FRAMING THE OTHER: The Image of China in British Documentary Films
The representation of China in the West has been widely discussed in academia, especially in regard to the period between the eighteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century. Most studies, however, have used a historical perspective based on text and few have approached the issue from an audiovisual point of view. In this day and age, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the prominent role of audiovisuals in transmitting and even generating images of certain social groups, and it is important to note the power of television in cultural representation processes. The existing tradition in media studies has usually had the objective of analysing the depiction of China in the press and fiction films but there’s a shortage of research committed to documentary films as units of analysis. This doctoral thesis seeks to contribute to this specific field by analyzing current documentary films about China shown on British television channels, identifying what is said and how it is said, that is, adopting a constructivist bias. This research embraces the framing theory, which “essentially involves selection and salience” (Entman, 1993) to see if particular preconceptions are involved in the documentary representation of China. Frames are “conceptual tools which media and individuals rely on to convey, interpret and evaluate information” (Neuman et al., 1992) and this makes them powerful image-generators. To determine the frames traditionally involved in the representation of the Asian Giant we trace the images of China in the West from the XIII century to the present, in order to determine which ideas of China have repeatedly been en vogue. Drawing upon these historical frames the final stage of the research aims to develop a computer-based content analysis of the selected documentaries to either prove or refute their permanence in the process of representation of the country. Up to this point, we find that western observers' approach to China has generally been pervaded by stereotypes such as the "yellow peril" or Chinese uniformity. Nevertheless this trend has not been validated in regard to current documentary films. Furthermore, it appears that the balance between “positive” and “negative” images has traditionally depended more on western attitudes towards China than on China’s reality itself. The importance of these investigation lies in the fact that, more than ever before, our understanding of China is of crucial importance today, and the results may show how biased media practices can hinder the path to mutual comprehension.