China Daily infographics
China Daily infographics
Metaphor, multimodality and the multi-layering of news discourse
This chapter examines metaphor and multimodality in China Daily infographics linked to the 70th Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China. This event was chosen as it received significant coverage in China Daily, which is the first and arguably most well-known and authoritative English-language daily news outlet in China. Created in 1981, launched online in 1995 and owned by the Publicity Department of the Chinese government, China Daily is often called the “Voice of China” or the “Window to China” as stated on its website.
The question might be asked, why discuss infographics in this volume on Chinese news discourse? The answer may well be, why not infographics? We live in an age of information and the development of technology has facilitated the creation, distribution and access to information in increasingly varied formats and across multiple (and multiplying) platforms. In many ways, we have become insatiable informavores (Miller, 1983), consuming more information than ever before (Lankow et al., 2012). Moreover, since https://social.msdn.microsoft.com/Profile/opinions3 the advent of the Internet, news media organizations have planted seeds online that are now harvested at the forefront, and even surpassing traditional forms of news journalism in the form of printed dailies, broadsheets and tabloids. Today, we have relatively unfettered access to information in terms of space and time (the where and how of how we access information) as well as the ability to share, comment on and interact with information.
In the words of Smiciklas (2012):
We are in the midst of a revolution. Rapid adoption of digital tools and technology has fueled the democratization of information, exposing consumers to vast and complex streams of data. As a result, it is becoming increasingly difficult for individuals and organizations to get their audiences to invest the time to consume and understand their ideas and/or marketing messages.
Infographics then have a unique role to play in packaging, accessibility and shareability of information. As stated by Krum (2014), “[o]nline infographics are a powerful content tool for companies to share information, build awareness, and drive traffic to their websites” (p. 108). With a few mouse clicks or touches on a touchscreen, we are able to forward news and information on our digital devices and smartphones. Issues about the content of news journalism is another matter as both news media organizations and https://en.gravatar.com/opinions3a governments have a hand in what is communicated to citizens and indeed to the world. There is always an element of agency, which involves causation and control (Veecock, 2012), with regard to who selects what is newsworthy, what is selected as newsworthy, not to mention the when, how and to whom something is packaged and presented as newsworthy. Dick (2016) proposes three categories of scholarship on infographics in the news including “how users interact with infographics”, “the role of the visual journalist in the newsroom” and “content analyses of infographics in news” (p. 499) of which this chapter falls.
The objectives of this chapter are to critically examine the multilayering of semiotic resources mobilized in infographics covering of the 70th Anniversary celebrations on the English website of China Daily. This event generated a series of 13 infographics that form a corpus around a common celebratory theme. The following research questions thus emerged: (1) What types of infographics and data visualization techniques are used in infographics commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China? (2) What types of semiotic resources are mobilized in the infographics? And (3) How are target and source domains articulated in connection with multimodal metaphors and their representation? In order to do this, I rely on the theoretical contributions on both visual / pictorial metaphor and multimodality (Forceville, 1996; Kress & Van Leeuwen, 2001 & 2006; Forceville, 2009; Forceville & Urios-Aparisi, 2009; Kress, 2010; Machin & Mayr, 2012) as well as the categorizations of infographics in the varied literature (see below) in relation to purposes, general types and specific data visualization techniques they employ. Permission to use excerpts from the series of 13 infographics was not obtained so I have utilized royalty free images for illustrative purposes and in order to represent a number of the salient features in the original China Daily infographics. In the next section, I will provide a brief overview of infographics, multimodality and metaphor.
