French Journal For Media Research

Anbin Shi et Runtao Dai

Mapping Discursive Communities and Branding “Global China”: The Case of Sino-US TV Anchors’ Debate

Full text

1Abstract: Recently, Trish Regan with Fox Business Networks and Liu Xin with China Global Television Network (CGTN) scheduled a debate on Sino-US trade war on Trish’s show. In analyzing this case with the framing theory, we explore the construction of plural "discursive communities" of Liu’s image on Twitter and bridging the ideological gaps for concepts of global and intercultural communication.
Résumé: Récemment, Trish Regan de Fox Business Networks et Liu Xin de China Global Television Network (CGTN) ont programmé un débat sur la guerre commerciale sino-américaine dans l'émission de Trish. En analysant ce cas avec la théorie du cadrage, nous explorons la construction de plusieurs "communautés discursives" de l'image de Liu sur Twitter et comblons les lacunes idéologiques des concepts de communication globale et interculturelle.
Keywords: global communication, intercultural communication, Sino-US trade war, discursive communities, media framing, social media
Mots-clés: communication globale, communication interculturelle, guerre commerciale sino-américaine, communautés discursives, cadrage médiatique, médias sociaux


2Considering her unique and unprecedented trajectory against Western critical inquires, to fully understand China’s political and cultural logic is almost a mission impossible for the US-led academic and media spheres. The advocates of Western universalism or Chinese exceptionalism would both dismiss the “China question” as a truly aberrant case against the prevailing Western mode of enlightenment rationalism and modernity, thus failing to make any sensible academic dialogue, let alone political debates on democracy vs. dictatorship, as the ongoing eye-catching Hong Kong protest adequately illustrated. Rather, it is more rational to probe the China question in its own logic, and turn the “Chinese cases” into a dynamic “Chinese paradigm” (Chang, 2018), for to scrutinize the China question not merely aims at a methodological and paradigmatic shift worthy of scrupulous scholarly attention, but also serves to solve the urgent ideological crisis in this post-West, post-order and post-truth world since 2016.

3Since the US government launched the survey 301 towards China on August 18th, 2017, the so-called “economic friction” which is actually a struggle for political position in the world, has gradually escalated to “trade wars” during the several backs and forths. On March 2018, the U.S. President Donald Trump signed a presidential memorandum, after which the United States’ issued survey 232 to levy large-scale taxation for Chinese exports in the name of anti-dumping. China has also taken some “hit-back” measures. On May 2017, China and the U.S. had held the 11th round of negotiations for a free trade agreement but did not achieve any fruitful results. As media is the major channel where the public get information and explanation about acts of the government, both the mainstream media of China and the Key media platforms of America spare no efforts to rationalize and legalize their behaviors. The "public opinion war" or say “public diplomacy” between the two countries was launched and operated in a fierce way. One of the iconic events in this process is the TV Debate of two TV anchors from CGTN of China and Fox media of the U.S.

4On the evening of May 15th, 2019, Trish Regan, a female anchor from Fox Business Network declared in her program Trish Regan Primetime that the United States launched a “fair and reasonable” trade war towards China, and expressed that America has no choice but to fight for its right. In regard, Liu Xin, a female anchor from China Global Television Network (CGTN) tweets a short video on Twitter, an international social media platform, entitled Chinese People will not Accept Unequal Agreements. In the video, Liu gave several explanations and cases as evidence to stroke back to Trish. The next day, Trish said with anger on Twitter that she felt like “attacked” by Chinese State Television as an individual and looked forward to an “equal and rational debate” about the trade issue. After that, the two sides scheduled the debate on Trish’s program (EST 20:25 May, 29th).

5This media event attracted tremendous attention from international public opinion arena. More importantly, it is the first time for a Chinese anchor to utter her voices via mainstream US television network, which also provides a powerful platform for rebranding Chinese mainstream media. Secondly, as Chinese media were always considered as state-owned, party-controlled, and organization-activated platforms in the international public opinion field (hereafter IPOF), this is a good chance for China’s media workers to present their image in real person rather than “media myths” to the audience in the US. As a Government level attempt to change the weakness of China’s international communication, the debate cannot avoid being over-politicized. Most of China’s mainstream media believe that it is a great success. And the study aims at doing an assessment of this vision from the perspective of audience analysis with the framing theory. We adopt a mix-method to find out what has happened to the IPOF and thus both quantitatively and qualitatively show how far “China voice” has been spread into the western world. And hopefully, we will give out several suggestions and recommendations based on our findings to show a more objective effect of this debate and a new direction for Chinese international communication strategies’ construction.

