The graph below shows the acceleration of the use of the term ‘soft power’ from 1990 to the present, using Google nGram. Rarely used prior to the 1990s, its usage took off after the publication of Harvard international relations theorist Jospeh Nye’s 1990 book Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power. The term experiences a second take off after 2000, with the work of Nye again being influential, including his 2004 book Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics.
Importantly, as the 2000s have progressed, its influence has extended well beyond the United States. In particular, the term has proven to be very influential in China. The dynamics of this development are captured by Falk Hartig, of Frankfurt University, in his PhD thesis on Confucius Institutes, undertaken at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia and other related work, including this paper I co-authored with Falk in the IAFOR Journal of Asian Studies.