The word infographics is a compound of information that has been clipped and the word graphics. According to Smiciklas (2012), “An infographic (short for information graphic) is a type of picture that blends data with design, helping individuals and organizations concisely communicate messages to their audience” (p. 3). Yin et al. (2014) define infographics as “visual representations of information, data, or knowledge intended to present complex information quickly and clearly” (p. 2). Bogost, Ferrari and Schweizer (2010) affirm: “Data describe raw sensor readings, direct observations, and collected metrics. Information adds context and interpretation to the data, imbuing them with meaning” (p. 60). Notoriously difficult to define, information can further be conceptualized as the “facts, knowledge, news, and opinions delivered and received during people’s various interactions with different media in the surrounding environment” (Huang, 2007). Graphics are visual images which illustrate and inform and they are “geared toward performing several functions: show data, avoid distortion, present many numbers in a small space, make a large data set coherent, and induce the reader to think about the substance” (Pasternack & Utt, 1989, p. 2). Infographics, then, are a type of genre that is defined at the strict minimum as “culturally recognised grouping of texts” (Lee, 2001, p. 38). Text here is “a multimodal semiotic entity, seen as ‘having completeness’” according to Kress (2010, p. 148) who further emphasizes that a “text has features of internal and external cohesion and, as an integrated meaning-entity, of coherence” (2010, p. 148). Taken together, infographics are a genre of visual texts mobilizing both written language and images and that meaningfully organize and illustrate data in order to “convey complex information to an audience in a manner that can be quickly consumed and easily understood” (Smiciklas, 2012, p. 3).
Overview of infographics – types and functions
The terminology for infographics still sees variations such as information graphics, informational graphics, data visualization, data representation, visual representation of data, classificational diagrams (Kress & Van Leeuwen, 2006, p. 84) and analytic image structures (Kress & Van Leeuwen, 2006, p. 104), etc. (see principally Tufte, 2001 and Smiciklas, 2012 among others). However, whereas the terminology has more or less stabilized, there is no definitive categorization of infographics in the form of types. Two very broad categories emerge nonetheless: static infographics and interactive infographics. Static infographics are also called 2D infographics and they figure in print or online digital. Static infographics have a long history of use in journalism. Interactive infographics, on the other hand, are relatively new and involve varying degrees of how consumers can interact with content. For a brief history on the development and use of infographics in journalism including playable infographics (as a further extension to interactive infographics) see Bogost, Ferrari and Schweizer, 2010 (pp. 35–60), Usher, 2019 (pp. 349–350) and Dick (2020). Static and interactive infographics are two poles on a continuum in Krum (2014, p. 31) who suggests that increasing degrees of complexity, such as zoomability, clickability, animation and video, contribute to greater interactivity and thus mark the shift away from stativity.
A finer categorization of infographics may involve distinctions as to their purposes, specific type as well as the precise graphic visualization techniques mobilized. Concerning the types of infographics, there is also quite a lack of consensus. Neelakandan (2019), for instance, details seven types of infographics. Whereas Wiesenfeld (2017) and O’Neill (2018) both list eight different types of infographics, McGuire (2019) lists nine types of infographics and Tomboc (2018) details ten types. Krystian (2017) enumerates 12 types of infographics and Chibana (n.d.) discusses not fewer than 13 different types of infographics. So, despite a proliferation of popular works in the form of how-to books, compilations of award-winning infographics as well as blogs and websites dedicated to infographics and types of infographics, scholarly publications on infographics in the news is still a budding area as discussed in Dick (2016) (see references therein). I shall, nevertheless, attempt a general categorization here of the different ways information can be visualized in infographics. The following descriptors are based on the aforementioned various lists of types, as well as Harris (1996), Tufte (2001), Kress and Van Leeuwen, (2006, pp. 79–84), Bogost, Ferrari and Schweizer (2010, pp. 35–60) and Smiciklas (2012):
1.Information can be presented in sequence. A sequential infographic can highlight the consecutive order or fixed step-by-step processing of things or events.
2.Information can be presented over time. A chronological infographic presents a historical overview of events and can show important dates on a timeline. This can be considered as a sub-type of the sequential infographic.
3.Information can be presented by way of alternatives. A flowchart infographic presents choices and options as well as their outcomes and the further possibilities of those outcomes, etc. The flowchart infographic can be considered another sub-type of the sequential infographic.
4.Information can be presented statistically or in the form of numbers and data. A statistical infographic highlights quantitative data and typically shows percentages and raw numbers.
5.Information can be presented topographically or geographically. A geographical infographic focuses on spatial relations, locations and mappings and can showcase more than one type of information through distributions across spaces.
6.Information can be presented via hierarchies such as pyramids and ladders. A hierarchal infographic may arrange items consistent with their relative importance, with items placed higher vertically tending to be perceived as having more importance, rank and status.
7.Information can be presented along degrees. A scalar infographic shows information along bands, ranges, scales or continuums.
