In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section International Media Representation of Contemporary China

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Social and Cultural Representation of China
  • Journals
  • Bibliographies and Centers
  • Media Representation of China in Asia-Pacific
  • Media Representation of China in Arabic Countries
  • Media Representation of China in Africa

Chinese Studies International Media Representation of Contemporary China
Li Zhang
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 February 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0123


Although writers from ancient Rome knew of and commented on China, the earliest detailed image was that of the 13th-century Italian, Marco Polo. Since his time, travelers, scholars, missionaries, priests, merchants, diplomats, and journalists have all contributed to images about China. However, it is mainly since the early 20th century that information communication technology has developed to the extent of enabling a fairly comprehensive portrayal of China. The mass media have played a crucial role. The People’s Republic of China started its economic reform in the late 1970s, and since then, the world has witnessed the reemergence and rise of China in the international arena. Not only has the volume of news flows from and about China significantly increased since the late 1990s, but, along with this, academic interest in knowing the representation of contemporary China by the international media has also grown both within and outside China. A large volume of the research is conducted by scholars based in China and Chinese-speaking academics in the West. Most studies examine the general nature of the media image of China in a particular national or regional context, such as the United States, Europe, Asia-Pacific, Arabic countries, Africa, and so on. But some also look at how certain events in China have been portrayed in foreign media, and some focus on a specific type of image concerning China. The growing literature discusses the international media representation of contemporary China concerning China’s tourism, business, politics, society, and international relations. A general concern evident in the literature as argued by some researchers is that the international media, particularly the American media, is largely negative in reporting on China. When representing China as the “other” vis-a-vis “us,” ideological differences and stereotypes play a key role. Other factors such as economy, journalism, language, and culture are also important in shaping the coverage of China by the international media. Many studies further explore the impact of such representation on the perception of China and China’s international relations by people outside the country. In recent years the Chinese government has made a conscious effort to build a benign image of China abroad and to exert China’s international influence in the field of communications. There is thus great significance in analyzing China’s international media representation through the prism of China’s soft power and public diplomacy activities. This bibliography only includes works written in English and Chinese languages.

General Overviews

Although there is a long history in the Western portrayal of China, studies on the general image of China internationally appeared only since 1980s. Fitzpatrick 1983 discusses how China has been portrayed in Western documentary films. Mackerras 1989 is an influential book in Chinese studies and draws on the media sources to look at the history of Western images of China from old times to the late 1980s. Mackerras 2013 in Chinese language is an extension of the early study and collects the author’s most recent thoughts and study on the topic. Mackerras 2015 is an expanded and updated English-language version of this Chinese-language version. Liu and He 2006a and Liu and He 2006b, two Chinese books, provide a comprehensive picture of how China has been represented in major international mass media, whether in the print or broadcast media. Gittings 2007 reviews Western media reports on major historical events in China. Ramo 2007 discusses China’s image in general under the background of China’s attempt to improve its national image abroad. A comparative study by Willnat and Luo 2011 on television news coverage of China in fifteen locations around the world sheds lights on China coverage in the global news flow.

  • Fitzpatrick, Merrilyn. “China Images Abroad: The Representation of China in Western Documentary Films.” Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs 9 (1983): 87–98.

    DOI: 10.2307/2159092

    Fitzpatrick critically reviews the representation of China in Western documentary films from the 1930s to the 1970s. She expresses the hope that when more Western film crews going into China, more exciting movies with deeper knowledge of China will be produced.

  • Gittings, John. “A Historical View of Western Reporting on China.” China Media Research 3.1 (2007): 61–64.

    Gittings gives a brief historical review of the Western reporting of China. Events covered include China’s Cultural Revolution, the Tiananmen incident, Deng Xiaoping’s reform, the United States’ Spy Plane crisis, Three Gorges Dam, and China’s economic miracle.

  • Liu, Jinan 刘继南, and Hui He 何辉. Jingxiang Zhongguo: Shijie zhuliu meiti zhong de Zhongguo xingxiang (镜像中国:世界主流媒体中的中国形象). Beijing: Zhongguo chuanmei daxue chubanshe, 2006a.

    An examination of China coverage in the world’s mainstream media through content analysis. The media outlets under study include the New York Times and Time magazine in the United States, The Times and The Economist in the United Kingdom, Le Figaro in France, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in Germany, Yomiuri Shimbun in Japan, and El Pais in Spain. The book has the English title, Image of China in World Mainstream Media, on its cover.

  • Liu, Jinan 刘继南, and Hui He 何辉. Zhongguo xingxiang: Zhongguo guojia xingxiang de guoji chuanbo xianzhuang yu duice (中国形象:中国国家形象的国际传播现状与对策). Beijing: Zhongguo chuanmei daxue chubanshe, 2006b.

    With the English title on the cover, China’s Image by International View, the book starts with a discussion on the relationship between national image and international communication, international communication of China’s national image, and the communication strategy to promote China’s national image. Three chapters look at the representation of China in various international media—printing media in chapter 4, broadcasting media in chapter 5, and film and TV programs in chapter 6.

  • MacKerras, Colin. Western Images of China. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

    A historical review of how Westerners have portrayed China, from the earliest times until the late 1980s. Through examining the media sources, Mackerras demonstrates the enormous variety in Western images of China over the centuries. This is an essential book for anyone interested in understanding the stereotypes of China in the West.

  • Mackerras, Colin 马克林. Wo kan Zhongguo: 1949 nian yilai Zhongguo zai xifang de xingxiang (我看中国: 1949年以来中国在西方的形象). Translated by Zhang Yongxian 张勇先and Wu Di 吴迪. Beijing: Renmin daxue chubanshe, 2013.

    Mackerras’s follow-up work on Western images of China, published in Chinese-language. The English-translated title, Western Images of China since 1949, is also on the cover page. This book adopts a longitudinal approach to examine the images of China in the West since 1949. It provides a comprehensive picture of Western perception of China’s politics, economics, culture, society, and environmental issues from various voices and the mass media.

  • Mackerras, Colin. Western Perspectives on the People’s Republic of China: Politics, Economy and Society. Singapore: World Scientific, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1142/8976

    This is a slightly expanded and updated English-language version of Mackerras 2013. The perspectives are taken up by topic, including politics, economy, society, and ethnic minorities. Inherent in each topic is the way cultures see and react to each other. The basic conclusion is that Western perspectives are somewhat more complex than simply viewing China’s realities.

  • Ramo, Joshua Cooper. Brand China. London: Foreign Policy Centre, 2007.

    Ramo, a Western analyst of China, points out in this report that national image is China’s greatest strategic threat today. In his opinion, China’s problem does not only lie in whether its national image is “good” or “bad,” but that China’s image of itself and other nations’ views of China are out of alignment.

  • Willnat, Lars, and Yunjuan Luo. “Watching the Dragon: Global Television News about China.” Chinese Journal of Communication 4.3 (2011): 255–273.

    DOI: 10.1080/17544750.2011.594552

    The article uses content analysis to examine the prime-time television news coverage of China in fifteen nations and territories around the world. The analysis focuses on the volume of the coverage and the dominant topics, sources, and actors in the news stories and argues that the global television news about China is insufficient and one dimensional.

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