Conceptualizing Media Framing

6Early in the in 1980s, media framing was introduced to communication studies by various empirical researches. In 1989, Gamson in his analytical research of numerous mediapapers’ reports of the nuclear issue where different parts of the information were stressed. And this research was somehow important as it provided solid evidence to the process in which people throw out and unpackage “Interpretative Packages” to get useful information efficiently, and thus utilize it as an important tool (Gamson & Modigliani, 1989; Goffman, 1974). Particularly, the Interpretative Packages are collections of concepts and metaphors of the same meaning, which are called “condensing symbols”. Differentiated with normal symbols, it consists of a great deal of information and as well as the context between lines, thus it is richer in meaning than normal symbols.

7A decade later, an American scholar, Robert Entman, further deepened and expanded the application of the “condensing symbols” and aspired to treat the process of compressing and decoding Interpretative Packages as shaping a frame of information (Chen & Liu, 2015; Matthes, 2009). He proposed that frames for information is shaped when communicators have selectively amplified certain aspect of the message and shrunk other parts, and thus it attracts the limited attention of the audience, and makes the part that the communicators want the audience to know to be highlighted. In this way, it leads them to unpack the information in a particular causal interpretation (Entman, 2003). In the sense, he proposed four basic elements of the information frame: Definition, Causality, Moral judgments and Remedies. Obviously, Entman’s theoretical explanation of the frame is creative, which gives scholar as well as the audience a new way to see how information is manipulated and how the frame helps information command political and social functions that it bears.

8On this basis, a large number of relevant empirical research have been done indicating that the information frames among media, media, and public opinions can produce a huge impact on audiences’ decision making which cannot be ignored. In the digital age especially, information which audience have access to is booming. They can do nothing but rely on the media as a tool to provide them with useful information and assist them in making judgments and decisions. Thus, the frame directly changed how they locate themselves as well as their choice tendency (Nisbet, 2010). Although in general, the recipient has the basic capability in telling truth from fiction, when it comes to certain controversial issues, they will have cognitive problems and come into a fuzzy mental state and it is when the frame of the information has a crucial influence on the audience (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979). Notably, scholars are trying to set up a more 3D system of the frame theory by introducing religion, politics and cultural values as criteria in the discovery and construction of a frame (Nisbet, 2010; Reese, 2010).

9In this sense, the frame of information not only determines how Interpretative Packages are sent but also how it is unpacked. By throwing out different condensing symbols, it gradually decides who can speak in the field as it controls the way how people interpret. Therefore, analyzing the frame of the information has become very popular as well as an effective path to follow when doing international media researches. It can help us measure how the impact of media or any entity spreading certain information on their target audience, and thus objectively evaluate how concealed opinions are disseminated (Kuypers, 2010).

Media Frame as the Border of Discursive Community

10As mentioned above, the use of frames actually captures opinions of the same condensing symbol, and restrain the expression of heterogeneity of people’s words. Thus, it mutes some of the different voices. Actually, frames, as its literal meaning, cannot only selectively highlight or deliberately ignore specific aspects of an issue but creates boundaries which can limit the scope of the discussion as well (Pan & Kosicki, 2001). The frame shapes the frontier of the discussion. It simplifies complex events or situations logically as oriented issues (Metze, 2017). Thus, a complicated problem has been broken down into several amplified Interpretative Packages. Audiences based on their perceptions (basic knowledge) of the event tend to pick one side and accept all the facts of the package (a part of the fact in a larger scope), which makes their judgments biased. Therefore, the communication process is simplified to the choice of specific discussion areas and reinterpretation (Burke, 1966). The process of reinterpretation happens when the audience join in certain discussion and become the disseminator. Although disseminators won’t highlight the frame they convey and the condensing symbols they prefer, the audience will make their own judgments according to their preinstalled positions which are implanted by their original backgrounds (culture, country and family, etc.). As the problem is broken down into several aspects and dimensions, people choose one of them as the major base and start their journey as a disseminator. In this process, people have the same or similar opinions join together to amplify their voices and expand the frontier of the group (as Fig.1 shows).

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Figure 1. Problem is broken down; audience join and expand the group by reinterpretation

11As the groups grow bigger and stronger enough to speak out the same voice, a community where different identities, interests, and purpose of the members intertwine together. Accordingly, the construction process of the frame is also the formation process of a discursive community (Pan & Kosicki, 2001).

