China’s popular TV dramas & their role in the party’s political communication since 2001

Liu Guiping 2014. China’s popular TV dramas & their role in the party’s political communication since 2001. PhD thesis University of Westminster Faculty of Media, Arts and Design

TitleChina’s popular TV dramas & their role in the party’s political communication since 2001
TypePhD thesis
AuthorsLiu Guiping

This thesis is one of the very few studies that have examined how Chinese Communist Party (or the Party) used its media to appropriate traditional Chinese cultural values for political purposes. It focuses on the TV dramas that have won the top Feitian Awards (China’s top official TV drama awards) from 2002 to 2011, a total of 35 TV dramas. Drawing on the insights offered by framing theory and Lévi-Strauss’s binary opposition theory in their study of media content/messages and based on framing theory, the thesis proposes and elaborates a theoretical framework—network framing—to explain the cultural appropriation in the selected TV dramas. It has proposed that traditional Chinese cultural values have been woven into network patterned TV dramas as the central organizing ideas to promote the Party-desired messages/agendas. The thesis adopts mainly a qualitative methodology, combining textual narrative analysis and contextual secondary data analysis with the former as the major research method. The results of the narrative analyses of five case-studied dramas largely confirm the relevance of the proposed network framing: all five dramas are network patterned and are organized /framed around traditional Chinese cultural values, most of which are Confucianism-based, to promote the Party-desired messages/agendas; the traditional Chinese cultural values used as the central organizing ideas and the messages/agendas promoted by the Party vary with different dramas depending on the issues/ problems covered. These network-patterned traditional-Chinese-culture-framed stories contrast sharply with the binary-oppositionally-structured class-based stories of the cultural works of the pre-reform Maoist era. Comparing the former with the latter and discussing the transition from the latter to the former, the thesis argues that the Party’s political communication since 2001 has undergone significant changes: once as the dominant concepts in the Party’s ideology in the Maoist era, class and class struggle have now been dropped out of the Party’s ideology while traditional Chinese cultural values particularly Confucianism-based ones, which for long have been rejected and condemned by the Party, have now become part of the Party’s ideology; the way the Party communicates its messages/agendas has changed from crudity and over- simplicity in pre-reform Maoist era towards refinement, subtlety and sophistication in the current post-reform era. The thesis also argues with the results of the secondary data analysis that the production of TV dramas in the current post-reform era involves various political actors such as the Party-state, its representatives such as the former SARFT, and the commercial market (or the Chinese audience) and that the textual subtlety and sophistication in communicating the Party’s messages/agendas result from the combined sophisticated influences from these different political actors. In conclusion, the Party’s cultural appropriation through TV dramas for political purposes demonstrates that the Party’s political communication has developed toward sophistication.


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