Due to the growing importance of people-to-people diplomacy in China’s global strategies this is a momentous time for China’s international development volunteering. Drawing from underexploited Chinese sources, the paper shows that international volunteering has the potential for enhancing China’s public appeal globally and giving a ‘softer’ connotation to China’s aid to Africa. In this paper the policy, practices, and discourses about China’s voluntary service are examined and framed within the context of China’s soft power strategies. Moreover, the recent domestic debate on shortcomings of the ‘China Foreign Aid Youth Volunteers Program’ in Africa and the new directions suggested to the country’s leadership by influential Chinese academics are critically analysed. The focus is on the tailoring of a new political and ideological ‘space’ for the Chinese NGOs as implementers of future international volunteering programs. In spite of considerable debates and evolutions, Chinese international volunteering programs seems to remain under tight state control and to be best understood as social engineering efforts, with China’s soft power as their main objective.