12Differentiated from traditional communities, it does not exist in the physical world and is divided by frame borders and is cored by different condensing symbols. It is a collection of one dominant dimension of the issue (Pan & Kosicki, 2001). Members in the community can only enjoy the freedom of enriching the condensing symbol through discussion and reinterpretation, but cannot step over the borderline demarcated by the frame. Because of the mechanism of how the community is created, its focus is often one-sided and radical. The audience in the IPOF locate specific issues based on the boundary of the framework and selectively participate in discursive communities that have higher proximity to their own opinions (Burke, 1969). This process is often influenced by Social Activists or Key Opinion Leaders (KOL), such as political figures, media reporters, anchors, and celebrities. They can be one of the original builders of the community and have the power to throw out Interpretative Packages, and thus enclose their battleground by providing a frame. Others in the IPOF locate themselves by estimating their distance to different communities and selectively participate in one of them if they want to join in the battle (Pan & Kosicki, 2001; Snow, Rochford, Worden & Benford, 1986). In this case, Liu Xin and Trish as well-known television anchors of the two countries played the role of Social Activists. The debate of Sino-US trade War is a complicated issue which can provide the audience with a wide range of Interpretative frames.

From Reference Group to Discursive Community

13Actually, early in the 1970s, socialists and psychologists had found out that people need to join a social group to keep themselves informed and identified (Witt & Bruce, 1972). If people fail to join or meet the expectation of the group, they would face intolerable pressure, and thus, call it a violation of the reference group norm (Fisher, 1988). People locate themselves in society by the reference group (Fisher & Miovinch, 1988). A decade after the reference group theory was introduced to communication studies, it faded away from the researchers’ sight for its incompetent of answering two basic questions: Why people join certain reference group when there are so many ones in the basket? How could it be turned to when one’s basic living condition physically changed? Therefore, this theory becomes so macroscopic that it seems to be so general to give an explanation to everything but cannot lead to an accurate casual logic.

14Although the reference group theory has its own flaw, it cannot be denied that it shed new lights on how we understand the discursive communities. It is somehow a virtual version of the reference group as it also provides connections for members, but it is more accessible for its net-work based mechanism. Besides, the discursive communities bear a cultural essence. As audiences tend to interpret a complex issue by comparing it with something they familiar with in their own culture and background (van Gorp, 2010), international communication and intercultural communication are undoubtedly the ones who should embrace the manifestation of embedding culture values into the frame. Discursive communities’ inner solidarity is highly correlated with the culture embedded in the frame. As mentioned above, the audience are more inclined to accept ideas that are similar to their own positions and cultural backgrounds. Empirical studies have found that information similar to the audience’s experience and culture gains higher acceptance. Therefore, it provides us a new way of how to get a greater opportunity to persuade people (Gerhards & Schafer, 2014; Jackson & Sinclair, 2013; Weimann & Brosius, 1991). In short, the specific cultural elements embedded in the frame has been leading the audience to select a particular discursive community and thus become an important factor in the opinion changing process (Cotter, 1999; Gerhards & Schafer, 2014; Schaefer, 2003). Audience selectively joined in the community by choosing different condensing symbols. The cultural proximity of the symbol plays a leading role in the choice (Chen & Liu, 2018), which has never mentioned by the reference group theory.

15Once the discursive community is formed, due to its internal spiral polymerization, it is extremely resistant to external sounds. Thus, any deconstruction and reconstruction attempt of the communities through external forces are unavailing. It is an impossible task to eliminate a discursive community immediately. However, the community has its own weakness. As is mentioned before, members in the same community support the same condensing symbol, but the community constrains the heterogeneity of them. They can have various opinions about one event in many aspects. Therefore, in international communication practice, finding universally acknowledged condensing symbols and build new discursive communities is one possible solution to differentiate the existed solid community. By highlighting condensing symbols that are closer to the audiences’ culture, the effectiveness and acceptance of international communication can be enhanced. The above ideas are to solve the deep-rooted incongruity and incompatibility in the international communication strategy of China and Chinese media.

16Based on the above concepts and theoretical frameworks, this paper takes the innovation of Chinese international communication practice and Liu Xin's media image construction as a start point, focusing on the following issues:
RQ 1: Is there any new discursive communities popped up in the IPOF after the debate?
RQ2: How does the audience react to Liu’s performance in the debate and what can Chinese media learn?
RQ3: How can the Chinese government improve its existed international communication strategy?

Data Collection and Research Methodology

17Empirical studies on Figuring out user frames on Twitter normally has to start with analyzing Twitter streams (Bajpai and Jaiswal, 2011; Segerberg and Bennet, 2011). Since the study applies a mix-method of content analysis and text analysis to help researchers to focus on mainly four aspects: the frame used in tweets (What are the opinions of the audience), the boarders that frames may form (What makes their opinions so different?), the discursive communities that the borders divide (How do the individuals get together as a community?), and the audience acceptance of the information that China’s international communication is committed to broadcast through the media event (Does Liu Xin won in the competition?). Thus, data which was created during the media event need to be collected. As Twitter is the biggest international social media platform now, the study based on it can bring more precise figures and outcome in consideration of the researchers. Thus, this study is endowed to find out what happened to the IPOF after the debate through an opinion division on Liu Xin’s image, which is formed by the feedbacks of the public, in order to give out an more objective and accurate assessment towards the efforts and effects of China’s international communication in the recent days, which was nominated by President Xi as a new era for China’s global communication.

