Chinese news discourse


Chinese news discourse

Chinese news discourse

Recontextualizing political metaphor in news discourse

A case study of the Chinese president’s metaphors in English reports

Li Pan1 and Chuxin Huang
DOI: 10.4324/9781003032984-7




The close relationship between politics, language and media can be reflected in that political discourse constantly forms a crucial part of media discourse (Schäffner & Bassnett, 2010; Okulska & Cap, 2010). The discourse produced by political leaders is often of great concern to their own country and society, the media and even the international community. When the media recontextualize and communicate the speeches of politicians, they not only inform the audience what the speakers have said, but also influence how the readers view the politicians and their public utterances through positioning the speakers and their discourse in the news coverage (Schäffner, 2015). In other words, the recontextualization of political discourse to media discourse concerns not only what idea is conveyed but also how it is expressed. Political discourse has long been analysed as “a means of codifying the way public orators used language for persuasive and other purposes” in the Western classic rhetoric (Chilton, 2004, p. ix). Political metaphor used by political leaders, as a major linguistic feature of political discourse, has been widely circulated and received much media attention (Charteris-Black, 2011; Musolff, 2016). However, how political metaphor is accommodated in news media has far from been thoroughly researched. What is especially interesting but little touched upon is how political metaphors used by political leaders in their public speeches are translated and recontextualized in the domestic and foreign media.

Drawing upon the recontextualization principles in Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) (Fairclough, 2003) and the Appraisal Theory (AT) (Martin & White, 2005), the authors propose an analytical model to examine the recontextualization of metaphors used by political leaders in news discourse across languages and cultures. This study investigates a metaphor that the Chinese President Xi Jinping used in his speech during a 2019 visit to Nepal and its varying English versions quoted in English news reports disseminated both by the Chinese and the Anglo-American media in order to explore how a Chinese political metaphor used in political speech is removed from its original context, quoted, accommodated and recontextualized in English media reports. The research questions are (1) What are the differences between the translations of the political metaphor by the Chinese and the Anglo-American media? (2) How is the metaphor quoted and recontextualized in news discourse? (3) Why does the recontextualization of metaphors differ in the news discourse by the Chinese and the Western media?



(Re)contextualization of political metaphor in news and translation

Global media are found active in reporting and spreading metaphors sourced from political discourse (Charteris-Black, 2011; Musolff, 2016). The language used in political contexts forms a genre or type of discourse – “political discourse” – partly because political activities are “largely discursive” (van Dijk, 1997, p. 37). Metaphor has been employed for persuasion in political discourse since Aristotle (Charteris-Black, 2014). The Conceptual Metaphor Theory (CMT) holds that metaphors are not just linguistic expressions but reflect how our thoughts, attitudes and actions are organized (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980; Ortony, 1993). A metaphor thus may evoke varied understandings of its source image given our different experiences and perceptions about the image. Similarly, political metaphor frames or influences how we perceive or understand political issues through exploiting the source domain images to hide or highlight certain aspects of the target concepts in question (Musolff, 2016). Metaphors are “products of discourse, and thus are thoroughly contextualized” or “inseparable from context” (Gibbs & Lonergan, 2009, p. 251). The persuasion of political metaphor is also “a multi-layered discourse function” dependent on the interaction between “intention, linguistic choice and context” (Charteris-Black, 2011, p. 51). Political metaphors are therefore contextually contingent in terms of the production and interpretation of their meanings or intents, especially in the case of recontextualization.

The connections across contexts can be understood as intertextuality, which is also “a matter of recontextualization” (Fairclough, 2003, p. 61). In addressing the recontextualization of political metaphor in news discourse, the political discourse is viewed as taken out of its originated context to enter the news discourse context. Given that “the media belong to the main actors in political communication” (Schäffner & Bassnett, 2010, p. 3) and the media also engage with political events and discourse in news production, “journalistic texts are thus also in intertextual relations with political texts, which, moreover, can be relations of intertextuality across languages and cultures” (Schaffner, 2012, p. 112).

Bernstein (1990) defines recontextualization as having a discourse relocated from its original context or practice and appropriated within another one. Based on Bernstein’s comparatively narrow definition, Fairclough (1988, 2003) and Chouliaraki and Fairclough (1999) broadly define recontextualization as a representation of social events. Moreover, recontextualization in news discourse should consider news as “the social construction of reality” (Fowler, 1991, p. 10). In this study, the recontextualization of political discourse in news discourse involves both the quotation of political metaphor as a communicative event and the appropriation of the quoted metaphor in news discourse.

