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Media consumption and global visions among urban Chinese youth.


China's two-digit economic growth has not only boosted its social development but triggered unprecedented changes in its media industry in the past three decades. While media in China are still stated-owned and are subject to direct government control, a different scenario from the West, Chinese media (2) have not received any government subsidy since 1993 and have since survived in the market. In fact, the media industry has become a booming industry in China. In 2008, the output value of the Chinese media industry amounted to 540 billion RMB yuan, constituting 1.8 percent of the nation's GDP in 2008, according to the 2008 Bluebook of Media Industry in China. (3)

The media landscape in China has also changed fundamentally, which is best demonstrated by the media relationship with the Chinese audience. In an effort to cater to audience needs, Chinese media have become more diversified and critical and more audience friendly than ever before, despite the fact that they are still controlled by the government (Guo, 2009). As a result, Chinese media have emerged as an indispensable and influential sector in the Chinese society, instead of purely a governmental propaganda puppet as it was in the past. Media are playing different roles and exerting varying influences on the Chinese audience, particularly on the young audience. A research report on Media Culture Influences on Adolescents released by the Academy of Social Sciences in 2005 has ranked media as the most influential factor on young audience members in China, who have become increasingly dependent on media information consumption in their daily lives. This affects their visions of the real world and ways of thinking as well as their personal values and perceptions and behaviors. (4)


Media professionals and academic researchers have long recognized the importance of media roles for youth in an information-rich society. After his research on the "Cultural Indicators" project in the mid-1960s, George Gerbner developed a cultivation theory that studies whether and how watching television may influence viewers' ideas of what the everyday world is like (McQuail, 1993, p. 26) and he proposes that heavy exposure to media content shapes audiences' collective consciousness about elements of existence and heavy viewers of television were more likely than light viewers to believe that the world depicted on television accurately reflected reality (Morgan and Shanahan, 1996, p. 30).

In the past 20 years, more than 300 cultivation studies have been published on topics ranging from gender roles to political orientation and adolescent uses of media and contents. James Potter conducted a survey among 308 junior high and high school students in the U.S. and found that adolescents were "more likely to have perceived the lessons that are dominant in the TV world than they are to perceive less dominant lessons (Potter, 1990, p.846). However, these findings are not echoed in all the subsequent studies. Aaron Alan Delwiche studied the relationship of global media use and cosmopolitan orientation among Hong Kong youth and failed to find a link between cosmopolitan orientation and global media uses among Hong Kong youth and challenges the notion that exposure to global media necessarily fuels a global culture (Delwiche, 2001).

Despite different research traditions between China and the U.S., Chinese scholars have also paid attention to media functions, uses, and roles in the Chinese society. Li Liangrong discussed the media's functions and effects in his widely-cited book Introduction to Journalism, by listing five media functions: to provide information, to organize the society, to supervise public opinions, to entertain and to make a profit. Li recognized five positive and negative effects of media: "to present the whole world to audience while confusing them with distorted information, to link the world while distancing human relationship, to enrich knowledge while depreciating human analytical capability, to change human concepts of time and space while triggering unlimited desires, to cultivate human civilization while polluting social environment" (Li, 2001, p.p. 109-116).

Other academics are interested in exploring media roles in relationship with such topics as reader happiness and youth idolatry. Yao Junxi analyzed the degree of reader happiness as related with media use patterns in 2002 in nine provinces in Eastern, Central and Western China (Yao, 2006, p.17) while Wu Yao focused on the social modernization in relationship with the cultural functions of media and discussed the issues from a broad perspective, but with little analysis (Wu, 2001, p.32). Huang Yaohong elaborated upon the social responsibilities of media and identified four ways of media's social influences: control, selection, editorial planning, and marketing (Huang, 2005, p. 39). Huang An listed five ways of conceptual constructs among Chinese universities, although with no supportive data to illustrate his categorization (Huang, 2005, p.40). Chen Shengluo compared different attitudes among Chinese university students towards Japan and the U.S. and concluded that university students are obviously biased against Japan and the U.S. as a result of their emotional expressions and one-way thinking mode (Chen, 2006, p. 28). More recent researches, quantitative and qualitative, have discussed the effectiveness of Chinese media in creating China's national images as well as political functions among the young Chinese audience, adding to the diversity of research on Chinese media consumption (Lull, 1991; Shao, 1998; Moran & Keane, 2004; Weber & Lu, 2006).