18This study collects tweets published by Twitter users containing specific keywords (Liu Xin, Trish Regan, Sino-US Trade War). Based on the above research questions, we adopt a mix-method. Through content analysis, we aim at finding out the users’ frames and thus mapping the discursive community distributed in the IPOF, and based on the data analysis, we take text analysis as a way to figure out why and how these discursive communities are formed. And finally, through tracking the formation process of the communities, it further explores the pros and cons in China’s international communications strategies and give out several solutions.

19By way of Twitter’s official API interfaces, it adopts a web crawler software to collect 50, 654 English Tweets which is created between the date of May 19th, 2019 and June 14th, 2019. As shown in Figure 2, the number of tweets about the debate changes over time. And there are three tops in the graph, which are related to Trish’s words (May 14th), Liu Xin’s stroke back (May 22nd) and the debate (May 30th). According to the graph of the number of the tweets, we divided the whole media event into four periods: before the debate motion period (from May 1st to 13th), debate motion period (May 14th to 28th), during the debate period (May 29th to 30th) and after the debate period (June 1st to 14th ). And adopting these four periods as four levels, we do stratified sampling and get 5, 265 tweets (including some representative cases which are selected manually). After the sampling, an automatically word segmentation is done, and we delete words with no practical significance in this research (e.g.: I, We, You, It, etc.). Then, Y-Wordle, an open-source software is adopted to created a word cloud (as Fig. 3 shows). After we find out vocabulary with high frequency and do some induction and consolidate words with similar meaning, we map the discursive community with condensing symbols in IPOF (as Fig. 4 shows).

Image 100000000000014B000000D39597E8872E94C76A.png
Figure 2. Number of tweets related to the debate

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Figure 3. High-frequency word cloud

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Figure 4. Discursive community map

20Notably, this media event seems to be unable to maintain its identity as a hot topic and experience a dramatic decline in the rate of discussion (As Fig. 2 shows). This is because that as the debate about the Sino-US "trade war" was created on the internet, where people tend to consult emotional feelings and radical voices, and the audience are expecting a fierce wrangle rather than rational debate. But surprisingly on the live debate, both of them showed a high degree of profession as an anchor and a high level of restraining which was far away from the public’s imagination according to the previous fight on twitter. Trish on the television show was polite, and Liu Xin spoke out her views with elegant and fluent English. This is a piece of sound evidence that the audience actually were not expecting to learn stuff from the two anchors’ debate, they were looking forward to watching a cross-fire show between the two anchors.

21Indeed, from the users’ points of view, they would love to see more intense confrontation compared to the relatively flat and moderate “Q&A session”. Considering that Twitter users’ amazing enthusiasm towards a fight between two big countries with different ideologies, they feel even more loss. But from a more general perspective, the ups and downs of the audiences’ emotion actually shed a new light on communication studies based on social media platforms. This typical "anti-climax" that appears during the broadcasting of the media event also inspire scholars to further explore the impact and effect of differences characteristics and rules of international communication between online and offline ones.

22Notably, Liu as a CGTN anchor bears enormous public pressure. But during the debate, her professionalism as an anchor and with a “well-designed” outfit indeed present a good image of Chinese media workers, if we insist that she is the “speaker of China”. It is true that they did not fight fiercely. However, whether this so-called good appearance in front of the world changes the deep-rooted stereotype of the image of Chinese media represented by CGTN or brings any good to Chinese advocacy and publicity works remains to be discussed later.