8.Information can be presented comparatively or contrastively. A comparative infographic typically highlights salient similarities and differences of a given phenomenon.
9.Information can be presented in terms of systems. A relational infographic can show how items are arranged in a system, structure, web or network.
10.Information can be presented in lists. A list-based infographic can summarize the most important pieces of information to be retained in an efficient way.
11.Information can be presented by means of photography. A photo-based infographic can mobilize both real-life and/or artificial photographs.
12.Information can be presented through step by step instructions. An explicatory infographic can help expound or instruct on actions to be accomplished.
13.Information can be presented artistically. An artistic infographic may play upon aesthetics in their design and have greater imaginative or creative presentations. The artistic calligramme poems of Apollinaire (1980) come to mind where poems are arranged into recognizable objects such as a flowering pot, a horse or the Eiffel Tower. Artistic infographics can be considered as carrying decoration that according to Tufte can “enliven the display” (2001, p. 107) but may risk becoming “over-busy” in the form of “debris” (2001, p. 107).
14.Information about one’s work experiences, education and training as well as skill sets can figure on infographics. Resume infographics, then, are a modern-day visual résumé or curriculum vitae.
15.Information can be presented in a way to facilitate interaction with its content. An interactive infographic engages users online to interact with content, including polling user opinions, playing games, offering choices, reviewing options, watching short videos, and enabling users to add, modify, show, hide or delete content, etc.
16.Information can be presented in the form of an enhanced visual article. A pictorial article infographic is essentially a written article reinforced by visuals beyond written text in the form of added icons, graphics, photos, drawings and illustrations.
All of these ways in which information can be organized into infographics emerge from the varied literature. We do not pretend at exhaustivity here; however, Figure 6.1 highlights the 16 main types of infographics associated with a few key terms.
Figure 6.1Main types of infographics
In addition to the general types of infographics outlined, a second way infographics can be categorized is in terms of the specific means by which the visualization of statistical information and data are accomplished. In this perspective, some tips from Ferreira (2014) include to “showcase [the] data” and “consider more novel ways of presenting different aspects of [the] data […] rather than in a table” (p. 13). Means of showcasing data include visualizations in the form of various graphs and charts, such as pie charts, doughnut charts, line charts, bubble charts, pyramid charts, box and whisker charts, area/stacked area charts, bar/stacked bar charts, histograms, dot charts/candlestick charts or scatterplots, range frames and heat maps, etc. (Harris, 1996; Tufte, 2001; Bogost, Ferrari & Schweizer, 2010; Smiciklas, 2012; Beegel, 2014; Yin et al. 2014; Dick, 2016; Durcevic, 2019; Dick, 2020). Figure 6.2 employs a doughnut chart to visualize (a non-exhaustive) 15 types of data visualizations.
Figure 6.2Types of data visualizations
A third way of classifying infographics can be from the standpoint of temporal and thematic salience, which refers to how timely and relevant an infographic may be. According to Beegel (2014), founder and president of Infographic World in 2009, there can be timely infographics, related infographics and evergreen infographics. First, timely infographics are said to cover current events and breaking news. In other words, they are “related to topics that take place only once and have a relatively brief window in the public consciousness” (Beegel, 2014, p. 26). Second, related infographics are described as “inspired by news events, holidays or notable dates but don’t deal directly with the event” (Beegel, 2014, p. 26). Related infographics capture contemporary events, trends and patterns, however, are not considered as actual breaking news. Third, evergreen infographics are atemporal infographics and, as claimed by Beegel (2014), “aren’t related to any event or person in the news. They have no seasonal component, and they’re not tied to anything timely” (p. 26). This last type of infographic is said to have a “virtually limitless shelf life” (Beegel, 2014, p. 26).
A further way to classify infographics may be in view of their purposes or possible uses. Krum (2014) considers six uses: informative, persuasive, visual explanations, advertisement, public relations and poster infographics. Bogost, Ferrari and Schweizer, 2010 propose three labels to reflect “patterns of use for infographics, both digital and non-digital” (p. 42). As elaborated by these authors:
Explanatory infographics depict specific data for simultaneous consumption. Exploratory (or free-form) infographics allow participants to draw a variety of conclusions by manipulating data according to personal goals or ideas. And directed infographics guide readers through data in a specific way, leading to a shared experience of synthesis.
