We propose a mechanism of grassroots image management to explain how rising powers craft an international environment more conducive to their interests. The aim is to promote the state’s foreign policy goals by influencing the perceptions of ordinary foreign citizens. To test this mechanism, we examine the impact of China's Confucius Institutes (CIs). Using data from the Global Database of Language, Events and Tone (GDELT), we employ a quasi-experimental, spatial-temporal, approach which finds that proximity to an active CI significantly and substantively improves the tone of media reporting about events relevant to China in that locality. The finding is robust to different specifications and estimation strategies and is qualitatively consistent with results generated using household opinion data from the Afrobarometer survey. Our result suggests the importance of systematically examining perceptions at the popular level about rising powers in addition to focusing on elite attitudes to understand discursive change.