What makes quotations of political speeches in news reports across languages tending to produce ambiguity is that they are usually quoted in the target language in the news as if the original speakers actually uttered them in the target language. The quotation is represented as either a reported speech that involves “a transformation of reality” signalled by linguistic signs (Günthner, 1992, p. 225) or a direct speech that might be misleading in reporting the political discourse for the use of quotation marks does not necessarily convey the original meanings (Brownlie, 2010). In the cases of quoting foreign languages, translation is invisible; whether the translation has to be “undertaken by the journalist or by someone else is completely elided” (Brownlie, 2010, p. 40). When the quoted extracts are decontextualized from the political context and then recontextualized into the news discourse, the changed attitude and intention will be closely related to “the new context, the purposes that translators and other agents … pursue and their overall political goals” (Ietcu-Fairclough, 2008, p. 68). Such quotations might entail the positioning or negotiation of discourse participants and social realities through producing competing narratives in the unfolding texts.

In representing the quotes of foreign political discourse in news reports, the media can resort to different translated versions and reporting verbs to subtly change the original meaning and intention. In interlingual news reporting, the quotations of the political metaphors act as the contextualization cues at the intertextual level in news reporting (Schäffner & Bassnett, 2010; Schäffner, 2008, 2012). While the lexical items of political metaphors quoted in news are key to their persuasion and interpretation in the media context (Pan & Huang, 2020), other co-occurring signs in the news text also matter. In this sense, not only the evaluation of those cues but also the translations of the metaphor have to rely on “co-occurrence judgements” manifested in other elements (Gumperz, 1989, p. 3).

Thus, it is interesting to compare how the different translations of the same metaphor sourced from political discourse are quoted and recontextualized by varied English news media. Scholars have touched upon the political metaphors used in media discourse from varied aspects, such as the effect of political metaphors on supporting or deflecting public opinions in mass-media language (De Landtsheer, 2009), the relation of the communicative potential of metaphor use in headlines to their culture-specific elements (White & Herrera, 2009), and the variation of the same political metaphors recontextualized in media language (Kövecses, 2009). The variation of metaphor is more frequent in interlingual news reporting where a political metaphor from the originated context is translated, transformed and recontextualized, given that the metaphors are found disambiguated in press translation (Gumul, 2010, p. 99). So far, mostly investigated is appropriation or mediation in media translation based on (re)framing (Baker, 2007; Valdeón, 2008; van Doorslaer, 2010; Pan, 2014, 2015; Qin & Zhang, 2018; Wu, 2018; Liu, 2019), while relatively underrepresented is how the quotes of political metaphors are translated and contextualized in news translation (Schäffner, 2008, 2012; Pan, 2019; Pan & Huang, 2020). Even more rarely explored are the different purposes and functions of the quoted and relocated political metaphors from one practice or context to another.




Recontextualizing political metaphor: an analytical model

In this study, recontextualization, as the incorporation of political metaphor from Chinese political discourse into English media discourse, involves a movement of the discursive practice of political speech, e.g. the address by President Xi in a foreign visit, to the media practice of news reports, either by the Chinese or the foreign media in the English language. Figure 4.1 illustrates the recontextualization of political metaphor in news discourse as a social practice across language and cultural boundaries.

Figure 4.1Modelling recontextualization of political metaphors in news discourse

As Figure 4.1 indicates, recontextualization from political to media discourse is never simple nor transparent, especially when translation is involved. As Fairclough (2006, p. 85) argues, the form or meaning of events narrated in news discourse “are transformed according to the genre conventions of news narratives”. Fairclough (2003) develops the four principles of recontextualization in discourse practices: Presence, Abstraction, Arrangement and Additions (pp. 139–140). Presence indicates which elements of events are represented, present/absent, prominent/background. Abstraction suggests the degree of abstraction/generalization from concrete real events. Additions refers to what is inserted in representing particular events for explanation/legitimation, such as reasons or purposes and evaluation. Arrangement deals with how the source materials or events are reorganized. These discursive practices can be equally manifested in transforming quoted metaphors in media translation. As in Figure 4.1, the news discourse recontextualizes the metaphor sourced from political discourse via the Presence and Abstraction of the original metaphors through translation and quotation, and the Additions and Arrangement of other intertextual or contextual elements in news coverage.

