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Durham e-Theses
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Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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With the rise of China as the most important emerging power especially in the 21st century, contemporary China has undergone great changes particularly in its economy, whilst Western representations of China still seem to be operating within the essentialist and reductionist discourse (Mawdsley, 2008; Spence, 1990 & 1998; Mackerras, 1999, 2011 & 2015; Cao, 2012). Nowadays, with the development of mass media and its influence on people, a growing number of depictions of the image of China in the eyes of the West are derived from the Western mass media. They report on and represent China and China-related themes. However, little research is done on how images of China are depicted and represented in the Western mass media, and especially TV documentaries since 2010s have scarcely been researched.

This thesis aims to explore and analyse the Western representations of contemporary China in the context of the rapidly-changing global power dynamics of the 21st century, by visualising China through the lens of documentary. Specifically, it involves investigating and analysing what and how images of China are depicted and represented in the three critically-selected British TV documentary series on China. They are: The Chinese Are Coming (26 Feb 2011, BBC 2), China: Triumph and Turmoil (12 March 2012, Channel 4) and Civilization: Is the West History? (10 April 2012, Channel 4). Through the in-depth analysis by employing a combination of several methodological approaches including Semiotic Analysis, Multi-modal Analysis and Critical Discourse Analysis, the study has found that Western images of China in the three analysed documentaries as the discursive practice, are constructed at a three dimensional depiction.

The first dimension indicates that images of China from the analysed documentary series seem to be still under the influence of the Western historical representations of China which are under orientalist despotism and modernity discourse. However, the modernity discourse is not explicitly as it used to be, but being more implicitly and camouflaged by other new elements such as a Christianity theme or Western civilization when perceiving or explaining the rise of China. As such, the archive of modernity discourse seems not to be weakened but is more internalised and crystallised through this way. Its existing discourse, though being contested and constructed by different discursive practice such as the new neo-colonialist images of China in Africa, innovative Chinese industry, etc., remains scarcely changed at its core. China is basically depicted as on the way of emulating the West, but so far only partially.

The second finding from that research data suggests that the rise of China seems to be perceived mainly as a threat in the analysed documentaries, which tends to have its cognitive elements behind. The depiction is often mixed with the depiction of the West as either being in decline, or on the verge of declining, which echoes the existing discourse of representation of China with the ‘Western decline’ revival theme during recent years. Hence, the image of China Threat seems to be used as the ‘victim’ of groupthink concurrence, which tends to be the defensive response when the group members in the West feel stressed or threatened. As such, the representation of China as a threat is more the cognitive need of group members as defense and release of stress and fear. However, unlike the historical images of ‘Yellow Peril’ or ‘Fu Manchu’, the representation of China threat is more complex and multi-faceted and the perception at the discursive practice within this thesis seems to swing between the ‘Thucydides Trap’ and the ‘Kindleberger Trap’. The former depicts the threat of China as being very worrying and likely to be a repeat of the situation in Germany, which led to World War, whilst the latter one seems to suggest that the rise of China will not be sustainable due to its internal autocracy, corruption and ruthless Communist Party.

Thirdly and lastly, since this study aims to analyse the documentaries as its pragmatic and discursive practice, the media framing and its features of visual and verbal language, together with the colour and background music, are found to be another dimension that helps contribute the images of China in documentaries. The findings of the research suggest that there is a need for streamlining the development of mass media documents with the existing discourse or theories on images of China. Further attention should also be given towards providing more study on documentaries at discursive practice.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Images of China; Representations; Mass Media; Documentaries
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Modern Languages and Cultures, School of
Thesis Date:2017
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:05 Dec 2017 12:31

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