People around the world see China as "confident", "belligerent" and "arrogant", state-run media reported yesterday in an unusually direct survey of attitudes towards the country.
Only 13 per cent of respondents in the poll by the Global Times newspaper described China as "peaceful", a sign that Beijing's territorial disputes with its Asian neighbours have taken a toll on its image.
It also concluded that "the closer you are to China, the more likely you are to have a negative view of it".
The Global Times tends to take a nationalistic stance and is close to the ruling Communist Party.
With the exception of rivals such as the US or Japan, state-run media coverage of relations with other countries normally concentrates on the positive, and it is rare for criticism of China to be reported.
But in the survey of 14,400 people in 14 countries, 30 per cent of respondents called China "confident" in international affairs, with 29 per cent describing it as "belligerent", while "complicated" was chosen by 28 per cent.
"People also describe China with words such as 'tough', 'arrogant' and 'co-operative'," the paper added, with each of them chosen by about 25 per cent of respondents.
China has long been embroiled in disputes with its neighbours, particularly Japan and the Philippines, over islands in the East and South China Seas.
The report cited the limited international influence of Chinese media as one possible reason for negative perceptions of China abroad.
The survey was conducted last month in countries including the United States, Russia, Japan, India, Vietnam, South Korea, South Africa, Britain, the Philippines and Brazil.
The paper did not detail the methodology of the study, carried out by the Global Times Global Poll Centre, but described it as "the first political survey conducted by a Chinese media agency on a global scale as the country grows increasingly concerned about its soft power".
The paper quoted Professor Swaran Singh of Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi as saying the adjectives used "can be seen as elements of any rapidly evolving rising power".
"China needs to develop its soft power," it cited Sunjoy Joshi, of India's Observer Research Foundation, as saying. "It needs to be gentle in its conduct of neighbourhood diplomacy. Similarly it must not allow its economic diplomacy to be viewed as neocolonialism or 21st century resource colonisation."
About 25 per cent of respondents from neighbouring countries said they "like" China, according to the survey, compared with 36 per cent from non-neighbouring countries.
The poll also showed that only 12 per cent of respondents received news about China through Chinese media programmes broadcast in their countries.
By contrast, 44 per cent said they learned about China from "internationally recognised media, such as CNN and the BBC", while 39 per cent cited their local television stations as a source.