Previous literature has shown that youth aged 15-25 are becoming the most active consumers of media contents in China. However, this young generation is also the most vulnerable to media influences, both positive and negative, because of their immaturity and relative indulgence as a result of their one-child status quo in a family. (5) Therefore, it is imperative to study their media consumption patterns and how media consumption (6) helps shape their global visions. (7)

Specifically, this study addresses the following five research questions:

1. How do urban Chinese youth consume media contents?

2. Why do urban Chinese youth consume media contents?

3. What roles do they perceive media have played for them?

4. How do urban Chinese youth access global media contents in a relatively enclosed media environment in China?

5. How does media consumption affect global visions of urban Chinese youth?

Current Study & Methods

The topic has attracted professional and academic interests because China has walked into an era of globalization in the past 20 years, which allows global information flows to overcome the national boundaries of this vast country. Paradoxically, the Chinese media environment still remains relatively enclosed due to its current political systems. Therefore, studies on media consumption among urban Chinese youth can not only help to understand their preferences over media and contents and how media consumption helps shape their global visions, but also analyze and explain the complexity and the uniqueness of Chinese media development and environment in a global context.

The selection of urban Chinese youth aged from 15 to 25 as samples of this study is attributed to the fact that this group of Chinese youth is the first generation of the one-child policy. According to the latest statistics, the number of the Chinese population aged 14 to 35 has reached 0.465 billion as of 2005, 36.25% of the total population of China, sizable enough for more research. (8)

To answer the five research questions, the study has organized surveys and focus groups in three major cities in China: Beijing, the capital, and Shanghai, the largest financial center in east China, and Guangzhou, the most prosperous and vibrant city in south China. The three cities have been selected because they have, traditionally and typically, represented the mainstream urbanization level of the Chinese society, in terms of educational levels, incomes, GDPs and urban population structures (Yan, 2006).

The authors have self-administered the surveys in the three cities, (9) in cooperation with a professional survey company or two academic institutions from August to November 2007, and have collected a stratified and multi-stage sample of more than 300 respondents, (10) randomly sampled from each city. All the samples in these cities were selected in proportion with their actual population structures of five groups, namely, junior high students, high school students, junior college students, undergraduate students and graduate students, as well as working professionals, all aged from 15 to 25. (11) The total sample has amounted to 941 participants, with 329 (35%) from Beijing, 309 (32.8%) from Shanghai and 303 (32.2%) from Guangzhou respectively. Survey questionnaires focus on a wide range of topics related to youth media consumption and their global visions.

The study also organized two focus groups in each city, (12) comprising six to eight members in each group, to conduct in-depth interviews in January 2008. Participants were selected based on the demographic distribution of the age groups in each city according to the latest national population census in 2005. (13)

Media Preferences

As is shown in Table 1-1, Internet and TV are among the most frequently used media among urban Chinese youth. Nearly half of them (40.9%) use Internet on a daily basis while over 33% watch TV everyday, indicating a high level of Internet and TV penetration among urban youth. Only less than ten percent (8.7%) and about 20 percent (19.5%) barely access Internet and watch TV

Newspaper (nearly 20%) comes next, followed by radio (14.6%) and magazine (only 9.3%). On the other hand, more than half of the Chinese youth (50.6%) rarely turn to radio now, with 24.9% for magazine and 20.5% for newspaper.

Most urban youth are regular media users as the bulk of them use media 1-3 days per week or 4-6 days per week. They have demonstrated a clear preference for Internet and TV while radio is becoming unpopular.

Media preferences play up regional differences. Youth in Guangzhou and Beijing are more active Internet users than youth in Shanghai. In Table 1-1-1, the percentage of everyday Internet users in Guangzhou (48%) and Beijing (41.6%) are both higher than that in Shanghai (33%) while the "barely access" Internet users in Shanghai (11.3%) are more than those in Beijing (9.7%) and in Guangzhou (5%). Similar patterns exist for TV, which shows Beijing and Guangzhou youth are more active TV consumers.

However, Shanghai youth are more active newspaper readers. The percentage of daily newspaper readers in Shanghai is 22.7, as compared with 18.7 in Guangzhou and 18 in Beijing.