(2010, p. 42)
For the purposes of this chapter, China Daily infographics commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China are both public relations infographics according to Krum’s (2014) descriptors of purposes / use of infographics and related infographics according to Beegel’s (2014) descriptors in terms of temporal and thematic salience. Bogost, Ferrari and Schweizer’s (2010) descriptors are less transparent; however, the series of China Daily infographics commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the country can be considered on the whole as directed infographics since they lead to a synthesis of the country’s achievements over 70 years. I will discuss the types of graphic visualizations employed in the series of 13 infographics in Table 6.2 below. In the next section, I introduce multimodal metaphors and why infographics are apt to carry them.
Visual and multimodal metaphors
With Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff and Johnson (1980) herald the era of Conceptual Metaphor Theory (CMT), also described as the cognitive-linguistic turn to metaphor. Breaking from traditional approaches to metaphor as instances of figurative, rhetorical and exceptional language, Lakoff and Johnson introduce the idea that metaphor is “primarily a matter of thought and action and only derivatively a matter of language” (1980, p. 153). This is a shift away from seeing metaphor as exclusively words to understanding metaphor as “human thought processes” (1980, p. 6). Metaphors consist of two distinct parts, which involves mobilizing something to represent something else. Table 6.1 illustrates Forceville’s (1996) summary of the two components of a metaphor carrying different names in the literature.
Table 6.1 Labels of the two components of metaphor Concrete concept
tenor / topic
Richards  1965
Black 1962, 1979
Lakoff and Johnson 1980
The convention to write metaphors in small capitals is followed here. For metaphors, the source domain is the concrete domain of human experience (such as a journey) whereby some salient feature or features (long travel, bumps in the road, tiring, etc.) are said to map or project onto the target domain (such as love). The often-cited verbal metaphor love is a journey is a prime example. Forceville (1996, p. 62) mentions two criteria from Whittock’s (1990) work on metaphor in film, which is deemed “pertinent for the analysis of metaphors in advertising too” (1996, p. 62), namely that the primary subject (tenor or target domain) is considered as having a stronger denotation whereas the secondary subject (vehicle or source domain) is considered as having stronger connotations. These criteria can be useful since images, just like words, have denotation and connotation. In Forceville’s words,
[f]or a pictorial representation to be called metaphorical, it is necessary that a “literal”, or conventional reading of the pictorial representation is felt either not to exhaust its meaning potential, or to yield an anomaly which is understood as an intentional violation of the norm rather than as an error.
(1996, p. 64)
Similarly, according to Machin and Mayr (2012), “where image makers need to get a specific idea across, they will rely on established connotators, carriers of connotations, which they feel confident their target audiences will understand (whether consciously or not)” (p. 57). It is then visual/multimodal metaphors that are considered particularly “effective because they serve the practical purpose of making things easier to see and understand” (Smiciklas, 2012, p. 28).
A brief clarification about the varied terminology is warranted. The term pictorial metaphor (Forceville, 1996) and to a lesser extent visual metaphor (Kogan et al. 1980) aim to designate metaphors conveyed through some form of visual representation beyond verbal / linguistic metaphors (either written or spoken language). The term multimodal metaphor contrasts with monomodal metaphors, that is to say, metaphors that are mobilized through one mode. According to Forceville (2009):
In contrast to monomodal metaphors, multimodal metaphors are metaphors whose target and source are each represented exclusively or predominantly in different modes. The qualification “exclusively or predominantly” is necessary because non-verbal metaphors often have targets and/or sources that are cued in more than one mode simultaneously.
The metaphors justice is scales and law is a gavel can be optimally presented through simultaneous visuals in the form of images and written text as in Figure 6.3.
Figure 6.3Examples of multimodal metaphor.
Modes are defined as “a socially shaped and culturally given semiotic resource for making meaning” and “different modes offer different potentials for making meaning” (Kress, 2010, p. 79). While there is no single go-to list of modes, we can identify the following meaning-making potentials in visuals: images, photos, icons, memes, drawings, colours (hue, shade, tint, saturation, contrasts), photo perspective, foregrounding and backgrounding, layout, numbers, writing (style, font, font size, punctuation, etc.), attire, textures, grooming, accessories, personal objects, body posture, facial expressions, eye gaze, body movements and positions, gesture, sound/music and countless more (Harris, 1996; Kress & Van Leeuwen, 2001; Ware, 2004; Forceville, 2009; Forceville & Urios-Aparisi, 2009; Kress, 2010; Machin & Mayr, 2012). All of these are linguistic and extralinguistic semiotic resources and meaning potentials thus leading to a “multimodal account of meaning” (Kress, 2010, p. 59), which is needed for analysis of infographics.