Unraveling Different Discursive Communities

23As media frames can create borders between people who believe in different condensing symbols, discursive communities are constructed where members of the communities have highly homogeneous opinions, and these opinions will finally cohere spirally. As is described above, on the social media platform, different user’s tweets contain specific “Interpretative Packages”. Based on the packages, those who are interested in the topic will lookup for the condensing symbols and locate themselves in one of the communities, which will certainly make them feel more comfortable when presenting their opinions and getting supports. This is how they find their “identity” and tag themselves as a member of a particular community. Most importantly, in this case, a different discursive community appeared. As we perceived before, in the IPOF, comments on China and its “propaganda” have always been negative. But in this case, Liu Xin’s image, which is also a projection of China’s media image in the IPOF actually was torn apart. Three discursive communities were built and the new, seemingly-to-be-neutral, “Anchor” community has been established and some of the former dissenters from the negative communities went to a new one for the new condensing symbol prevailed in terms of the proximity of the culture, which is the core of a reference group as well as its successor, discursive communities. Clear boundaries between the different communities actually reflect different roles that show various characteristics of Chinese anchors and give Chinese media a chance to find new condensing symbols that related to certain qualities on her while re-branding Chinese media by constructing new discursive communities. Notably, after the discursive community is built, members in the group tend to follow the discourse of the group and newly-sent tweets cannot go beyond the community border. This phenomenon leads to the homogeneity of opinions in the same community, and some of the members may be muted when they have different thoughts after joining one of the communities.

24Now we find that condensing symbols in frames define the boundaries of the discursive communities, and the high degree of aggregation is an important reason for its strong communication effect. Based on the data and tweets we collected, authors make an effort to identify how Twitter users from different communities split Liu Xin’s image. From the analysis of the image shaped on Twitter, we can step a little bit closer to the Chinese media’s international communication strategies. Thus, we divide this media event into four general stages and we find that during this process, different part of Liu Xin’s characteristics are amplified and cherished as the core of mainly three discursive communities, including two negative ones and a neutral one: “Red Guard”(a negative collection of words like “fighter”, “Guard” , “Activist”), Champion of national interests (a negative collection of words like “Defender” , “Champion” , “Patriot”), and Anchor (the neutral one). All the condensing symbols are presented in the way of a collection of words which have the same or similar meanings. In the past decade, China’s media image or say China’s image in the IPOF was only about “propaganda”, “mouthpiece” and “Party-dominated”. However, Liu Xin's image in the field this time is diversified with a couple of new communities, which to some extent, helps to start the journey of China’s mainstream media rebranding itself.

Red Guard

25If you saw the live show of the two anchors’ debate, it is not difficult for anybody to decode Trish’s attempt to shape Liu Xin as a “Red Guard” in the whole process of her program. According to the word cloud we mapped in the IPOF, she seems to have got a successful shot. From Figure 2 we know that during the whole process, “Communist Party of China”, also known as CCP or CPC, appears at a very high frequency. More than two-thirds of the tweets mentioned relevant concepts as their core issues. Understandably, although the theme of this debate is set beforehand as “solving some of the disputes related to the trade war”, essentially, it is still a propaganda battle of politics and ideology. As soon as the TV debate began, Trish pronounced that Liu Xin is a member of the Chinese Communist Party. By doing this, Trish gave her counterpart a tag, suggesting that both Liu and CGTN was manipulated by the Party. But actually, Liu gave a quick deny to this in her regard, even in the way of Trish’s speech. The reason why Liu insisted on interrupting Trish, even as she knows that it is impolite, is because this really set the tone. Liu wanted to show her position as an individual rather than exposing as a puppet controlled. However, Trish seemed to lead the direction of the talk, for as we talked before, the ideological difference between the east and the west is so huge to be stitched up, which is like a bomb that explodes itself. Although it has been so many years after the Cold war, people’s hatred towards a different ideology never stops climbing. (CCP is a big scandal. Liu Xin won't back your show. She knows it. Finally, CCP approved. No debate, otherwise make CCP will lose face. Trish, I hope Liu Xin didn’t get into trouble after the 1st round. The Communist State of China controls the media, 100%!)

26Trish knew it for sure what a tag like CCP can bring to this debate. By posting the tag, she successfully called for help from the community of “Red Guard” who also see this issue as the condensing symbol of their community. She actually made the right decision to poisoning the well when she was not that clear about the mechanism of the Trade War and doesn’t have any talent in debating. However, this condensing symbol arose certain audience on their Cold War mentality and Yellow peril stereotype. This alienated a group of people from Liu Xin (CGTN) and forced some of the west audience to join in the troop with a natural favor of something familiar. (Think this kind of dialogue actually provides a platform for Chinese Communist regime’s propaganda if not broadcast publicly in China, too.) (CCP is always right, and others are always wrong.)

27However, if we trace back to the root and try to find out how this community was actually constructed, it is not difficult to find that it proposed CCP/CPC as its condensing symbols. Then the first batch of users who agree with what the symbol conveys set up a discursive community by posting tweets with the same inner core of the symbol and created their own frame at the same time. Notably, Liu Xin herself indeed has a complex background where leaves it rational for some of the members to question whether she is a part of the Communist Party. (Although Liu Xin explained that she is not a member of the Communist Party, CGTN speaks for the CCP.) Except for posting tweets, they also attached pictures of the CCTV showing loyalty to the Party. The imagery expands the scope of the community members that if Liu Xin was not a communist, and she must have been reciting a good manuscript that CPC prepared. They thought that the pieces of information somehow show the incohesion of the Party, where in terms of proving it as a shot in political propaganda, it could be used as a piece of evidence. Such interpretations undoubtedly caused the western audience to question the credibility of Liu Xin and CGTN. (She is a CCP mouthpiece and a full-fledged liar.)

