Different views for different readers? China’s English-language and domestic newspapers on the 2016 US presidential candidates

Fangyuan Liu, Hejunchao Li, Tabe Bergman*, Xianwen Kuang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

Abstract

Much of the existing literature on Chinese media focuses on political pressures and the changes in the media reform period since the early 1980s, especially commercialization (e.g. Repnikova, 2017; Stockmann, 2013). Other research looks at the Chinese media’s increasing efforts to influence global opinion (e.g. Sun, 2010; Thussu, 2018) or the relationship between Chinese media and foreign policy (e.g. Hinck et al., 2016). Despite the burgeoning of research on China’s media, its representation of US presidential candidates and elections remains relatively unexplored. Moreover, potential differences in content produced by Chinese media aimed at foreign versus domestic audiences have received very little attention from scholars. Therefore, this paper compares the commentary on the 2016 US presidential candidates Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders in China’s two main English-language newspapers, with the commentary in the main domestic one. The English-language newspapers – China Daily and The Global Times – have been at the forefront of the mission to enhance China’s soft power (Thussu, 2018), whereas People’s Daily has long served as the “throat and tongue” of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for Chinese readers. We conducted a thematic analysis of all the relevant opinion articles between January 1 and November 7, 2016, election day, in the three newspapers. We found that both the English-language newspapers and the Chinese-language newspaper commented negatively on Trump and Clinton, but that the stated reasons were different. In China’s English-language press, Trump was criticized the harshest and was virtually never discussed positively. His popularity was interpreted as resulting from the deep-seated problems with American democracy. Clinton, too, was primarily seen as representing the deficiencies of US democracy, but she was discussed in milder terms. Sanders was discussed relatively little and received both negative and sympathetic comments. The Chinese-language newspaper People’s Daily treated Trump and Clinton critically as well, like the English-language papers, yet in an indirect way, and primarily because of their unfavourable policies toward China. The People’s Daily discussed Sanders much less than the other two candidates, and rather neutrally. We conclude that, despite the many similarities, in certain ways the newspapers differed in their stated views on the three US presidential candidates. We speculate that these differences result at least in part from the different positions the newspapers occupy in China’s media landscape, including their different target readerships.

Conference

ConferenceInternational Association for Media and Communication Research Conference (IAMCR 2021) - Rethinking borders and boundaries: Beyond the global/local dichotomy in communication studies
Country/TerritoryKenya
CityNairobi
Period11/07/2115/07/21
Internet address

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