Table 1-1-2 has indicated a further breakdown of Internet consumption patterns among youth. "Search engine" and "Portal" are the most frequently used forms, respectively 41.8% and 36.2%. "Video" is also becoming popular with 5.2%. However, it is interesting to note that "search engine" is losing its weight while "portal" is becoming more popular when urban Chinese youth reach a higher level of education. The same pattern exists for uses of "Video," "Game," "Entertainment" and "Music." The above analysis shows that urban Chinese youth focus more on fun information from the Internet at a younger age and become more information-oriented consumers as they crow older.

TV uses among youth have also demonstrated regional differences. Beijing youth expressed a clear preference for CCTV with 53.8%, followed by Beijing local TV (17.9%). Beijing viewers did not like Guangzhou TV at all, with a zero percent. However, Shanghai youth are fans of Shanghai local TV (mainly SMG, 50.9%). Guangzhou viewers, however, go to the other extreme: they like Hong Kong & Taiwan TV most (63.2%).

Of course, CCTV, as the only national TV system available across China, is still the most popular TV system across China, though CCTV is getting less popular in the south.

The survey also asked respondents to list the top 20 newspapers they like most. Two features are detected: (1) Except for newspapers like Guangzhou Daily, Southern Weekends and 21" Century Business Herald with a more a national appeal, Chinese youth have strong preferences over local newspapers in their regions, a different pattern from TV media. (2) Gender orientation is also obvious. Female readership tends to favor fashion, lifestyle and language-learning (21st Century) newspapers in each city, while the dominant preference among male readers is sports-oriented newspapers.

In a word, urban Chinese youth have demonstrated regional preferences of media consumption in their respective cities.

Content Preferences

It is interesting to note from Table 1-2 that "Videos and Music" has been ranked predominantly as the most popular media contents (67%), more than three times the second category of traditional "News" (22%). The next upcoming categories are "Services" (4%) and "Advertising" (3%), with "Sports" only 2% and "Games" 1%.

Table 1-2-1 shows that reverse trends exist between two genders in terms of their preferences for "Videos and Music" and "News." For "Videos and Music," females overwhelm males by almost 15.7 points, while in the "News" category, males exceed females by 11.9 points. This means that males are more news oriented even though they still keep an interest in videos and music, while females are more soft-content oriented with less interest in news. However, gender differences are not so distinctive in the other five categories, with their differences almost all within one point.

The same patterns exist in content preferences by age and by education. Their frequency to access "Videos and Music" seems to be in a descending sequence as they grow older in Table 1-2-1. This has corresponded with their education levels. Their interest in "Videos and Music" drops as they reach a higher level of education. This means that elder youth at a higher level of education prefer less videos and music or entertainment-oriented information. However, their preference pattern has reversed for "News". When they get older, Chinese youth tend to consume more "News." A similar pattern exists for "Services" consumption. Interestingly, the above reverse pattern also applies to content preferences at different educational levels. Urban youth tend to access more "News" when they are at a higher level of education.

Therefore, even though urban youth prefer "Videos and Music" and "News," their consumption patterns do vary among different genders and educational levels. Female youth prefer more soft fun contents while elder and male youth like hard news.


Table 2-1 has identified six purposes for accessing media among Chinese youth. Almost half of them want to pursue relaxation and fun (47%) when they consume media contents. Traditional news comes second with 20 percent while 13 percent do not have a specific purpose or simply take it as a habit. Besides, Chinese youth also regard media as a source of learning knowledge (11 %), while seven percent want to seek information. Only two percent of them consume media contents in order to make friends or exchange ideas or communicate with others.

While gender differences do not make much significance in their purposes in Table 2-2, the age and education factors make a more obvious impact among Chinese youth as shown in Table 2-2. A general trend is clear: Chinese youth seek less relaxation and fun, consume more news or just take media access as habit when they grow older and reach a higher level of education.

Media Roles & Effects

Table 2-3 has shown the media roles as perceived by urban Chinese youth. Most of them interpret media roles in a positive way. Two major roles of media are "make their lives colorful" (37.9%) and "helpful to their work and study" (23.9%). Nearly 10 percent of them think media have kept them well-informed and consider media as part of their lives.

This paper has also tested the media effects among urban Chinese youth with ten statements and asked them to score 4 for "totally agree," 3 for "relatively agree," 2 for "relatively disagree" and 1 for "totally disagree" for the ten statements. All the ten statements have received a mean score of 2 and up to 3.6.

Most Chinese youth (94.8%) agree with No.1 statement, with only 5.3% disagreement and a low standard deviation (0.6). This shows that family relationship is still the most cherished among Chinese youth despite existing diversified social values in China.

