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Durham e-Theses
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Corpus-Based Critical Discourse Analysis of
Women’s Representation in Shen Bao (1872-1949)
and People’s Daily (1950-2012)

XU, TIANHUA (2022) Corpus-Based Critical Discourse Analysis of
Women’s Representation in Shen Bao (1872-1949)
and People’s Daily (1950-2012).
Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



This thesis aims to explore and analyse women’s representations in Shen Bao (1872-1949) and
People’s Daily (1950-2012) in China over a period of 140 years (1872-2012). Combining the
quantitative corpus analysis of 1.9 million words of data with qualitative analyses using critical
discourse analysis (CDA), it examines four distinctive historical eras in the press portrayal of
women: late imperial Qing (1872–1911), Republican (1912–1949), socialist (1950-1978) and
the post-socialist (1979-2012). During these 140 years, China experienced dramatic sociocultural shifts and political transformations under the guidance of different ideologies over this
crucial historical time. Women were placed right in the centre of this turmoil, and women’s
roles have continuously been renewed, recreated, defended and modified (Williams, 1977).
Women were deemed inferior to men were nothing more than the result of social constructions.
Women’s representations are embedded in ideological frameworks supported by existing
power relations in the patriarchal society. They operated in the symbolic world through
discursive construction that defines women in ways that shape the social understanding of their
role, status and identities. This construction of women by the dominant forces in society serves
to sustain the existing patriarchal power relations. The thesis focuses on newspapers because
of its central role in shaping public opinions, setting agendas, and maintaining power structure
Broadsheet newspapers have the power to define key issues, topics, and situations which gives
them ideological power.
CDA pays attention to both the macro-level of context through a top-down approach, and the
micro-level by analysing how ideologies, dominance and power relations are expressed in
language. In contrast, Corpus Linguistics (CL) deals with large amounts of text by providing
detailed information of the micro-level. CL is basically a bottom-up approach, allowing the
data generated in a corpus to take the lead, and thereby limits bias. The data generated by
corpus analytical tools in CL is not handpicked data selected by the analyst, it is typical and
representative linguistic patterns that have been extracted from a large amount of data.
Women’s representations have undergone significant transformations across the four historical
eras in China as some women gain more economic independence and could challenge the
power hierarchies. In the late Qing era, women were not described as the opposite gender of
men, but are represented as the weak, incompetent, decadent, and pathological symbol of premodernity in Shen Bao. Articles in Shen Bao promoted representations of women as “Mothers
of the Nation” and “Heroines”, which are variations of traditional “good wife and mother” and
“devoted to husband and son” sugar-coated with modern nationalism. In the socialist era,
women were mostly represented as strong, masculine, selfless, and ideologically correct
workers in the labour force, and as emotionally and physically the same as men. Women lived
and breathed for the state, and were willing to devote their lives, youth and efforts to
communism and socialism. In the post-socialist era, women’s representations in the People’s
Daily are more diverse. Discourses on women throughout the 140 years acted as a tool to
legitimize various national agendas.
This study offers empirical evidence and provides a macro level picture of the transformation
of women’s representations in the 140 years of history, underpinning the drive behind; also a
micro level analysis of detailed discussion on the confliction and consistencies of women
discourse over the four historical eras. Women’s studies have their origin outside of China, in
the west. I hope this study will shed some light onto the many components of the scarcely
researched localization of west women theories into Chinese terms, which I believe is the next
important issue and the next biggest challenge in women’s studies in China.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Modern Languages and Cultures, School of
Thesis Date:2022
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:05 Sep 2022 17:17

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