China’s re-emergence as a great power will depend largely on its ability to create a favourable external environment. In order to create this environment in the 21st-century world, China must use its power resources in ways suitable for engaging with and gaining the support of the diverse range of actors that now make up the world political system. As such, China has increasingly emphasised the use of its power resources for attraction, appeal, persuasion and co-option. Culture is regarded as an especially useful resource for such purposes, and China has been actively promoting and projecting elements of Chinese culture throughout the world. This article aims to map and evaluate China’s cultural projection, with a particular focus on its Confucius Institute (hereafter CI) project. It uses academic literature, media reports, internet documents, interviews with people involved in or with an interest in the CI project, interviews with Chinese-language teachers, and a survey of Chinese-language students’ views in order to argue that while the CI project has reached much of the world and conducted numerous activities in a short space of time, its contribution to crafting China’s desired external environment has been somewhat uncertain and limited.