At the same time, a quotation of metaphor is usually combined with “a neutral reporting with an evaluation” (Schäffner & Bassnett, 2010, p. 5). The AT developed by Martin and White (2005) examines how language construes evaluation in discourse through exploiting three systems of linguistic resources: attitude, engagement and graduation, so as to position the discourse producers interactively with their prospective audience. The engagement system in AT interprets “the communicative arrangements by which the journalistic author engages dialogistically with the diversity of voices and viewpoints” (White, 2012, p. 58). When the news reporters position the political metaphors attributed to the political leaders, the authorial attitude towards the quotes can be activated via the engagement resources, i.e. the reporting verbs in the authorial voice, which signal a varied stance or attitude to the quoted source (White, 2012) and may further direct public opinions.

Concurrently, as an institutional practice, the global news agencies usually give instructions on faithful and accurate translation of quotes in news reporting (Bielsa & Bassnett, 2009, pp. 71, 88). However, the picture may be different and complex in quoting political metaphors given their varied meaning potentials for evaluations (Charteris-Black, 2011), which may lead to misrepresentation or mistranslation in news coverage. In reporting the Chinese president’s metaphors, recontextualization is requisite for translating and embedding them in English news, intertextually, interlingually and interculturally.

To probe the complexity of recontextualization, it is necessary to investigate in what ways and for what reasons certain metaphor(s) are quoted in discourse practices. Drawing on the recontextualization principles in CDA (Fairclough, 2003) and the engagement system in AT (Martin & White, 2005), an analytical model is proposed to examine the recontextualization of political metaphor to media discourse, mainly through translation and quotation. Since political metaphors have been frequently found in the form of direct quotations and reported speeches (Schäffner, 2008, 2012; Musolff, 2016) and quite often used in the news headlines (Charteris-Black, 2011), the model takes the textual context as its starting point, focusing on the relocation of metaphor from political speech into both the headlines and quotations in news.

Specifically, in addressing the recontextualization of metaphor from a political speech to the headline, direct quotation and reported speech in news reports, the model can incorporate the textual analysis of Presence, Abstraction, Arrangement and Addition of the linguistic features of metaphor and its surrounding texts in media discourse. The added value or evaluation throughout the news can be examined with the toolkit of AT in terms of the evaluative meanings of the reporting verbs and other contextual cues in signalling intention, positioning and stance. Figure 4.2 displays the procedures for analysing the recontextualization process.

Figure 4.2Analysing recontextualization of political metaphors in news discourse

Figure 4.2 illustrates the analytical framework for recontextualizing political metaphors in news discourse. It first looks at how the Chinese political metaphor is represented and transformed in English news discourse through translation and quotation, i.e. the Presence and Abstraction of metaphorical images, which might imply differed attitudes. The analysis then explores the Addition of engagement elements to the quoted metaphors, i.e. the reporting verbs and their surrounding authorial comments in media reports. The analysis is finally extended to the Arrangement of other textual elements and reported events in the reports that are related to the political metaphors and their original context.



Recontextualizing the Chinese president’s metaphor


To investigate how the Chinese president’s metaphors are recontextualized in the English reports by both the mainstream Chinese media and Anglo-American media, we focus on one of the metaphors used by President Xi in his talks with the Nepali Prime Minister K. P. Sharma Oli during his first Nepali state visit between 12 and 13 October 2019. The Chinese metaphor comes from Xi’s remark “任何人企图在中国任何地区搞分裂,结果只能是粉身碎骨” after Oli conveyed Nepal’s stance of supporting the one-China policy and other core interests of China. It is so far one of Xi’s most quoted metaphors in the English reporting of his addresses outside China, as found in our pilot studies on media translations of Xi’s metaphors on domestic or international occasions.

The analysis centres on the English versions of “粉身碎骨”. The former part of the original remark, “任何人企图在中国任何地区搞分裂”, is directly rendered as “anyone that attempts separatist activities in any region of China”. However, the latter part “粉身碎骨”, describing the consequences of the agents or their separatist activities, is quite complicated and susceptible to manipulation or misrepresentation through translation, because whether and to what extent the original metaphorical images are reproduced in its English translations seems quite unstable and contextually dependent. Thus, we prefer not to give its translation and instead to see how it is represented in the English reports.

The data consists of 16 English news reports including 11 articles from 9 Anglo-American mainstream media, amounting to 7,731 words, and 5 articles from three Chinese news media, totalling 1,749 words. The time range for the collected news is between 13 and 16 October 2019, the four days after Xi’s state visit to Nepal. The headlines are generally regarded as “the shop window display of newspaper” (White & Herrera, 2009, p. 136). All the 16 headlines in the data are presented in Tables 4.1 and 4.2, where the English versions of “粉身碎骨” are marked in bold type. The publication date of each article is shown following each headline in the Tables 4.1 and 4.2.