The highest mean score and relatively lower standard deviation also supports this distribution. Meanwhile, Chinese youth regard money-making a symbol of success with a total of 64.5 percent in favor of this statement and only 28.9% relative disagreement and 6% strong disagreement. The mean score is the second highest (2.8), but with a higher standard deviation (0.8). This means that their opinions become more diversified towards this statement.

Media advertising does not seem to influence most Chinese youth as shown in their responses to No. 10 statement. Almost one fourth (24.5%) show strong disagreement and more than half (52.8%) express relative disagreement, while nearly one fifth (18.8%) voice relative agreement. Only 4% of them agree that they will buy what is advertised over media. That is why their mean score is the lowest (2).

This paper also finds that most Chinese youth access media in order to follow fashions and that they are impressed by foreign lives as depicted over TV, while longing for romance and love on TV They consider Internet a relatively free space for voicing their opinions. For the four statements, strong agreement percentages fall within 15.1 and 19.5 while relative agreement percentages are within 40 and 46. Meanwhile, their relative disagreement percentages are within 29.8 and 37.8 and strong disagreement percentages are about 10 or below, as have been reflected in their same mean scores (2.7) and close standard deviations (0.8 and 0.9). In addition, more Chinese youth (58% to 63%) are not so tired of intimate TV scenes and tend to regard successful figures in TV dramas as their idols in daily lives and they consider the lives of stars colorful and meaningful, thus demonstrating their independent judgments.

Global Media

The paper has selected six global media organizations to test how urban Chinese youth access these media (Table 3-1). We can see the overall access frequency to global media of Chinese youth is low, as only 40 % often or sometimes access global media while 60 % barely do that or even do not know them.

It is clear that not so many Chinese youth access BBC, because only 7.8% do that on a regular basis, while 32.8% access BBC occasionally. The majority of them barely access BBC or simply do not know about BBC. If BBC is a more serious media, then MTV is more entertainment-oriented. That is why more Chinese youth are consuming MTV, with 21.4% often accessing and 35.4% sometimes accessing MTV.

Since Phoenix TV is a Hong Kong-based TV channel, more Chinese youth access Phoenix TV: nearly 70% "often or sometimes" access Phoenix TV Though it is a U.S.-based newspaper, the New York Times has been regarded as an influential international newspaper in China. (14) But only 3.3% of Chinese youth often read the New York Times, while 15.3% do that sometimes. Most of them barely read it or do not even know about the New York Times. ESPN, a sports channel, is not much better; only 4.7% of Chinese youth often access ESPN, and another 13.1% do that sometimes, while most of them barely access or do not even know about ESPN. However, urban Chinese youth tend to like Discovery Channel, as nearly 40% of them often watch or watch it occasionally, although 60% still barely watch or do not even know about this channel. On the whole, most Chinese youth have not demonstrated a strong desire to access global media, mostly in English. Even if they do, they choose those based in Hong Kong or Taiwan and in Chinese. Therefore, language can be a negative factor in their selection of global media. Besides, they also prefer soft-oriented entertainment and sports media to traditional serious-looking news media.

This paper also discussed how Chinese youth access overseas websites, (15) in order to test the effects of globalization on them in a relatively enclosed social and media environment.

As Table 3-2 shows, more than half of Chinese youth (51%) have the desire to access overseas websites, while 32.6% of them do not want to access overseas websites. The rest of them (16.4%) are not sure if they want to do it or not. By geographical location, youth in Beijing and Guangzhou are more active in accessing overseas websites, with 63.9% and 52% respectively, while Shanghai youth are less active with only 37.3%. Besides, youth at an elder age tend to be more willing to access overseas websites.

During the process of their access to overseas websites, the paper finds in Table 3-3 that only about one quarter of Chinese youth can log on to overseas websites when they want to, while 17% are not successful in logging on to overseas websites. The majority of them (57%) have the occasional experience of not being able to log on to overseas websites when they want to, which means they can log on to overseas websites most of the time. A large number are not so disappointed (38.4%) and can understand the status quo of their limited access (24.5%) in the country. Only 14% of them are very disappointed that they can not log on to their overseas websites after blockage by the government. The rest of them either do not care (18.9%) or are not so certain (4.2%).

This means that the reason for the enclosed status quo of the media environment in China may be more a result of their unwillingness or language capability to access media or websites in foreign languages, than it is of government blockage or controls.

