Chinese news discourse exhibits distinctive characteristics


In the context of globalization or localization, news discourse plays an indispensable role by disseminating meaning that is manufactured, constructed or negotiated by news workers over the course of presentation or representation. With the new era featuring “smart things” on various fronts, the amount of data to be processed has increased exponentially. Characterized by highly interactive and customized news stories, this new era further enforces changes in the way news discourse is perceived and consumed. Furthermore, translation has facilitated the instantaneity of news flow around the world by simultaneously addressing members of different linguistic and cultural communities through the Internet and through mobile devices. It will undoubtedly serve to intensify, reduce or mediate the interaction and sometimes opposition between the global and the local.

China being a country in transition, Chinese news discourse exhibits distinctive characteristics and even more so given the authoritativeness of the state media plus various stakeholders within the society. With China’s multi-dimensional engagement in various world affairs and its massive Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in place, Western media coverage of China has dramatically increased. Against this backdrop, news dissemination manifested in news discourse calls for investigations from academia from more perspectives and with more interdisciplinary approaches. Therefore, the primary aim of this book is to collate and publish research works within theoretical, methodological and practical perspectives in the intersections between news media, discourse, language, culture and communication, as well as translation pedagogy. The book will focus on Chinese news discourse by examining, in particular, what new features it demonstrates in contrast and comparison to news discourses in other countries in covering such hot topics as the BRI and the 70th Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China among many more.

Four perspectives to study news discourse

News is socially constructed, thus news discourse is “a practice”, which involves the social construction of reality rather than reflecting social reality (Fowler, 1991, p. 2). The study of journalistic discourse has made significant advancement in the past few decades, due to the development of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) (Carvalho, 2008). There are four main perspectives to study news discourse.

The sociological perspective

In this research strand, scholars such as Pan and Kosicki (1993) take news discourse as a sociocognitive process involving three actors: sources, journalists and audience members on the basis of their socially defined roles. In this sociological approach, discourses are considered as “structured and structuring structures” that shape social practices of enunciation (Keller, 2005). Unlike Foucauldian approaches, this form of discourse analysis recognizes the importance of socially constituted actors in the social production and circulation of knowledge (Keller, 2005). News framing analysis is a social constructivist approach to examine news discourse, which is considered as “an initial step toward analysing the news discourse process as a whole” (Pan & Kosicki, 1993). Framing is about the way news reports emphasizes some aspects of an issue and make them salient to promote certain interpretations or public perceptions of events (Entman, 1993, 2004). As a dynamic process, framing involves frame-building and frame-setting (de Vreese, 2005). The frames are manifest within audience members, news organizations, news sources, and news texts. “Frames are powerful units of discourse” (Kuypers & D’Angelo, 2009, p. 2).

The constructivist perspective: CDA

Local English Newspaper Publishes Special Pages on the 71st Anniversary of  the Founding of the People's Republic of China

Emerged in the late 1980s, CDA, as a multilevel and multilayered approach to study text in context, has become the single most authoritative line of research regarding the study of media discourse (Carvalho, 2008; Wodak, 2011; Coelho, Carvalho & Seixas, 2019). Power and ideology in the news are the central focus of this approach. News carries a unique signifying power, a power to represent events in particular ways (Fairclough, 1995; Joye, 2010). Viewing discourse as social practice, CDA stresses “patterns of domination whereby one social group is dominated by another” (Phillips, 2006, p. 288). Meanwhile, ideological standpoints are the most fundamental in shaping influence of a text (Carvalho, 2008). While Fairclough (1995) looks for ideological mechanisms embedded in the text, van Dijk (1995) focuses on semantic structures of discourse that expresses ideological opinions. However, CDA has not been able to account for the full cycle of news discourse (Philo, 2007). Three aspects remain under-researched: the time plane in discourse analysis, the discursive strategies of social actors, and the extra- and supra-textual effects of mediated discourse (Carvalho, 2008).

The sociolinguistic perspective

Examination of language (the vocabulary and the writing style) in news within social setting is the focus of this line of research. According to Fowler (1991, p. 4), “news is a representation of the world in language”, which bears structure of social and economic values. Linguistic analyses of journalistic texts pay close attention to issues of pragmatics, semantics and syntax in discourse (Fowler, 1991; Carvalho, 2008). As both a linguist and a journalist, Allan Bell (1991) studied news discourse of different actors including news sources, news professionals and audiences. He puts forward that “ultimate control lies not with news professionals but with owners whose interest is efficiency and profit” (Bell, 1991, p. 38). Today, scholars such as Caple and Bednarek (2016) have drawn on both linguistic and social semiotic theories and put forward a new “discursive perspective” to study news values beyond language.

The interactive perspective

Driven by the advancement of digital and social media technologies, scholars have proposed new interactive perspective to study news discourse on the digital media platforms. For instance, Coelho, Carvalho and Seixas (2019) combined CDA and discourse analysis on positioning and stance-taking to analyse the interaction between news texts and readers’ comments. As Gan (2020, pp. 22–23) noted, “social media have facilitated new discursive practices” in the digital age. The interactive nature of social media has blurred the dividing line between news producer and receiver. Discourse on social media channels is mainly manifest through the interaction between posts and comments. In a word, an interactive perspective to study news discourse in the digital age is emerging and developing.

News discourse in China

In China, most news media outlets are state-owned and they are under political pressures and strict censorship. Over the past 40 years, the Party State has shifted its media policy from state-subsidized model to strategic marketization and to a government-paid news media. Chinese journalism is witnessing a new paradigm in which the Chinese government funds digital media projects to report on / propagandize China at home and abroad (Deng, 2018). Indeed, since the early 2000s, China has intensified its focus on its foreign image and cultivated consent for the country’s peaceful rise.

The complexity and hybridity of the Chinese media system are mirrored in its offline journalistic practices (Fu & Lee, 2016). While analysing Chinese journalists’ offline practices, Pan and Lu (2003) identified four news discourses: The Party-press discourse that promotes the Party loyalty and propaganda, professional discourse that focuses on objectivity and autonomy, market-economy discourse that is meant to appeal to the market, and Confucian discourse that teaches the public to recognize their own and the nation’s interests. Regarding online news discourse, Fu and Lee (2016) found that Chinese journalists normalize their Weibo practices based on their existing offline journalistic discourses. Their Weibo discourses exhibit political caution, professionalism deviation, marketing commitment and Confucian intellectual expression. They concluded that Chinese journalists enjoy increased journalistic autonomy and freedom in China’s web 2.0 media environment, but the Party-press paradigm remains dominant in China (Fu & Lee, 2016).

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