December 30, 2015, by Editor
Studying Chinese Media
Written by Shih-Chien Chang.
Readers who are interested in the development of the media and complex politics-media dynamics in Greater China will appreciate the Routledge Handbook of Chinese Media, co-edited by Gary & Ming-yeh Rawnsley (published May 2015). The volume includes significant essays by well-known scholars (such as Yuezhi Zhao, Colin Sparks and Rogier Creemers), as well as innovative studies by a younger generation of researchers (such as George Dawei Guo, Daniel Chun-wei Lin and Yin-han Wang). Part I of the book offers theoretical reviews of the field; Part II provides the latest empirical research on press freedom and journalism; Part III discusses in length the public sphere and media in the era of the internet; Part IV explores media production, industry practices, and media economy; and Part V investigates the international dimensions of the Chinese media. Contributors have handled these subjects with both breadth and depth. Fox example, the chapters written by Yuntao Zhang, Ming-yeh T. Rawnsley & Chien-san Feng, and Junhao Hong & Youling Liu trace the evolution of different institutions and agents of communication and present convincing arguments through historical analyses. In the meantime the chapters written by Chen-ling Hung and Yiben Ma have elaborated on more recent developments, providing a fresh perspective on the media and society in Taiwan and mainland China respectively.
Many scholars have noted the inner contradiction of media development in mainland China since 1978. On the one hand, the ownership of the media remains in the control of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP); but on the other hand, the Chinese authorities have implemented mechanisms of the free market to increase commercial competition within the sector. Consequently the top priority of the Chinese media is to obey the CCP’s requirements for national security and social order, while at the same time fighting for profit under increasing market pressure. However this situation is not necessarily unique as the media in Taiwan prior to democratisation struggled too between government control and commercial competition.
China’s rapid economic growth has financially benefited its media industry as advertising revenue has skyrocketed. Nevertheless state subsidies continue to play a significant role in creating international platforms for the Chinese media so that China’s “soft power” can be disseminated worldwide (see the chapter by Gary Rawnsley). Under these circumstances, the book reminds us of several concurrent and sometimes conflicting trends in Chinese media. For example, theories of social responsibility have been revived in China as social elites are tired of the media’s performance under political and commercial pressure. However, the development of “public service” television in China has taken a completely different shape and form from that of Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) in the west due to China’s political and social constraints. Moreover, the rise of “nationalism fever”, derived from the trauma of national victimhood since the 19th century, has driven the Chinese population to actively embrace the imagination of a strong and united Chinese nation. Such a fever plays out particularly strong in the social media. Many Chinese people take China’s economic growth under the leadership of the CCP as a sign of China’s rise in international status. The nationalism displayed in the social media often indicates that many Chinese would be willing to sacrifice human rights and freedom of speech for a strong and unified China. The irony is that these factors should not be a zero-sum game.
Scholars of Chinese media and politics (e.g. Shirk 2011, Yang 2011, Yu 2009 and Brady 2008) often share a similar normative ontology and focus on the behaviour of the Chinese government to shed light on modern mechanisms of communications. Within this research framework, we learn that the CCP is reluctant to reform the Chinese media so that empowered citizens may one day pose a threat to its leadership or foreign powers may eventually be able to enter China’s media market.
Although there are 28 chapters in the Routledge Handbook of Chinese Media and each chapter is written by a different author, the volume mainly represents the prevailing research trends in the field. Here it is worth noting Yuezhi Zhao points out in her chapter the bias of a western paradigm in media studies when she reviews her intellectual journey of studying the development of Chinese media. From this perspective, I find Carey’s work (2009) useful as in addition to the top-down direction of research, the application of anthropological methods in communications studies will further our understanding of how people exchange meanings and establish a sense of community. Furthermore, the autonomy of audiences in modern cyber society deserves serious scholarly attention (e.g. Holmes 2005; Herold & Marolt 2011).
To summarize, the Routledge Handbook of Chinese Media provides scholars and students with rich materials to comprehend modern Chinese media and society especially in respect of political objectives. The inclusion of case studies on Taiwan and Hong Kong in the volume reflects the heterogeneity rather than the homogeneity in the term, “Chinese media”, as the media in these locations face different sets of challenges to fulfill their democratic duties and ideals. While the volume does not include chapters which represent audience study, it is more than compensated by the many exciting topics (for example, online gaming, social meanings of selfie, copyright issues, to name but a few) which reveal new directions for cutting edge research in the field in the 21st century. This is a well organized, thematically integrated and carefully executed handbook that is worthy of recommendation.
Shih-Chien Chang is Assistant Professor, Department of Journalism and Communication, Chu Hai College in Hong Kong. His research interests are political economy of communication, media economy, film and television industry, and media development in East Asia.
- Brady, A.-M. (2008), Marketing Dictatorship: Propaganda and Thought Work in Contemporary China. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
- Carey, J.W. (2009), Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society, New York: Routledge.
- Herold, D.K. & Marolt, P. (eds) (2011), Online Society in China: Creating, Celebrating, and Instrumentalising the Online Carnival, London: Routledge.
- Holmes, D. (2005), Communication Theory: Media, Technology and Society, London: Sage
- Shirk, S.L. (ed.) (2011), Changing Media, Changing China, New York: Oxford University Press.
- Yang, G. (2011), The Power of the Internet in China: Citizen Activism Online, New York: Columbia University Press.
- Yu, H. (2009), Media and Cultural Transformation in China, London: Routledge.