Table 4.1 Headlines and sources of the Anglo-American media reports Publication




1. Hong Kong protests: President Xi warns of “bodies smashed” (14 October 2019)



2. China’s Xi warns attempts to divide China will end in “shattered bones” (13 October 2019)

3. Tens of thousands of Hong Kong protesters plead for U.S. help (14 October 2019)


The Telegraph

4. China’s Xi warns efforts to divide China will end with “crushed bodies and shattered bones” (14 October 2019)


The Guardian

5. Hong Kong protests are at “life-threatening level”, say police (14 October 2019)

6. Hong Kong: Carrie Lam hints at further measures to suppress protests (15 October 2019)



7. Xi vows attempts to split China will “end in crushed bodies and shattered bones” (14 October 2019)


ABC News

8. President Xi Jinping vows Chinese separatists will be “smashed to pieces” as US-themed protests begin in Hong Kong (14 October 2019)


Business Insider

9. Xi Jinping warns that attempts to divide China will end with “crushed bodies and shattered bones” (14 October 2019)


Fox News

10. China’s Xi Jinping warns attempts to divide country will end in “crushed bodies and shattered bones” (14 October 2019)


The New York Times (NYT)

11. Hong Kong leader, Carrie Lam, gets jeered, tainting annual address (16 October 2019)


Table 4.2 Headlines and sources of the Chinese media reports Publication




12. Xi says China ready to advance friendly cooperation with Nepal (13 October 2019)


China Daily

13. Any attempt to split China will end in vain: Xi (13 October 2019)

14. President salutes Nepal, warns separatists (14 October 2019)



15. President Xi Jinping says any attempts to separate China will fail (13 October 2019)

16. Xi Jinping says any attempt to split China will end in vain (14 October 2019)




The analysis examines the quotation of the metaphor in terms of the four strategies of recontextualization, i.e. Presence, Abstraction, Arrangement and Addition, and compares the relocation of the Chinese metaphor in the headline, direct quotation and reported speech in the English news reports by Chinese and Anglo-American media. Presence is detected in representing the metaphor and its images. Abstraction helps to relocate the metaphor as quotations. Addition includes inserting the reporting verbs and surrounding words in the quotes. Arrangement extends to the ordering of textual elements related to the relocated metaphor and its original context in the unfolding reports.



Presence: transformation and representation of metaphor

The representation of a Chinese political metaphor in English news discourse concerns the transformation in the way of translation. It might be argued that the English versions of President Xi’s metaphor in media discourse are not strictly translations. However, since the metaphor is not original in English but Chinese, the English versions are somehow translated from Chinese into English and therefore virtually the English translations of the Chinese metaphor.

All the English versions of the metaphor “粉身碎骨” extracted from the Anglo-American and the Chinese media reports are illustrated in Table 4.3. The frequency of the English metaphors exceeds the number of articles since some reports also include the metaphor in the headlines or incorporate it more than once in a text. Longer extracts of the metaphors in news are shown below.

Table 4.3 English versions of the Chinese metaphor quoted in the reports Anglo-American media

(11 articles, 23 metaphors)

Chinese media

(5 articles, 9 metaphors)


1. in crushed bodies and shattered bones/end in shattered bones

(n=13) (Reuters, The Telegraph, The Guardian, CNN, Business Insider, Fox News)

2. be crushed

(n=4) (Reuters, The Guardian, CNN)

3. be smashed (in)to pieces

(n=3) (ABC News)

4. perish, with their bodies smashed and bones ground to powder/bodies smashed

(n=2) (BBC)

5. be ruined

(n=1) (NYT)

1. be/end in vain

(n=3) (China Daily, CGTN)

2. be crushed

(n=2) (Xinhua, CGTN)

3. be smashed into pieces

(n=2) (China Daily)

4. fail

(n=2) (CGTN)


In news headlines, the English versions of the metaphor quite differ in the Anglo-American and Chinese media discourse. Six headlines by the Anglo-American media (see Table 4.1) incorporate and make salient the metaphorical images “身” (bodies) or “骨” (bones). Three headlines of the Chinese media reports (see Table 4.2) foreground its intended meanings while concealing the images in the expressions like “end in vain” and “fail”.

