Methodologies in Researching Communication in China
A comparison of the methodologies used in two books that focus on researching communication in China.
The two books:
Wang, Jing. Brand New China. Cambridge: Harvard Univesity Press, 2008.
Zhao, Yuezhi. Communication in China. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2008.
A Complementary Approach
“Just as domination is never total, resistance is never complete. The landscape of Chinese media can never be summed up in a neat tale of the weak fighting the strong, capital against the state, or rationality upsetting myth-making” (Wang, 270). These words are found in chapter 7 of Wang's book Brand New China. As a chapter in which Wang “examine the tortuous process of the commodification of state-owned Chinese media” (Wang, 34), this part of his book marks a convergence between that source and Zhao Yuezhi's book. Ironically, the quote stated at the beginning of the paragraph seems better suited to Zhao's book, in which there is a strong emphasis on the influential role the Chinese government plays in the Chinese communication field; the discussion of the government/media connection takes on much more of a peripheral thrust in Wang's book where the emphasis is on advertising and marketing. As one looks deeper into the two books one will realize that the discussion of the social-political-economic connection on the one hand and advertising on the other are different faces atop a common discussion of facets of social tension/conflict such as increasingly glaring distinctions of class and the divisive influence of a widespread adoption of neoliberal ideology.
One thing that adds legitimacy to the arguments presented by the two authors is the two-fold approach they take in studying their respective subjects. Wang states this best, indicating her goal to “cultivate a cross-fertilization between academia and the advertising sector, and to write from an in-between, fluid perspective” (Wang, xi). In other words, Wang is not just another aloof academic writing about advertising in China; rather, her approach is a combination of “the textbook-based approach” (Wang, xi) and practical, hands-on experience working at a Beijing advertising agency. Zhao's approach is similar in that she combines documentary research and other academic research with dozens of trips to China and hundreds of interviews conducted with people working in the various communication fields in China.
In regards to the “two-fold approach” mentioned above, it seems that it is more prevalent in the research conducted by Zhao. At the very start the reader is introduced to an actual person, Feng Xiuju, who is depicted as one among many who have been affected by the neoliberal changes in China. This method of presenting real people with their real situations has an appealing human interest bent to it that serves to draw the reader in better than just a relatively drier academic discourse on the subject. The same can be said of the presentation of the individual cases of Sun Zhigang and Wang Binyu, whose stories of death as a nameless police detainee and murderous anger at consistent ill-treatment as a worthless second-class citizen probably strikes a nerve of shock in a Western audience unaccustomed to such blatant violations of human rights and devaluation of human life. Building up to such moments in chapter 6 of her book Zhao presents an academic discourse on the media, the history of its commercialization and its special relationship with the government until finally integrating communication in China with these events in the lives of ordinary people and how they are portrayed by the Chinese media.
In contrast to the strengths of Zhao's methodology outlined above, the strengths of Wang's research methodology is found in her objective of “methodological renewal”; instead of basing her arguments off of traditional and probably tired old notions of commercial culture and supposed tension between producers and consumers, she has the ambitious goal of turning such methods upside down and debunking them. How has she fared in her attempts to “debunk the conventional dichotomies drawn between the local and the global, consumers and producers, and resistance and domination” (Wang, xii) and replace this with a “production-centered methodology” that “provides an integrative approach” (Wang, xiii) to the study of commercial culture in China?
One of the best demonstrations of the new methodology she has promulgated at work is seen in her analysis of the Red Dot advertising campaign. In this instance, a multinational company, Kimberley-Clark, hopes to position its global brand, Kotex, in the China comfort and beauty market. However, such attempts ultimately prove less promising than hoped and the company instead finds itself needing to resort to “localization” of its period pad product and its promotion under the guise of a local brand name Chinese domestic consumers can identify with. This conclusion was reached after the extensive testing involving the watching of advertisements by potential consumers from the targeted population segments and analysis of their responses. In other words, consumer input and desires were instrumental in the eventual output of the producer. Another good example of the local-global connection (as opposed to a dichotomy between the two) is evident in the hugely successful Coke commercial depicting images from north China and linking the local flavor of these images with that of the truly transnational brand of Coca-Cola.
In both examples presented above, Wang amply demonstrates the connections between the local and global in product advertising as well as the strong connection between consumers and producers, a relationship in which “advertisers get wrapped around the consumer's finger. Through her methodological approach of looking at the viewpoints of both sides, Wang has demonstrated the relationship between consumers and producers in which producers make what consumers want and consumers give producers their money for those products. Consumers aren't “deceived” by scheming producers but both rather fulfill the need of the other.
Perhaps one thing Wang could do to round out her presentation on advertising in China would be to address in more detail the role/influence of the Chinese government in regards to advertising. She has already mentioned the shifting boundaries of censorship by SARFT in regards to TV drama production; is this unstable situation limited to media production or does it affect the advertising sector as well? Leisure and consumer goods might constitute part of SARFT's “neutral” list of what is allowably commercializable but is this category free of the censorship oversight of government agencies? As for Zhao, there does not seem to be any particular area in which she is lacking or utilizes a method which would be improved upon in a modified form.
In conclusion, when read together, it would seem that the methods employed and the different aspects of Chinese communication presented by the two authors complement each other well, with Zhao discussing communication within a social-political-economic context and Wang discussing communication within a media, corporate, and commercial culture context. In this way, many bases are covered and fewer gaps left; the two can even be said to be collaborating one with another in certain respects, especially since they often refer to works by the other within the text of their respective books.
About the author:
Country: United States
Interests: numismatics, reading, history, Star Trek, computer games, Chinese
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