Chinese air pollutions and haze problems

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Aim and research questions

The research examines the following questions:

  • How does People Daily construct discourse of haze issue on Weibo?
  • In what way are the discourses strengthened, negotiated or opposed through audience interaction?
    In a word, the study is a discourse analysis of media representation and audience interaction about an environmental issue on social media in the Chinese context. In the introduction I indicated the motivations of choosing the case of haze issue, Weibo and People Daily. In terms of this study, there are several motivations. Firstly, the special form of social media motivates me to explore social media, that is the « social » part of social media. Social media could be defined as a combination of « social » and « media ». The « social » part refers to interacting with other people by receiving information from them and sharing information with them (Nations, 2017). Interacting with others based on information sharing is the special form of social media. As I stated above, it is a interactive communication in a large scope. This is the special form that social media has but other kinds of media do not have. So I decided to focus on social media rather than other kinds of media. Secondly, social media has changed daily life of Chinese people including myself, as most of Chinese have never experienced an open media situation, so I am interested in it. Besides, I want to conduct a research which is connective to my life rather than just a paper, hence I prefer to investigate something that is relevant and I most concerned, that is, social media and environmental problems. Finally, analyzing representations or discourse of an environmental problem can reveal the underlying biases and values (Rose, James & Patel, 2016: 235). Through this experiences of studying abroad about communication, I realized that media representations and discourse can shape ideologies, therefore, I would like to combine discourse analysis with my concerned issues, social media and environmental problems to investigate how media constructs discourse of environmental problems on social media and how these discourses are strengthened, negotiated or opposed by the audience interaction.
    However, all I addressed above are personal reasons. Exclude social importance of the study which I stated at the end of the introduction, there is also academic importance of the study. Generally, critical discourse analysis is rare in Chinese academic, and critical discourse analysis in a Chinese context is also insufficient. Hence, the study could fill the gap of inadequate investigations about critical discourse analysis and provide a CDA perspective for academic, also fill the gap of limited CDA research in a Chinese context. Besides, as the language of Chinese social media is Mandarin, it is difficult for researchers who speak another language to make sense and conduct research. As a result, unlike Facebook, Twitter or other worldwide social media, Chinese social media like Weibo still remains unfamiliar or inaccessible for most of the people, research about media representations and discourse on Chinese social media is limited. Therefore, another importance of the study is that it could enrich the research realm of Chinese social media and the study could be employed by researcher who is interested in Chinese social media or Chinese media discourse but does not understand Mandarin.
    In a word, the purpose of the study is to find out how Chinese official media constructs media discourse of environmental issues on social media through the case of People Daily’s discourse about haze problem on Weibo. Besides, through analyzing audience interaction, the study would eventually examine how People Daily’s discourses concerning haze issue are strengthened, negotiated or opposed. It can also show the attitudes or perceptions of Chinese mainstream media and public in terms of haze problems and any change brought by social media. It also aims to contribute to filling the gap of the media representation and discourse of environmental issues on social media in the Chinese context.