Data collection, methodology and analysis
The data for analysis in this study include 13 China Daily infographics related to the 70th Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China. The 13 infographics were published between 22 August and 1 October 2019 and are found on the China Daily website in the infographic special coverage section. Themes include China’s achievements over 70 years in terms of economic achievements, rural revitalization, urbanization, improvements for a better life, global rankings, countries that established diplomatic relations after the founding of the country, international trade, transportation, poverty reduction, human rights, consumption and highlights of the military parade.
In the first phase, the 13 infographics were categorized according to their general type of infographic and according to the type of graphic visualizations employed to convey numerical data, if any. A third classification was required to identify other types of visualizations employed for non-numerical data (see Table 6.2). In the second phase, each infographic was analysed according to multimodal metaphor with the identification of source and target domains for each metaphor.
Table 6.2 Graphic visualizations in China Daily infographics covering the 70th Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China #
Type of infographic
Data / graphic visualizations
Other salient visualizations
China’s economic achievements over 70 years
Pie chart (2)
Highlights of China’s upcoming 70th anniversary celebrations
70 years on: Striding toward rural revitalization
Column chart (2)
Doughnut chart (1)
Bar chart (1)
China’s achievements in urbanization over 70 years
Column chart (2)
Bar chart (1)
70 years on: Striding toward better life in the new era
China rises in global rankings over 70 years
Bar chart (3)
Column chart (5)
Lists & chronological lists
Countries that established diplomatic relations with PRC in 1949
China’s achievements in international trade over 70 years
Column chart (6)
Pie chart (1)
Doughnut chart (4)
70 years on: Zooming forward in transportation
Column chart (6)
Bar chart (4)
70 years on: China’s achievements in poverty reduction
Column chart (4)
Area chart (1)
Line chart (1)
Progress of human rights in China since 1949
Column chart (2)
Consumption in China by numbers over 70 years
Bar chart (3)
Doughnut chart (5)
Highlights of military parade
The results in Table 6.2 show that 11 out of 13 infographics in the series are statistical infographics (84.6%). The purpose of this type of infographic is to make statistical data, such as raw numbers and percentages, much easier to grasp and thus more memorable. China, being big by all accounts, quite naturally has a lot of data about itself. Infographics, then, are a great news choice for packaging China by the numbers concerning her different domains of activity. Table 6.2 also summarizes the types of infographics and specific data visualization techniques as well as other visualizations used across the series of 13 infographics.
The second most common type of infographic in the series is the pictorial article infographic. This type of infographic is essentially a news article that has been enhanced with the incorporation of imagery or in some cases limited or non-existent statistics. The pictorial article infographic was employed once in standalone format, with statistical data completely absent such as in the second infographic in the series entitled Highlights of China’s upcoming 70th anniversary celebrations. A second occurrence of the pictorial article type of infographic appears in a blended format in the last infographic of the series Highlights of military parade, which incorporates selected statistical data in what is otherwise a pictorial article.
The three main types of salient visual enhancements in the series of infographics were icons (which were used in all infographics, or 100%), directional arrows indicating increases in numerical values (used in six infographics, or 46%), photos (in four infographics, or 30.7%) and lists (used in three infographics, or 23%). These results offer some insights into how infographics can be conceptualized and categorized. Icons form the basis of this series of infographics regardless of the statistical status of the information that the infographic carries. This means that even though all of these infographics included icons, they cannot be classified as icon-based infographics since other salient items and features take precedence, such as the statistical information which is foregrounded. Icons thus have a special role as enhancers of information and this is consistent with Ferreira (2014) who states that icons have the potential to “represent some of the data” (p. 14).