28Thus far, the discursive community was strengthened by the logic from Party-owned to state’s mouthpiece. Thus, it formed its own closed logic loop to somehow mislead or say to control the members who were curious about the condensing symbol and force them to stay in the community. As the community grows bigger, the heterogeneity of the audience in the community increased. To make sure that they are on the same side as a group, people in it tend to do their own interpretation of this event with other members words as their resource. In other words, their tweets were still about the condensing symbol, but to secure the membership of the community, they exaggerated and fictionalized the event on the basis of other member’s interpretation, which we call it re-interpretation. These second-hand interpretations based on partial facts are highly emotional, which also became a source of identity for the discursive community and thus made Liu Xin a Red Guard.

29Although Trish’s and her follower’s words have solid logical fallacy, in the world of "post-truth", emotion overwhelms facts (Thussu, Burgh & Anbin, 2017). In the “Red Guard” community, key opinion leaders like Trish resorted to ideology to alienate Liu, CGTN as well as China from western countries. And thus, she dwelled the issue on Liu Xin’s identity, CGTN’s ownership and China’s legality rather than what they were supposed to talk about. The core issue of Sino-US trade war is avoided. It shows that although after 40 years of the reform and opening up of China, the Western media still can’t walk out of their chauvinism thoughts and Cold war mentality, which are deeply rooted in their culture. The rigidified thoughts actually form “pre-established barriers" for China's international communication, and it is almost impossible to break it through in days. However, it is worth noting that Liu Xin’s strategy of clarifying before debating has also played a certain role in the community. Some of the tweets show not that much hatred towards Liu because of her fluent English and elegant expression. Although for western media as well as some of the audience, "propaganda machine" and "mouthpiece" are still in their moments when thinking of chinese media, Liu’s professional image presented on TV directly spawned some new thoughts for the audience and broke their stereotypes about Chinese, which will be discussed in the study later in detail.

Champion of National Interest

30Besides the “Red Guard” community which showed a cold welcome to Liu’s first show in the IPOF, another group of the audience actually express great passion for supporting her. In supporting her, they also utilize a frame boundary to form a discursive community on a certain scale. Liu Xin, at the beginning of the debate, had explicitly referred that, she was to "correct inappropriate things in Trish's remarks" and stressed that “she only represents herself but not the State”. The concept of “expressing individual opinions on China” was the original components of the condensing symbol of this community. However, in the ensuing discussion, the newcomers of the community, when doing reinterpretation, started to resort to their own emotion. And as we know, neutral positions in the post-truth era tend to be polarized, they used a variety of different concepts to express their supports and they actively expressed their positive feelings by attaching Liu’s good qualities with adjectives like "elegant", "humble" and "decent", which to some extent, helped Chinese media's image rebranding. On this basis, users started to extend the frontier of the border. (If such anchor like a Liu Xin who is so brave to spread China’s voice in the major event cannot be the heroine of China, who else can be? ) (Liu Xin, come on! I support you. The United States has been treating us unfriendly so long. 加油!我相信你! (Come on! We support you!)) Such views got a crazing response. Others highlighted Liu as “debate for the country and spread China’s voice”, and thus finally formed a polarized frame in front of the Western audience as "party-state-media". Although such discursive strategies meet the needs of a specific period of political goals, as for the long-term effect, the transition of the discursive community actually went from rational “facts and reasons” to radical “nationalist and patriots”. The emergence of this community allows the researchers to discuss and explain the stagnancy of the discursive communities. The focuses of the participants in the community gradually decreased from more than one into a single one because of the fanatical patriotism.

31In this case, patriotism enjoys higher moral level the good qualities of elegance and dignity. However, the manifestation of patriotism in internal communication is a "double-edged sword" which cannot be avoided. On the one hand, the discursive community that shapes Liu Xin’s image as “Champion of National Interests” is conducive to enhancing national cohesion and demonstrating self-confidence of Chinese culture. On the other hand, highlighting Liu Xin’s “Patriot” trait is not conducive to the spread of Chinese voice in the oversea-world. This shift of the condensing symbols in the discursive community is a warning signal, generating a culture of alienation to the target audience. On Twitter, most users are still in a fantasy of what is described in the East is Black. In facing the pre-emptive stereotype of the Western media, patriotism is easily over-interpreted as relatively negative ethnocentrism. Highly unified comments will go far to the opposite direction of the aim, thereby reducing the credibility of the words.