Quotes in the Anglo-American media:

1.“Anyone who attempts to split any region from China will perish, with their bodies smashed and bones ground to powder”, Mr Xi said, according to a foreign ministry statement issued on Sunday. (BBC, 14 October 2019)

2.“Anyone attempting to split China in any part of the country will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones”, he told Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli in a meeting on Sunday, according to China’s state broadcaster CCTV. (Reuters, 13 October 2019)

3.Xi said that “those who engage in separatist activities in any part of China will be smashed into pieces” during a meeting with the Nepalese prime minister K. P. Sharma, according to the state-owned newspaper China Daily, […] (ABC News, 14 October 2019)

4.Chinese President Xi Jinping warned on Sunday that any attempt to divide China will be crushed, […] (Reuters, 13 October 2019)

5.“Anyone attempting to split any part of China will only be ruined”, Mr. Xi said. (NYT, 16 October 2019)


The above five versions (in bold type) are identified from the 11 news reports by the Anglo-American media since some appear in two or more articles. All expressions carry the literal meanings to varying extents. (1) and (2) are the only two word-for-word versions that explicate the images “bodies” and “bones”. “Perish” and “ground to powder” in (1) seem to be an over-translation that deviates from the original intents of metaphor use. Version (3) “smashed into pieces” generally conveys the images “bodies” and “bones”, which are removed in (4) and (5).

Quotes in the Chinese media:

6.Those who engage in separatist activities in any part of China will be smashed into pieces, Xi said, […] (China Daily, 14 October 2019)

7.“Anyone attempting separatist activities in any part of China will be crushed …”, said the Chinese president. (Xinhua, 13 October 2019)

8.Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday stressed that any attempt to split China and the Chinese people in any region will be crushed […] (CGTN, 14 October 2019)

9.Chinese President Xi Jinping says any attempts to split China will fail. (CGTN, 13 October 2019)

10.He also said that any attempt by separatists to split China will be in vain. (China Daily, 14 October 2019)


Four English versions are found in the Chinese media reports. They are not as literal as those in the Anglo-American media reports. No versions preserve the images “bodies” and “bones” in a word-for-word way. While (6) depicts both the action “smashed” and result “into pieces”, it replaces “身” and “骨” with the general “pieces”. Unlike (6), (7) and (8) only convey the action through “be crushed”. “Fail” and “be in vain” in (9) and (10) completely exclude the metaphorical images while reproducing the intended meaning of metaphor use.



Abstraction: quotation of metaphor

The presence of a Chinese political metaphor can generate varied quotations in English news on a scale of abstraction, manifested by how much of the metaphor is presented in the quotations. Whether the original metaphor is represented as a direct quotation or reported speech in news reports is linked to the degree of generality in relocating it in news discourse.

A direct quotation of the metaphor attributed to Xi finds its way into five of the ten versions shown in the last section (e.g. (1) to (3), (5) and (7)), where the quotes of metaphor are enclosed in quotation marks. Among those direct quotes, “with their bodies smashed and bones ground to powder” and “end in crushed bodies and shattered bones” indicate a lower abstraction or higher concretization of the metaphorical images, while the other three versions like “crushed” and “smashed into pieces” indicate a higher degree of generality and also find some trace of the images.

Indirect quotes are used in the remaining five examples ((4), (6) and (8) to (10)), where no quotation marks are included. Among them, “fail” and “be in vain” bear no trace of the metaphorical images and manifest the highest level of vagueness whereas either “crushed” or “smashed into pieces” in the other three versions indicate a lower level of abstraction.

It is worth noting that all the word-for-word translations are presented as direct quotations whereas the totally free translations are represented as indirect quotes in the reports. In terms of Abstraction, the metaphor represented in the lowest abstraction is inclined toward a direct quotation while the version with the highest abstraction tends to be manifested in an indirect quote.



Addition: reporting verbs and authorial voices

Reporting verbs are added to the quotes of metaphor relocated from political speech to media reports as the intertextual cues. The reporting verbs also indicate the journalists’ evaluation towards and engagement with the quoted voice in news reporting (Martin & White, 2005; White, 2012). Table 4.4 summarizes the reporting verbs added to the quotations of metaphor in the collected reports.

Table 4.4 Reporting verbs for the English quotes of metaphors Anglo-American media (11 articles, 23 verbs)

Chinese media (5 articles, 9 verbs)


1. warns/warned (n=9)

2. said (n=9)

3. told (n=3)

4. vows (n=2)

1. says/said (n=7)

2. stressed (n=1)

3. warns/warned (n=1)


As Table 4.4 displays, five reporting verbs are added to the quoted metaphor: warns/warned, says/said, told, vows and stressed. The Anglo-American media mostly use “warns/warned” or “said” while the Chinese media prefer “says/said”. According to the engagement system of AT, “warns/warned”, “vows” and “stressed” indicate an incisive stance towards or alienation from the quotes, and “says/said” and “told” signal a neutral reporting. While the unmarked verbs like “says/said” project the quotes “for the reader’s consideration”, the recurring attitudinal “warns/warned” in the Anglo-American media reports are likely to distance the writers from the quoted metaphors, thus attitudinally positioning the readers “to regard the proposition favorably” (White, 2012, pp. 62–64).