Global Visions (16)

In the survey, the paper has asked survey respondents to choose a country that they want to go to if given a chance, as an approach to measure their global visions, because their preferences for a specific country reflect the attitudes by which they evaluate this country. In Table 3-5, the United States is listed as the most favored country, 25.9% of them have chosen the U.S. as a country they want to go to if they have a chance. France, Britain, Japan and Korea are also among the popular countries, with Germany listed as the 10th popular country. It is clear that Chinese youth prefer to go to developed or relatively developed countries, which include almost all the western countries or developed Asian countries such as Japan and Korea.

In addition, the paper has case studied the images on the United States, Russia, Japan and Germany among Chinese youth. Participants were asked to choose three features from 12 statements that best match the nation images in their minds for the four countries.

Most Chinese youth regard the U.S as a country with rich life (76.7%) and advanced technology (6.3%). People there can say whatever they want to say (8.9%).

Russia has a stable society (21.6%) and people enjoy a rich life, but only 19.2%, much lower as compared with the U.S.. Besides, 16.5% of them think Russia has beautiful environment and Russians are well-behaved (11.8%). Japan is a rich country to more than half of Chinese youth (51.7%), with a stable society (10.6%). And Japanese people are well-behaved (9.3%). However, no Chinese youth think Japan has a good nation image in the world.

Germany is a country with rich life (51.1%) and a stable life (17.7%). Besides, they think Germans are well-behaved (11.6%) and can say whatever they want to say (5.0%). Germany has beautiful environment (7.2%) and advanced technology (3.3%), but the lowest percentage among the four countries. More Chinese youth think Germany has a good nation image in the world, the highest percentage among the four countries, though small in number.

In addition, the paper analyzes media factors in an effort to explain their global visions among urban Chinese youth, who have acquired their impressions from their media consumption because few of them have been abroad to have personal experience to shape their vision of a country.

Table 3-7 has shown the relationship between media consumption and global visions. 38% of them get their global visions from "radio and TV" consumption (mostly TV) while 24% of them get to know about the world via their consumption of "books & magazines." The Internet is only the third most important channel, as only 16% rely on Internet information. More urban Chinese youth (14%) rely on personal communication ("family and friends") to know more about the outside world. Only a very small percentage of Chinese youth (2%) are getting their global visions from their own experience.

To sum up, the paper finds that the global visions about foreign countries among Chinese youth are not quite correlated with their media consumption patterns in China. In other words, the paper has failed to support that media consumption among Chinese youth can shape or help to shape their global visions.

Discussion & Analysis of Media Preferences

The popularity of the Internet among urban Chinese youth in the three surveyed cities should, first of all, be attributed to its technical features, which are interactive in nature with unlimited space for information and technical feasibility for personal freedom and privacy. These features have suited very well the personality of urban Chinese youth (aged 15-17). As the only child in a family, these urban Chinese youth have grown up as the "little emperor or empress" of each family, but they also lack effective communication or interaction with others. The emergence of the Internet has somewhat solved their psychological loneliness. This is why all participants of six focus groups in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou would answer: they would think life is meaningless or the world is empty, or would go back to the primitive society in the ancient times or regard the Internet as food or water or tooth paste, in essence, something indispensable for their daily lives, if they were deprived of the Internet one day. This can also explain why MSN and QQ are the top priority for Chinese youth when they are online, as they provide a sense of security.

When the writers discussed this issue with focus group members, most of them admitted that they were not talking online with others all the time. They were simply observers of MSN or QQ and only joined discussions or wrote back when necessary. But it still made them feel good to have MSN or QQ on all the time. Therefore, the paper finds the popularity of the Internet among urban Chinese youth is in fact deeply related with their personal, social and psychological dependence rather than just a matter of like-dislike attitudes toward the Internet media itself.

Television, as a traditional media with a combination of pictures and sounds, is also influential among Chinese youth, particularly when a major event emerges. China's policy to allow Guangzhou area (18) to access foreign TV media and Hong Kong & Taiwan media (19) has an obvious effect, because a noticeably higher percentage of Chinese youth in Guangzhou are more used to or like overseas TV, in sharp contrast with its respective low reception and popularity in Beijing and Shanghai. This has added to their already distinctive local features of TV media consumption among urban Chinese youth.

