Contested discourses of women's identity in Chinese print media
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 14:40 authored by Huiling Xu
Historically sited ideologies and cultural impacts have placed contemporary Chinese women at a crossroads of identity confusion : between adhering to the "rationality" of prevailing definitions of the "good woman" from a traditional perspective, and the "craving" for independence and success outside the confines of the home. Tensions in the ongoing redefinition of women's identity have led to both increasing diversity and to contestation in the presentation of women in media discourse. This thesis explores how women's identity is discursively constructed and how the presentation of women in Chinese print media is affected by the ambivalence inherent in such contested ideologies and cultures. It does so from three perspectives - descriptive, interpretative, and explanatory - focusing on history-honored Confucianism concerning images of ideal family identity of women before the Mao era, what one may call a neutralized gender ideology of the heroic model work identity of women during the Mao era, influences of Western cultures and feminist critiques with an associated emphasis on consumerism and individualism flooding into China in the post Mao era, and new Confucianism at the turn of the century with its emphasis on reviving traditional values. All are drawn upon in the thesis in terms of their influence on reconstructing contemporary Chinese women's identity. The dynamic transformation of stereotypical representations and the inherent contestation embedded within the conflicting double standard of being a contemporary ideal for women, reflects complex social change amidst rapid economic development and political renovation. In 1995, the Fourth World Women's Conference was held in Beijing offering a good impetus towards the development of Women's Studies in China. Since then research on women and issues of gender has attracted increasing attention involving multi-disciplinary co-operation. In 2005, UNESCO established a Chair of Media and Gender in the Communication University of China, officially beginning a significant new era of gender/media studies in China. Drawing on Fairclough's argument that, "Language use is constitutive both in conventional ways which help to reproduce and maintain existing social identities, relations and systems of knowledge, and in creative ways which help to transform them." (Fairclough, 1995, p. 55) and van Zoonen's assertion that, "The women's movement is not only engaged in a material struggle about equal rights and opportunities for women, but also in a symbolic conflict about definitions of femininity" (van Zoonen, 1994, p. 12), this thesis concentrates on such themes as espoused in media texts, seen contrastively and historically in the Chinese context. Its methodological focus is an evidence-based discourse analytical exploration combining both linguistic and ethnographic methods, and integrating both critical and social perspectives in the study of media texts. The data collected and drawn upon are texts from 1995 to 2005 and onwards, covering those from a national newspaper (People's Daily 人民日报Renmin Ribao), a women's magazine – (Women of China 中国妇女Zhongguo Funü), an academic journal – (Collection of Women's Studies 妇女研究论丛Funü Yanjiu Luncong), and a selection of official documents (PD editorials etc.). The comparative framework – both diachronically between 1995 to 2005 datasets and synchronically between datasets of PD, WOC, CWS and PD editorials attempts to reflect changing social recognition about gender constructs as well as different media appraisals on gender ideology. Data drawn from interviews with journalist practitioners and journalism scholars are also included as counterpoints to the media and to scholarly texts and analysis. Selected narratives from these "insider" voices are documented and analysed, providing important insights into the processes in which the newspaper reports construct specific understanding and categorization of women's identity, and how they may reveal under scrutiny the ideological positions of different media during moments of social transition. The timeframe under scrutiny is a period of women's development in China since the Fourth World Women's Conference held in Beijing in 1995 – regarded as indicated above, as a very important landmark in the second/current Chinese feminist wave (Tan & Liu, 2005). The key metaphorical construction of Chinese women's identity as "Holding up Half the Sky" in a "Harmonious Society" is investigated against various data sets. The findings reveal the tensions of persistence and resistance of certain ideologies, as well as an uneasy compromising process of the relationship between women and nation, women and family, women and self in the process of addressing an overarching and pervasive Work/Family conflict among contemporary Chinese women. The focus on discursive creativity and inter-textuality throughout this analysis of media discourse corresponds to the nature of dynamic social changes taking place in modern China.