The use of icons in combination with directional arrows figures prominently across the series of infographics. Placement is another important semiotic resource. Side-by-side comparisons of two dates or icons tend to situate the increase on the right-hand side. Increases in quantity or extent are also regularly marked by upward flowing arrows from the smaller value to the larger one, be it raw numerical data or proportional circles or other icons. Increases can also be further signified with images of more people represented, higher stacks of coins shown and perceptively larger bags of money, etc. and depicted on the right as shown in Figure 6.4. All of these juxtaposed images play upon physical quantities and sizing dimensions to capture increase, growth and improvement.
Figure 6.4Directional arrows as semiotic resources
Labels and captions with numerical data highlighted in boldface, in a larger font or in a different colour, also figure prominently and represent other modes and semiotic resources for making meaning. Harris (1996) discusses how colour “is a powerful tool to use with infographics” (p. 78) and outlines numerous applications of colour, including but not limited to its ability to differentiate data, encode information, provide emphasis, signify changes, improve the appearance of charts and the infographic as a whole, as well as alert the viewer, hold their attention and facilitate retention of information, etc. (1996, pp. 78–79).
In terms of data / graphic visualizations, there were 55 occurrences of charts across the series of infographics which Figure 6.5 shows.
Figure 6.5Data visualizations in the series of 70th Anniversary infographics
The column chart was the predominant data visualization (n = 28 or 50.9%). Following Harris (1996): “Because the tops of a column are so pronounced, this type of graph is one of the best for showing specific value. Because of the stand-alone nature of the columns, it is also well suited for representing discrete data” (p. 80). Other charts used were bar charts (n = 12 or 21.8%), doughnut charts (n =10 or 18.2%), pie charts (3 or 5.5%) and one occurrence each of an area chart and a line chart. It is also observed that the use of data visualizations was higher in the infographics covering international trade (11 data visualizations), transportation (10 data visualizations) and consumption and global ranking (8 data visualizations each).
Metaphorical mappings across the series of infographics are constructed principally through the use of written language for target domains whereas pictorial representations are used for the source domains. This is not unusual as the source domain is usually more concrete and the target more abstract, being less apt to be the object of a pictorial visualization. There is, however, a multilayering of metaphors with primary and secondary target domains emerging as well as a doubling of source domains (both written and pictorial image).
Due to limitations in space for this chapter, I will illustrate how metaphors are both multimodal and multi-layered throughout the first infographic of the series of 13 infographics. The infographic China’s economic achievements over 70 years (22 August 2019) is a statistical infographic. Numbers dominate this infographic against a light blue background with yellow and orange highlights. All pictorial signs in this infographic are iconic and not real-life photo-based. There is an editor’s note forming part of the header and announcing the numbers behind the “miracle”. What follows, then, is the extended metaphor of revealing the numbers “behind” the “miracle”, which is foregrounded. All icons in Table 6.3 below are by FreePik from Flaticon and are purely for illustrative purposes to approximate the actual icons used by China Daily for which we do not have copyright permission to reproduce here. Table 6.3 summarizes target and source domain elements of the multimodal metaphors in this infographic:
Table 6.3 Examples of multimodal metaphor in the infographic “China’s economic achievements over 70 Years” Primary target domain
Metonymic and metaphor priming
Verbal–written (secondary target domain)
Sample salient pictorial-image
grain output is wheat
irrigation is a water tap
Raw coal production
raw coal is a cargo train
STEEL production is smelting
cement is a truck
infrastructure is a train
mileage is a car
Inland waterway mileage
waterways are cargo ships
Scheduled flights mileage
flights are airplanes
postal service is a post office
Mobile broadband users
broadband is a smart phone
research is a microscope
patents are certificates
Primary, junior and high school enrolment rates
schools are buildings
Higher education enrolment
higher education is a graduation cap
Number of public libraries
libraries are books
Television coverage of the population
television coverage is a tv
life expectancy is an old man
2008 Beijing Olympic Games – topped the medals list
Olympics are gold medals
Clean energy consumption
clean energy is a windmill
Urban employed population
employment is man (men) in a tie
Here we can see that the primary target domain is “economic achievements”, which is also the title and theme of the infographic. There is, however, a reinforced source domain since it is expressed both in written language and with visual imagery. These examples also demonstrate how multimodal metaphor can be layered, namely with visual imagery serving as source domain for both the primary target domain and also an intermediary secondary target domain. In terms of the primary metaphorical relationship, the source domains are consistently depicted through pictorial representation and the target domain is named through written language. Imagery here plays a central role is triggering the metaphor as it again enables the visual representation of the typically more concrete source domain of metaphors. It is arguably much easier to visually represent a microscope (12) than it is to depict research and also a book (16) than it is a library.