The quotations of metaphor may incorporate “more elaborate metacommentary” through the reporters’ “interpretive lens” to position the quoted speaker or speech in a certain light (Hodges, 2015, p. 51). Thus, the positioning of reporting verbs for quoting the metaphor can be related to the surrounding authorial comments, as underlined in the following examples.

11.Chinese President Xi Jinping warned on Sunday that any attempt to divide China will be crushed, as Beijing faces political challenges in months-long protests in Hong Kong and U.S. criticism over its treatment of Muslim minority groups. (Reuters, 13 October 2019)


In (11), “Beijing faces political challenges […]” following the quote appears to provide background information in the reporter’s voice for understanding “be crushed” and justify the lexical choice of “warned” instead of a neutral verb. However, the addition to the quote is irrelevant to the original context of Xi’s metaphor use, after he told the Nepali PM that China appreciates Nepal’s support of the one-China policy.

Aside from the attitudinal reporting verbs, the reported speech framed by the neutral reporting verb can also be surrounded by the authorial evaluation of the quote. As shown in the following extract, the direct quotation with the unmarked “said” is preceded by the authorial voice “delivered a harsh warning against”, which may steer the interpretation of “be ruined” in line with the reporter’s evaluation.

12.Mr. Xi delivered a harsh warning against separatism on Sunday, though he did not specifically mention Hong Kong. “Anyone attempting to split any part of China will only be ruined”, Mr. Xi said. (NYT, 16 October 2019)



Arrangement: sequence of news events and allocation of the metaphor

The arrangement of metaphor-related events and the allocation of the metaphor in news discourse jointly position the political metaphor in recontextualization. Two reports respectively by China Daily and NYT are selected as samples to examine the co-occurring cues instrumental in relocating the metaphor in news reports. The China Daily text is chosen for its lexical choices of the metaphor (see (6)) that differ from other Chinese media reports. The NYT article is selected for the irrelevance of its headline to the original context of metaphor use.



President salutes Nepal, warns separatists (China Daily, 14 October 2019)

In the headline of the China Daily report, “salutes” and “warns” signal Xi’s opposing attitudes toward Nepal and separatists. The article started with introducing Xi’s visit to Nepal, followed by an indirect speech of Xi stating China’s appreciation of “Nepal’s stance of upholding the one-China policy […]”. Then the two quotes of metaphor (e.g. (6) and (10)) show up. What follows is the Nepali PM Oli’s remarks of “his country’s support of China in safeguarding its national sovereignty and territorial integrity”. The remaining text centres on the talks between Xi and Oli, also the only quoted voices. Overall, the relation and cooperation between the two countries are the main topics of the article, serving to contrast and foreground the negative attitude towards separatism carried by the reported metaphor.



Hong Kong leader, Carrie Lam, gets jeered, tainting annual address (NYT, 16 October 2019)

The NYT article reports Carrie Lam’s annual policy address on 16 October, which was interrupted by some lawmakers. Her address is quoted as “any acts that … threaten the country’s sovereignty, security and interest … will not be tolerated”, sharing the stance taken in Xi’s metaphor in the analysis. However, this quotation is inserted between the other six quotes that disagreed with her speech. For instance, a lawmaker is quoted “don’t count on it” while an electrician is reported to regard the speech as “something shallow”. Until close to the end of the report, Xi’s metaphor is introduced as “a harsh warning against separatism” (e.g. (12)). As Carrie Lam’s address is contested by the authorial and most attributed voices, the quote of Xi’s metaphor is also suppressed in the report where separatism is supported by more co-occurring voices.

In summary, the four strategies of recontextualizing metaphor in news discourse jointly produce the media effect of positioning the quoted metaphor in a certain light and manipulating evaluation towards the original speaker as quoted voice.



Discussion: findings and implications


The analysis shows that the media resort to all the four strategies in recontextualizing the Chinese president’s metaphor in English news reports and reveals the interaction of the four strategies in recontextualization.



Presence of metaphor with literal translation: distorting images

The Chinese and Anglo-American media make salient distinct aspects of the metaphor in English reports. While the Anglo-American media prefer to make the metaphorical images “bodies” and “bones” prominent in headlines and body texts, the Chinese media remove them and highlight their connotations. The Anglo-American media adopt a literal or word-for-word translation, “crushed bodies and shattered bones” (e.g. (2)) for instance, whereas the Chinese media prefer a free translation that foregrounds the implications, “fail” (e.g. (9)) for example. A free translation seems to decipher the original intentions of metaphor use, while a literal translation might have a deterrent effect on separatism but project a brutal image onto the speaker.