Geographical differences are also clear with newspaper readerships in the three regions. Except for quality newspapers from Guangzhou, circulated nationwide, most newspapers are only popular in their local areas. This may be determined and constrained by the technical nature of newspapers which rely heavily on physical circulation for effective communication. This also means the rule of proximity in journalism works effectively in China and newspapers are better-suited for communicating local news and facts.

Although they regard Internet, TV and newspaper as three main information channels, urban Chinese youth are diversified in media access, including magazines, radios, books and mobile phones as well as family & friends. This means the Chinese media environment is getting more diversified for urban Chinese youth who can get information at their own will. This may be a direct result of an opening Chinese society in the past three decades, though media systems are still controlled by the government.

Despite that, not so many Chinese youth are eager to access foreign-language media, mostly in English. According to focus group discussions, English language is one major factor that prevents them from accessing English media as it is difficult for them to understand English contents.

This may also mean that urban Chinese youth are not really seeking information, they just need entertainment when they consume media. This further explains why they do not like English media, particularly when media in Chinese are easily available.

Content Preferences

This paper finds that there exists a correlation between content preference and media preference patterns among urban Chinese youth. Most Chinese youth have listed the Internet as their first choice for interactive and personal communication. This tendency has influenced their selection of media contents, and can, to some degree, explain why soft and entertaining media contents (videos) have become the first choice among them. Videos on the Internet are readily available to most of them all the time and add to privacy when youth watch them alone. For their preference of music, focus group members have added a deeper insight: they like to listen to music while they study and work. As students at junior & high schools are desperate to get higher scores, which can enable them to go to a good university, music has become a good companion and an outlet to release their psychological and study pressures.

News is the second most popular. Most of them love to access all news (sports news, military news, world news or fashion news, etc), because they personally need these varieties. Therefore, it is fair to conclude that the pursuit of news information among Chinese youth is more need-driven if their preference over videos and music is fun-driven.

It is also interesting to note that age and education factors are obvious in their selection of media contents. During focus group interviews in Shanghai, writers found that it was almost impossible for different levels of Chinese youth to talk about one particular issue as their interests and backgrounds were so diversified. For students in high schools and below, their full concentration is on their school work and their content consumption centers around their school life or instructions from teachers or parents. Some focus group members admitted that they listened to classical music regularly on the radio, but not because they like classic music, but rather because they are required by their teachers. When they get older and become university students or start to work, their selection of media contents becomes more diversified, but the amount of time devoted to media content consumption has reduced as they have to face other social and professional pressures.


This paper has identified six motivations for media consumption among urban Chinese youth. The first and uttermost important motivation is relaxation and fun while the second motivation is accessing news. The paper holds that motivation is a natural extension of their media preference and content preference patterns, which are known as "fun factor" in this paper. The fun factor is a significant indication for the current media landscape in China, which is now increasingly dependent on audience's expectations and needs (particularly young audiences) and is becoming market-driven, despite its inborn nature of state ownership in China.

This infotainment trend of media in China is both positive and negative. On the one hand, media are becoming an important part of the daily lives of Chinese youth and are, most of the time, satisfying their needs and expectations. On the other hand, too much infotainment can confuse what is really news and what is not, and makes it difficult for them to distinguish effectively the virtual world and the real world. This has far-reaching implication for future media policies in China.

News motivation is a traditional one. Besides their interest, family environment is vital for Chinese youth to consume news as a habit. Focus groups members have confessed that their interest in news and their habit to consume news are often developed in the process of news consumption together with family members.

The other motivations are more internally-driven, which means Chinese youth have cherished a psychological dependence on media and that media consumption has become part of their lives. Chinese youth regard media as a source of learning knowledge. This means that Chinese students are no longer confined to their school textbooks during the process of their learning, even though they are still guided and somewhat controlled by the educational systems in China. Diversified sources of knowledge inputs are beneficial to the shaping of their independent judgment and personality. Even though they demonstrated some similarities in motivations, most focus group members said they had tried to be unique and different from others.

Media Roles & Effects

In terms of their perceptions towards media roles, most Chinese youth consider media relatively useful, while not so many of them would consider media very useful or not useful at all. Chinese youth at higher education levels tend to perceive media roles in a more sensible way and relate media roles with their work and study, instead of just making their lives colorful.

This paper fords that most of them tend to interpret media roles in a positive way, signaling a high sense of trust towards the media in China. It means that media can play a positive role among urban Chinese youth. Even if they mention negative roles of media, they emphasized over-consumption of media by themselves.