Previous research

Studies about media representations and social media

Kay, Zhao and Daniel (2014) suggests that Weibo is a field for the production and contestation of environmental issues, their research intends to shed light on the multiple ways in which discourse regarding air pollution are produced and contested by different users of Weibo, and discusses whether Weibo represents a just and effective new form of citizen power and public discourse in China. By applying methods including a heuristic procedure to collecting sample, content analysis, case study on Weibo as well as a review of theories like socioecological process theory, urbanization theory, neo liberalization and other literature about discourse study and social media, they finally draw a conclusion that Weibo is not a completely even medium for citizens to propose their contestation of environmental issues. Because they consider that Weibo is not used in every area in China and some people especially those who have no access to Internet are excluded in the public debates and it is also applied by the authority as a tool for monitoring and control despite the control is smoother and Weibo is capable of empowering citizens to engage in public discussion and prompt public discourse on environmental events.
The research of Fedorenko and Sun (2016) establishes a discussion in academic on representations of Weibo driven environmental issues and proposes suggestions for promoting environmental issues in countries with authoritarian regimes through the approach of social media. Methods like process tracing, participant observations, representations analysis and interviews are conducted to find out how Weibo helps to the promote environmental issues’ development and how important the role of media representations in mobilizing related participants. The study also sheds light on that representation is the driving force for public participation. The results of the study examine that representations linking air pollution to health and frames appreciating governmental efforts are essential for the success of public engagement concerning environmental issues in China. Besides, Weibo as the most popular social media in China, it is able to expand the networks of environmental activists by media representations involving governmental agencies and influential public figures.
Bouvier (2015) conducts content analysis based on a broad review of literature concerning social media and discourse analysis in his study. He suggests that the field of discourse studies is still only beginning to turn attentions to social media. So in his paper, the aims to show why discourse studies must engage with social media, and how these can help frame the kinds of research that need to be done. He highlights that discourse and representations studies should have more to say about social media as it is important to understand the ways in which these interact and are in transformation as well as the way that ideas and values are shared or not shared. He points out that understanding of discourse and media representations now means acknowledging the acts of communication take place in great changes and the detailed findings of discourse analysis could be shaped by the macro level.
That is, discourse analysis is connected to larger matters. He also mentions critical discourse analysis in his study and addresses that CDA has great influences as regards how people build up and organize societies. Finally, he reminds us that in order to engage with discourse online, we need to be open to the challenge played by shifts of media situation by social media and then we also need work more on discourse on social media as these new media practices have infused, and transformed existing discourse.
Duan and Dholakia (2015) investigate how discourse on Weibo reflect as well as accelerate the reshaping of traditional values in China, and how social media impact Chinese society now and would potentially affect global societies later. They suggest that the displays of visible desire, hedonism and materialism on Weibo could influence global consumption ethos as Chinese social media could expand their reach outside China. By sampling and coding over 250 Weibo posts and using content analysis, they find that Weibo is playing a critical role in transforming Chinese consumer values. Besides, materialism and hedonism are becoming as an appreciated life attitude and growing irresistibly. As a result, the traditional Chinese consumer values like suppressing desire, restraint and thriftiness are losing ground. Moreover, Weibo is able to make the influence of the elite as well as electronic word-of-mouth very powerful, and the values of the elite and grassroots are converging.

Studies about media representations and environmental issues

Manzo and Padfield (2016) hold the idea that the focus of climate change reporting has been largely on Western industrialized democracies. Their study intends to focus on media representations of Malaysian media to broaden the range for cross-national comparison and answer following questions: How is climate change framed in Malaysian media? How do Malaysian narratives compare with those found elsewhere? How do climate change and development narratives interact in a ‘second tier’ emerging economy? What do narratives say about the salience of neoliberal and North–South perspectives on climate change and development? Content analysis based on news articles about climate change in four Malaysian newspapers and one news website was conducted to answer the questions. Their findings show that climate change issue has been represented as an opportunity in Malaysia, the driving force is climate change and climate governance rather than colonial history in Malaysia and Malaysia has ambitions as well as willingness to participant in the global efforts for climate change. Besides, they found a strong representation of the environmentalist frame among all chosen media and they suggest that climate change has been represented as an opportunity not only for business market but also for reasserting older demands of power, rather than an impending catastrophe for mankind.

Chinese media situation
Chinese air pollutions and haze problems
Chinese social media and Weibo
People Daily
Aim and research questions
Previous research
Studies about media representations and social media
Studies about media representations and environmental issues
Studies about social media and environmental issues
Studies about media representations, social media and environmental issues
Studies about critical discourse
Theoretical frame and concepts
Media representation theory
Concept of critical discourse analysis
Agenda setting theory
Method and material
Presentation of findings and analysis
Quantitative mapping of People Daily’s discourses and audience comments about haze problem
Constructions of People Daily’s discourse in terms of haze reasons
Constructions of People Daily’s discourse in terms of suggestions
Empirical examples of audience interaction
Analysis of audience interaction
Summary and conclusion
The Discourse Analysis of Haze Issue in China

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