Abstraction of metaphor in direct quotation: misrepresenting intentions

The direct or indirect quotation of political metaphor in reporting is identified on a scale of abstraction. The direct quote of the literally translated metaphor reveals a low abstraction (e.g. (1) to (3)) while the reported speech of the connotations of metaphor reflects the highest generality (e.g. (9) and (10)). Moreover, a direct quotation of the metaphorical images might misrepresent the purposes of metaphor use in original contexts, as they may give the impression that the quote is exactly Xi’s original speech even though the representation of images is far from his real intentions.



Addition of reporting verbs and authorial evaluations: repositioning readers

The attitudinal reporting verb plus its authorial evaluative co-text can generate added values for positioning the quoted metaphor and its speaker in media discourse. While the Chinese media prefer to embed the unmarked verbs like “say/said”, the Anglo-American media usually insert the attitudinally marked verbs like “warns/warned”. Thus, the translation of quotes is already filtered through the reporters’ lens before entering into the news contexts and directing reader’s opinions.



Arrangement of news events to frame metaphor: constructing “realities”

The ordering of news events and contextual cues is also a matter of recontextualizing metaphor. The analysis of the NYT report shows that the journalists “pick up” the metaphor and put it into constructing the realities of other political issues irrelevant to the original context of Xi’s metaphor, which was contested and suppressed by varied voices in reporting. In contrast, the China Daily article recontextualizes the quoted metaphor with supportive cues signalled in both the authorial and external voices as the text focuses solely on the original context of metaphor use.



Possible factors for the variation in recontextualization

The recontextualization of metaphor, as part of discourse practice further embedded in social practice, is ultimately expected to be realized by the social representation of the “reality” portraited in the news reports. This section explores the linguistic, social-cultural and ideological differences in the rendering and recontextualization of the Chinese leader’s metaphor in English reports.



Linguistic difference: connotation and images

The differing representations of the metaphor in the Chinese and the Anglo-American media reports reflect the varied implications generated from the original Chinese metaphorical images. The complex meaning potentials of the original metaphor give the news producers more lexical choices in representing the metaphor in English. The underlying meanings are thus subject to be renegotiated in recontextualization. Whether the images or connotations are explicated in the English reports can affect the construction or positioning of Xi’s image and his speech by the English and the Chinese media. A literal translation of “粉身碎骨”, for instance “bodies smashed and bones ground to powder”, by foregrounding its images in English reports, may construct a ruthless image of the speaker despite the deterrent effects on separatists. In contrast, the connoted meanings conveyed in the Chines media report, for example “be in vain”, might avoid arousing the negative opinions on the speaker. The unstable linguistic manifestations of the metaphor in English in reporting can attribute to the added value of metaphors in political communication where the metaphorical meanings are “continually contested and renegotiated” in interpretation (Musolff, 2016, p. 136).



Social differences

The metaphorical images can be exploited differently in media discourse based on social-cultural settings. Social beliefs and culture-bounded thinking are inherent in most Chinese metaphorical expressions. The intention of Xi’s use of the metaphor in his remarks is to convey the uncompromising attitude towards separatism in China, which is stressed in “will fail” and “be in vain” in the Chinese media (e.g. (9), (10)). Even though it is argued that most cultural-specific idioms or metaphors “cannot survive literal translation” (Glucksberg & McGlone, 2001, p. 88), most Western media prefer a literal translation without conveying the implications, partly because they intend to keep intact the images that serve to construct certain narratives with an eye-grabbing effect in media coverage in their target society. The process of lifting a metaphor out of its originated political context and inserting it into the news context is “tied to a particular social practice or network of social practices” (Fairclough, 2003, p. 68).



Ideological differences

The translation of the metaphorical images or implications is in line with the ideological beliefs and considerations respectively held by the Chinese and the Anglo-American media, which assist them in telling their own “right” news stories in recontextualizing the metaphor, as shown in the analysis of the two reports by China Daily and NYT. Unlike China, which values “collectivism, harmony and cooperation”, Western countries impart values on “individuality and aggressiveness” (Pan, 2015, pp. 230–231). The ideological conflict could account for the aggressive expressions in (1) and (2). Metaphor is crucial to the communication of ideology that is based on the intentions that are professed to be “right” (Charteris-Black, 2011, p. 51), through which the metaphor-related political issues are narrated or renegotiated in the media discourse. This is reflected in the NYT report, where the metaphor is recontextualized among the voices that show disapproval of China’s stance on the Hong Kong unrest.