TV Anchor

32Except for the communities of "Red Guard" and "Champion of the national interests", The only community that is endowed with a neutral essence form the beginning to the end is convened by the condensing symbol of “Anchor”. Users who involved in this community often cherish “anchor”, “non-professional” and “devoid of substance” as the definition of the symbol. (It is just two female anchors chitchatting a complex issue without any insights.) Further, they believe that the debates of the two female anchors are lack of data and evidence support and are full of personal opinions. So, they are expected to do their own jobs. (Do your jobs as an anchor. Never post any personal view about something you don’t really know.)

33Some participants even believe that, as key opinion leaders, publishing unprofessional opinions in irrelevant fields is a severe misleading to the audience. Therefore, they called for Liu Xin going back to her job as an anchor and stop playing with Trish again or politicized her own views or remarks. The debate can be nothing but a drama and thus should not be encouraged to continue. This is because the focus of the debate was neglected and the audience actually was attracted more by drama rather than any rational debate about the Sino-US Trade War. Intensified conflict is more emotional than the debate itself. Therefore, as Liu for the first time got the chance to speak to the western audience, China’s mainstream media should cherish the chance and make it platformized rather than a series of dramas. (They (mainstream media in china) should transform this event from a chance to a program where international experts can explain reasons and provide solutions to the trade war.) (Both of the two anchors should invite some professors to participate in their programs to increase their credibility and try to help the audience trace the reason and see the vision from various aspects systematically in a comprehensive background. )

34It is worth mentioning that in this discursive community, Liu Xin and Trish gained the same respect. Members of this community, though doubting the professionality of debate, Liu Xin’s elegant, wise, bravery, and rational traits has been fully affirmed. These merits are universally acknowledged both in the West and in the East and are generally considered as excellent personalities which helps China’s media thriving its way in the western world, and has highly distinguished culture proximity of the two cultures. Thus, it obviously have higher media literacy far from emotion and prejudice which will finally lead to the ideological fight. Liu Xin, positioned as an anchor and professional media worker actually has been the first neutral discursive community appears in the IPOF so far since the Olympic 2008. It not only reconciles the cultural and ideological gap of conflict but also enhances the degree of recognition as a certain level and the effectiveness of China's international communication where funded experience is provided for reference.

35On the whole, China and the United States' first anchor debate or say dialogue has become a symbolic media event in the practice of China's international communication. It is not only providing the audience with accesses to a more diversified discursive frame but also rocked the dominated communities alienated by ideology as a Red Guard. Therefore, an entrenched discursive community in the IPOF lost its dominant position and differentiated and diversified into several ones with different characteristics, where a brand new neutral discursive community that is more recognized by the audience’s culture and a new brand platform may be rising.

Conclusion: From Propaganda to Nation Branding

36The above analysis actually mapped the discursive communities divided by the boundaries fertilized by the audience’s frames in the IPOF. The formation of the discursive communities not only affects international media dissemination but also show a more in-depth view about how to achieve effective international communication. Tracing back to the reference group theory, we find that actually, the discursive communities are not something pumping up in the digital age, but rooted in a really classical background of communication studies, which is always the source and basis of new ideas in modern academic research. Following this path, our research spread new inspiration for China’s international communication in a critical way, and provide both theoretical and practical suggestions on media contents and direction-oriented communication. Although the media event of the China-US anchor debate originated from social media platforms, in fact, it gradually evolves into network interactivity between online and offline media. This is another reason why we believe that it is a milestone for China’s international communication. But still, it is far from perfect and there is a long way to go before we find the right way to differentiate the communities by weakening the core condensing symbols of the community members and strengthening their heterogeneity as individuals. China's international communication practices still focus on spreading what it believes rather than hear the voice in IPOF like Twitter, which relatively represents feedback of global citizens. But it cannot be denied that this event helped China speak out its voice. But if we come back to the audience feedback, there is still a lot to be worried. The alienation of ideology difference is an inveteracy, which warns us that Rome was not built in one day. Trish as a representative of the dominant Western discourse system, what we could do is “shunting” rather than “blocking”. Based on the present gap on economic, political and discursive power between China and the US, differentiating the discursive communities is much more practical than eliminate different voices. In this case, Liu Xin, or say, CGTN smartly utilizes the charismatic power to endow her words with personalities. And this strategy is what we should cherish in the international communication process in overcoming ideology barriers which are set beforehand.