The icons used in the pictorial source domains in Table 6.3 are established connotators. As stated by Forceville (2009), “it is connotations rather than denotations of source domains that get mapped in metaphors” (p. 29). Machin and Mayr (2012) state: “Of course we could argue that there is no neutral denotation, all images connote something for us” (p. 50). Consequently, we can also observe that the attributes of the represented objects and how they are represented (Machin and Mayr, 2012, p. 57) contribute to further cueing or signalling of the metaphors. Strong connotators are said to mobilize attributes of objects, settings and salience (Machin and Mayr, 2012). The image of an old man in example (18) connotes living for a long time, for instance. The metaphor life expectancy is an old man, which is signalled through the features +glasses, +grey hair and +balding. The combined affordances of these aforementioned attributes thus facilitate the meaning of ageing. Following Kress (2010), signs are motivated and apt to convey meaning, that is to say, having “the requisite features to be the carrier of the meaning” (p. 55). Thus, when associated, these three carriers of meaning become even more salient and make the metaphor life expectancy is an old man possible.
Metonymy is also another form of analogy where one thing is conceptualized by means of something else. Metonymy is prevalent through visuals when there is a close logical relationship between the source domain and the target domain. Contrary to metaphor, however, metonymy is said to involve contiguity, in that there is sequential, spatial, temporal or some attributive relationship between the two concepts being mobilized. As such, flights take place on aircraft so this is both a logical spatial and temporal connection between the visual of an aircraft and the written word flights in the infographics (example 9 above). Similarly, cement is associated with a cement truck (example 12) as one of its most well-known containers. Furthermore, gold medals are unavoidably associated with the Olympics (example 19), and more so than any other colour of medal. Whether metaphorical or metonymic, Forceville and Urios-Aparisi (2009) emphasize: “It is impossible to study metaphor without addressing metonymy” (p. 12). As anticipated, “each property or feature that is mapped from a source to a target must first have been metonymically related to that source” (2009, p. 12). This means that an underlying metonym is possible when discussing metaphor. Several other authors see metonymy as more primary and, in fact, a precursor to metaphor with metaphor and metonymy on a continuum of the similar underlying processes (Dirven and Porings, 2002; Kövecses, 2014).
Discussion and implications
Our brief overview of selected semiotic resources and multimodal metaphors in China Daily’s series of infographics commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China scratches the surface of a full cataloguing of all semiotic resources (in particular, less salient ones) in a given infographic and across all infographics in the series. Colour and font choices, background and decorative aspects may well be culturally anchored and even though apparently less salient, also requires investigation. Moreover, how international and Anglophone audiences perceive the series of infographics commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China merits further inquiry. This can be broken down into how audiences recognize and retrieve salient information amidst aesthetics as well as how they appraise and evaluate the information communicated by the infographics.
Following Lankow et al. (2012), how reputable, reliable and relevant the source of the data and information is can be an essential factor in its reception. Data integrity, according to Krum (2014), and “[c]redibility plays a huge part in the success of an infographic” (p. 296). Krum (2014) also discusses how readers may be interested in knowing where data comes from, how old it is, as well as how credible the data and the infographic are (p. 296). The main source of data for the series of 13 infographics is the (Chinese) National Bureau of Statistics, which is referenced 8 out of 13 times (61.5%). Other sources of data include the Ministry of Education (1), The People’s Government of Beijing Municipality (1), Shenzhen Statistics Bureau (1), Guangzhou Statistics Bureau (1), people.cn (1), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1), Xinhua (2), General Administration of Customs (1) and China Daily (2). In short, 85% of the infographics are attributed to an authoritative source of data with only two infographics not providing the source of the information they include. Whether Chinese and non-Chinese readers are attuned to the source of the data and information in an infographic as well as how reputable the source of data is, is yet another area to consider in Chinese news infographics.