The media effect of recontextualizing the political metaphors results from (1) the false impression as if the words were in the speaker’s actual wording and (2) the neglect of the linguistic, social and ideological differences of the two language communities. It is thus almost illusive for the readers to take the quotations of a political metaphor from another language in news coverage as factual reporting of what the leader has said. The discussion shows that neither literal nor free translation is sufficient in conveying the speaker’s communicative intents. At the same time, the quotation and recontextualization of political metaphor in news discourse can be an effective way of positioning the original speakers, for instance either as being ruthlessly brutal towards the separatists shown in the word-for-word translation “crushed bodies and shattered bones”, or simply being confident in discouraging the separatist activities, as in the free translation “any attempt by separatists to split China will be in vain”.

Although some Anglo-American media chose to directly quote the metaphors translated by the Chinese media, the latter does not seem to reach a consensus about how the original metaphor should be represented in news coverage, perhaps due to the timeliness in news reporting. It is worth noting that some reports by the Chinese media also manifest the literal and surficial image in a rather general way, for instance, “be smashed into pieces” and “be crushed”. Such expressions might be borrowed or regarded as potential candidates for recontextualizing Xi’s metaphor in the Anglo-American media coverage, for instance, example (3) using a direct quotation of “smashed into pieces” by China Daily. It is suggested that the translation of political metaphors should be appropriately discussed and agreed among the English media of China before spreading internationally and being referred to by the foreign media.

The conflict between the surface images and the implicit messages of the Chinese metaphor “粉身碎骨” forms a translation problem in media coverage. The neglect of the implied meanings and the salience of the metaphorical images in news discourse may cast the leader as a cruel dictator and further isolate China in international relationships given the current international political climate. This may counteract China’s pursuit of cooperation and harmony and the spreading of its voice to the world through media coverage.




In this chapter, we have borrowed the recontextualization principles and appraisal system to develop a model for examining different layers of recontextualizing a Chinese political metaphor in English news discourse. Specifically, the four strategies are identified in both the Chinese and the Anglo-American media reports that relocate a metaphor used by the Chinese president in his 2019 Nepal visit. It is found that different ways of translating and quoting the metaphor cast the original speaker in certain image contingent on the constructed narratives in reporting. Particularly effective is a direct quotation of the literally translated metaphor plus additional reporting verbs and authorial evaluation, which jointly reinforce the media effect of positioning the metaphor and its speaker. Such an effect is strengthened by arranging news events for allocating the quoted metaphors. In this way, both the translations and quotations of a foreign political metaphor may contribute to a different conceptualization of the political reality constructed for the target news readers.

It is concluded that neither literal translation nor direct quotation of a metaphor from a political speech can convey the intention of the speaker or give him a fair presence in a news discourse across languages and cultures. Such practice is intertextual in nature and involves the processes of transformations in transferring the political discourse into the news discourse. Since the number of Anglo-American media and Chinese media is unequal, the comparative analysis might seem not straightforward enough. However, it is still indicative of their different tendency in representing and recontextualizing the metaphor. It is hard to determine whether the English versions by the Anglo-American media and the Chinese media are the results of deliberate recontextualization strategies or subconscious choices, but their differences in the intentionality of positioning the speaker are apparent and of academic interest as well as worth of news practitioners’ attention. Given the size of data and our focus on only one metaphor, such a result would have to be confirmed in research based on a larger corpus. Additionally, the proper interpretation of the selected metaphor and its media effect also depends on the reception of the target readers. It goes without saying that knowledge of the media’s guidelines and policies would be of great help in determining the institutional perspectives in such differences. Unfortunately, such information so far remains undisclosed.

Even so, our case study provides a model for illustrating how the quotation and translation of metaphors in political contexts serve as a powerful device for constructing realities in the hands of news media. While the effectiveness of metaphor as a persuasive tool comes from its ability to reinforce “conventional modes of thought” and appeal to “the already-known as a means of making sense of complex reality” (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980, p. 157), such effectiveness could cease as a metaphor transferred from one discourse/context into another, or even across the linguistic, cultural and ideological boundaries in recontextualization. As revealed in the case analysis, the political metaphor that has undergone transformations in recontextualization is not capable of such reinforcement in the target language and not appealing to the target readers as it is intended or expected in the source language. It suggests that with the change of contexts, the translation of metaphor recontextualized into the target text should not be expected to perform the same purposes as it does in the original and might even bring in unexpected misinterpretation from the target readers.

Recent Posts




RSS Manila News-Intelligencer