eye contact with Putin while the show is over.

Making eye contact with guest at first time is the principle of Xi Jinping’s nonverbal communication strategy. He would try to have a friendly eye contact while the show or speech is over almost every time. This could transmit the respect of guest and gain the positive perception as communicative person. Figure 9


Figure 9 Xi Jinping wears apron while cooking with Putin.

In some political communication scene, the principle of dressing is not formal. Instead, wearing the exotic clothing is just the way to show the respect to different culture. Xi Jinping also wore the Guayabera when he visited Cuba in 2014. This also makes a great example for political leaders how to make successful interpersonal communication based on the acknowledge of intercultural recognition. Dressing is a great way of nonverbal communication to make a clear expression of respect of other nation and culture. These results point to an extension of current rhetoric studies. Nonverbal symbols seem to have more potential to achieve the rhetorical mission by fully exploration of the cooperation with “camera language”. Despite of intercultural issues, nonverbal symbols is easier on framing a rhetorical message topic.

While comparing Xi Jinping’s performance with other China politicians, there is still a giant gap for them. Other officials’ interpersonal communication performance in video 2 and video are also notable for understanding the power distance and power culture in China. They obviously managed their interpersonal communication actions because of the presence of Xi Jinping. Conversely, these officials will definitely behave totally different, which is an interesting question worth exploring in future studies.

Video 5: Xi Jinping was taking selfie with British former Prime Minster David Cameron and football player Sergio Aguero

Figure 10 Figure 11


Figure 10 Xi Jinping took selfie with Aguero and Cameron.


Figure 11 Aguero posted his selfie with Xi Jinping on Twitter.

Since Xi Jinping got elected, China just entered in new media era of political communication. Unlike former political leaders, he embraces social media and its style of content with actively attitude. Either the cartoon image of his named “Xi DaDa (习大 大), which means “uncles” in Chinese dialects, or the selfie he took with Aguero and other political leaders could set as an example of using new media as charismatic leadership building tool. Xi Jinping intentionally seek the opportunities to using social media to transmit his message to publics. He personally uses the We Chat and Xinhua News app to edit message and send to publics. A political leader who has respect on technologies and social media could gain more trust from the young generation who is willing to use social media than other forms. Thus, using the social media is actually transmitting the attitude that he would like to have a simply conversation with public. This will be perceived as the symbol that charismatic leadership could be built through not only traditional media but also the social media.

Discussion and conclusion

This article has explored the question of how to build charismatic leadership through nonverbal communication. Regarding of the theories and the result of content analysis, a model of building charismatic leadership through nonverbal communication is presented. Figure 12


Figure 12 Model of building charismatic leadership through nonverbal communication.

First, understanding of the blurriness between the public and the private sphere is ought to be significant in constructing political leaders’ interpersonal communication strategies, even when the interpersonal communication actions only occurs in a single. This was concretized in two aspects: the abundant utilization of privatized and individualized messages or stories to gain positive and emotional trust from public civil society. Also, the protection of personal life and guarding on those media which are immoral wants to expose political leaders’ personal life without any permission. Individual, political leaders have a political side, but also life and even ordinary people. The two are tightly integrated. The political characteristics of political leaders are well known, and most of the time people are used to it. At this time, the non-political side often causes more attention, the two are dialectically unified, in other words, the image of the political side will affect people's evaluation of their image, and the excellent dissemination of personal image will guide people to pay attention to their political image.

Moreover, stories about politics, political leaders, government, and public opinion were isolated topics, whilst they shared the same culture value. Political leaders should understand the Political leaders should fully understand their cultural values and the presentation of more cultural values. The moral standards that the people of a country abide by and the moral standards that the political leaders abide by should be consistent, and this kind of consistency is not expressed by speech to identify ideas, what should be done are to reflect their adherence to and inheritance of traditional cultural values through nonverbal communication. Understanding the metaphor of traditional culture is critical that in interpersonal communication, using of proper rhetorical symbols endows political leaders the ability to represent connection with tradition in key moments. This is not only for top political leaders, but also for government officials who needs to work with media or work in press conference. As an example, Xi Jinping promoted that China government official do not have to wear a formal tie in informal situation. They might wear the traditional Chinese clothes to participate traditional cultural event. This is a clear symbolic message delivered to public that political leaders should respect the traditional Chinese culture. As follower of Xi Jinping, more and more political leaders review dressing as the nonverbal communication strategies in building charismatic leadership. The connection between personalities with cultural value is attributed again to creating a more trustable personal image in public who share the same culture value.

Third components should be mentioned is that political leaders should pay attention to the use of non-verbal symbols in cross-cultural communication and cross-cultural communication. They should choose appropriate body movements, gestures and facial expressions to prevent misunderstandings after understanding the special interpretation of certain cultural symbols by the culture of the other country. Moreover, apart from simple respect, it is more important to show respect, love and interest in each other's culture through non-verbal behavior in international intercultural communication and communication occasions. For example, wearing a distinctive national costume, adopting a special culture of eating and drinking.

The last part of model is that there was significant demanding of social media cooperation for political leaders. Sometimes this was just in terms of the restrain of behavior in front of camera or mobile phones: For example, social media focus more on political leaders who join the press conference after accidents. Almost every political leader simply restrains their behaviours during the press conference. However, in the new ear of political communication which is fulfilled with new media and social networks, gesture, body language or facial expression is possible to be exposing to the public sphere and trigger more communication crisis. But sometimes media are willing to cooperate with political leaders on various platforms: Social networks, for instance, publics are thrilled to have a photo with president Xi Jinping. Not as expected, Xi Jinping took a selfie with publics which clearly show that political leaders do not have to be serious all the time. Taking a selfie is a typical using of nonverbal communication.

The dynamics of media relationship were also shown to be different on different platforms, with some working much harder than ours. In professional television media product, being familiar with the type of camera is essential. This appeared to be connected to the standing distance, body language, facial expression and style of verbal communication. In social networks, timing is everything. Therefore, it might not be enough time for prepare stable performance while reality becomes attractive point in social networks. Privatized and individualized life of political leaders, especially famous “political stars” like France president Emmanuel Macron, is consumptive media content in social networks. In these contents, all the virtues should be represented by political leaders is “be a person.”

Finally, it might be argued that the focus on nonverbal communication is one-sided and short sighted: As the history of European and North Americans politics and political communication, and based on their high-context social culture, emphasizing on nonverbal communication are not sufficient for rational voters to consider political communication actions. However, combining the unique political system of China and the complexity of political communication narrative environment in China, nonverbal political interpersonal communication conducted by current China political leaders has its own rationality at this time. However, further research on a more comprehensive model of how nonverbal communication message was constructed is needed.


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