37Through the exploration of the construction of the discursive communities, we also noticed that the reason why IPOF differentiates is that Liu Xin in the debate showed some universally acknowledged characteristics. Her good command on English, her braveness and boldness in initiate the debate indeed left a good impression on the western audiences that Chinese media workers are elegant, decisive, rational and daring. But besides the worth noting merits and qualities that help the western audience jump out of the judgment they usually made according to the stereotypes, Liu’s complex background leaves a great shadow on the opinion changing process. Whether she is one of the party members, her nationality problems and her radical words on social media platforms become swords of the dissenters as they building and defending their discursive community. This phenomenon leaves an important lesson for China to learn that never should any entities let any social activist be its spokesperson. In the same way, don’t let patriots overwhelm the rational ones. To analyze the three communities that appear in the IPOF, which use “Red Guard”, “Champion of National Interests” and “Anchor” as the condensing symbols, we can see two of them in the three are negative ones. Thus, the appearance of the neutral one could be seen as a victory in starting to break the domination of the western pattern in the domain of international communication, but from the other aspect, the situation has not fundamentally changed. Therefore, we find that international communication practices should uphold the principle of "mutual-understanding" as well, which means that when building new discursive communities, the selection of the condensing symbol should fully consider the need of the audience as well as their cultural background. The symbol should be existing and well-received in both cultures. Base on this start point, a negotiable discursive community should be established, which will certainly guide to produce more neutral or even positive ones, and will enhance international communication effectiveness.

38Admittedly, due to time restraint and other limitation, the research is not perfect. This paper only contains data collected from Twitter and mainly focuses on data and analysis relevant to Liu Xin. Thus, it fails to compare and explore the image construction and communication effects of both the anchors. Secondly, in terms of data collection, this study pays more attention to the construction of audience’s feedbacks and their discursive community, and besides Twitter, traditional mainstream media are not introduced. These limitations should be considered and try to be solved in subsequent researches.

39Overall, Chinese TV anchor for the first time went to one of the most influential American TV network and speak Chinese voice aloud. Liu Xin’s fair performance actually give the IPOF a shot that Chinese media are not all controlled. This is a new start point for China’s international Communication practice, and also a step forward which helps China’s media go global. But on the other hand, this debate for China is still roughly prepared. All the problems about Trade War, Liu Xin, China, and Hong Kong still remain unexplained. So, we believe that it is imperative for CGTN and Liu Xin to cherish what this debate brought to threm and carefully polish the brand in a professional manner. Thus, we can transform the “intuitive preference” of the audience into “professional trust”, which effectively enhances the communication effect and the influence of the Chinese media as well as its credibility. In the long-term run, Chinese international communication should grasp the opportunity of the debate and follow the Belt and Road Initiative, which requires the CGTN to create a fully tuned and rational media platform in the new era of the unrest world and actively provide an alternative plan and “Chinese wisdom”. And finally, China will get rid of the tag of propaganda as “red China”, and move to a new stage of re-branding as “global China”.


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To quote this document

Anbin Shi et Runtao Dai, «Mapping Discursive Communities and Branding “Global China”: The Case of Sino-US TV Anchors’ Debate», French Journal For Media Research [online], Browse this journal/Dans cette revue, 13/2020 Médias : acteurs clés pour une compréhension interculturelle, last update the : 25/01/2020, URL :

Quelques mots à propos de :  Anbin Shi

Ministry of Education Endowment Professor of Global Media Communication

School of Journalism and Communication, Tsinghua University


Professor/Dr. SHI, Anbin is currently Ministry of Education Endowment Professor of Global Media and Communication Studies, Associate Dean of Research with School of Journalism and Communication, and Director of Israel Epstein Center for Global Media and Communication, Adjunct Professor of Global Media and China, Schwarzman College, Tsinghua University, China. His research interests include intercultural communication, global communication, public communication, press and politics. He has published six books and over 100 articles in Chinese and English academic journals, the latest entitled China’s Media Go Global (Routledge, 2017) . In addition, Professor Shi is now serving as the special consultant and guest professor for the State Council’s Information Office, and has completed the training of more than 10,000 government spokespersons and press officers at central, municipal and provincial level. He also frequently appears on CGTN (CCTVNEWS), New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek and Al Jazeera to comment upon contemporary China’s press and politics.

Quelques mots à propos de :  Runtao Dai

DAI Runtao

MA Candidate in International Journalism

School of Journalism and Communication, Tsinghua University


DAI Runtao is currently Master of Arts candidate in international journalism with the School of Journalism and Communication, Tsinghua University. He held BA degree in English with the University of International Relations, Beijing.  



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