Future research directions
Other areas for future research can examine infographics on timely global and national events from the perspectives of their creators in addition to considering the perspective of various audiences. How do designers of news infographics in general, and in Chinese news specifically, cater to domestic and/or international audiences? What is the nature of the agency and interagentive work of news journalists with visual graphic designers? How is agency operating at different stages from conceptualization, selection of data to include, selection of reputable sources of data, packaging of data into units of information and inclusion of specific data visualization techniques? Finally, design choices are being made in terms of layout, organization and aesthetics.
Further multimodal discourse analysis tools specific to news infographics can also be elaborated in order to refine analyses in terms of salience and saliency. It was observed that the use of icons, more so than of photos, is the mainstay of the series of infographics commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China. Yet, of note, an infographic can still be considered a statistical infographic without specific data visualizations in the form of charts. Numbers, percentages and statistics can be presented through heterogeneous modes such as in boldface, in a different font, a different font size or font colour as well as in juxtaposition to icons, images or short captions, etc. In short, even without graphic data visualizations (in the form of various charts), when numbers dominate an infographic, it is a still a statistical infographic because the numbers are salient.
According to Landragin (2011), visual salience and linguistic salience are analogous. Landragin (2011) elaborates that visual salience can be defined along three criteria: (1) intrinsic physical criteria of the object (size, colour, texture, etc.); (2) cognitive criteria such as our physiological and psychological mechanisms of perception, attention and memory; and (3) cultural criteria that prime individuals to be sensitive to certain stimuli, colours and even criteria for saliency (Landragin, 2011, pp. 81–82). Saliency, then, is not reduced to the simple property of a represented object but emerges across multiple criteria. It is likely in this direction that research on infographics used in journalism and the media can find a robust framework for analysis.
The 70th Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China is a significant milestone in the country’s history and coverage of this event extended beyond regular news reporting to include a special coverage series of 13 infographics. China is large by all numbers (Bloom, 2019), including but not limited to geographically, demographically and economically, etc. Communicating China by the numbers is a pharaonic task and will inevitably involve the Chinese National Statistics Bureau. It should not be surprising then that the dominant type of infographic was the statistical infographic. Instead of dry statistics on China’s achievements over the past 70 years, the visual mode and specifically the use of graphic visualizations and salient icons, mobilizes multimodal metaphors and contributes to the multi-layering of the news discourse. How Chinese news media outlets cover both national and international news and package it into infographics is an interesting and pertinent area of research on news discourse. Multimodality and metaphor will inevitably play central roles due to the illustration of numerical information, if any, as well as the varied other visualizations contributing to further layers of information on a given newsworthy event.
With the development of digital infographics as a genre and as a technique to communicate information succinctly, the existing categories of infographics will need to be continuously revisited. What we have observed is that infographics mobilize many different data visualization techniques and thus cannot always be conveniently classified according to one type. Further research on infographics in the news media in general is needed through the lens of how the visualization of statistical data, images and visuals as well as multimodal metaphor are interwoven and contribute to layering of news discourses. As stated by Thibodeau, “metaphors can shape how people think about complex issues” (2017, p. 273) and this is pertinent for online news. Smiciklas (2012) cannot be wrong when he says that a
well-placed, self-contained infographic addresses our need to be confident about the content we’re sharing. Infographics relay the gist of your information quickly, increasing the chance for it to be shared and fueling its spread across a wide variety of digital channels.
If our “human brains are essentially hard-wired for visuals” (Dunlap & Lowenthal, 2016) and messages are more likely to be remembered through visuals (Ware, 2004; Smiciklas, 2012), it can be said that infographics have a privileged position in the current attention economy (Simon, 1971). Yet, infographics as “[v]isual communication can bridge cultures” (Beegel, 2014, p. 7). The news outlet China Daily is metaphorically a “Window to China”, as mentioned in the beginning of this chapter and as the country’s most authoritative English-language daily newspaper, it is in a unique position to bridge Chinese culture to the anglophone speaking world and beyond. China Daily infographics thus have a unique role to play as part of China’s external communication to the world. In terms of public relations, the use of infographics is not only a modern form of communication, but can also increase both the speed, ease and effectiveness of communication. This is a good strategy for communicating China’s news to the world.
The “tree map” icon in Figure 6.2 is an original created icon. All other icons used in this chapter are by FreePik from Flaticon.