Besides, media roles as defined by respondents are also diversified and cover almost all the related aspects of their lives. This means that Chinese youth have high expectations from media, which are influenced by or related with their media consumption patterns. It also means that most urban Chinese youth are still very pure and even a bit immature, and therefore are vulnerable to media influences as they regard the media world as almost equal to the real world.

The implication is strong for future media policies in China, in particular with regard to the kind of media contents that the Chinese culture is not so used to. This can explain why restriction rules on porno contents over the Internet in 2009 are welcomed among parents and teachers and media professionals in China.

In terms of media effects, the paper fords that media are somewhat limited in influencing perceptions of urban Chinese youth, which are pre-set in their social environment. For instance, media advertising is not perceived to be very effective though some admitted that repeated exposure to media advertising does make deep impressions on them. While advertising becomes financial pillars for most media organizations, doubtful attitudes from Chinese youth indicates that Chinese media may face financial problems if they continue to solely rely on advertising revenues or if they do not change the current advertising styles to attract Chinese youth.

Meanwhile, social environment in China is an important factor in influencing their perceptions. The fact that most Chinese youth treasure their family relationship is a natural extension of the Chinese tradition that focuses on family virtues and this also signals a relatively stable social environment in China nowadays. As China's economy has been galloping during the past three decades, the economic factor is becoming more obvious than ever before in the Chinese social environment and it is natural for Chinese youth to think more economically and to favor money-making values. Fashions reflect social trends of the Chinese social environment and that is why they are closely followed by most Chinese youth.

Global visions

Though the media environment in China is still relatively enclosed, and Chinese media are quite different from their counterparts outside China, urban Chinese youth have not demonstrated a strong passion to access overseas media in English. One of the reasons is that these media are sometimes restricted, or not so easily available. Besides, the language obstacle may also be a factor because many find it difficult to consume media contents in English.

As only a very small number of urban Chinese youth have personal experience abroad, this paper finds it fair to conclude that their global visions have largely come from consumption of media contents inside China, or are closely related with Chinese media. In other words, Chinese media are in a good position to help to shape, if not shape, their images and global visions of foreign countries.

However, the paper has found a reverse trend between what country Chinese youth prefer and what Chinese media have portrayed in their foreign coverage. According to a research project on the World Images in the Media of China, (20) Asian countries (Japan, Korea and Singapore in this paper), European countries (France, Germany and Russia in this paper) and the United States are the three most frequently covered regions and countries in Chinese media. But after comparing what was covered in the Chinese media with the current survey results, this paper fords that their preferred order of countries has just reversed: the United States is followed by European countries such as France and Britain, and finally Asian countries such as Japan and Korea. This means that media consumption patterns among Chinese youth have failed to shape global visions, which has important implications for media in China.

Generally speaking, the Internet has been the most popular media among Chinese youth, as discussed in the above media preference patterns. But the Internet does not seem to help in shaping their global visions either. Instead, radio & TV (mostly TV) as well as books and magazines are perceived as two major media channels that contributed to the shaping of their global visions and images of foreign countries.

In fact, global visions among urban Chinese youth can be event-oriented or content-sensitive. That is why different media channels are favored among Chinese youth when they approach different news events.


The paper has held that it is important to get to know media consumption patterns among urban Chinese youth, as youth represent the future. This paper aims to focus on how media consumption in a relatively enclosed media environment like China has shaped or helped to shape global visions among urban Chinese youth in the process of their media consumption.

To sum up, personal need and social environment are two key factors in understanding the relationship between their media consumption patterns and their global visions. The above discussions have shown that personal need is a natural extension and basis of the fun factor, which means Chinese youth seek fun and entertainment from media based on their personal needs. To a degree, this also implies that personal need is the inherent motivation for Chinese youth to access media and consume media contents and is thereby a fundamental factor to determine media consumption patterns among urban Chinese youth. When fun-seeking now becomes a popular personal need in their media consumption, it is in fact nurturing a new and different media landscape in China, which may change the process of media content selection, production, and treatment, as well as consumption.

In an era of information, personal needs among Chinese youth become diversified, and their satisfaction process is more related to social changes in the Chinese environment. Previous discussions have supported that the social environment can also influence media consumption patterns among Chinese youth, which includes families, schools, work institutions and even government organizations. Therefore, future media policies tailored towards Chinese youth should not only target their personal needs, but be coherently merged into the nation's media strategies in the future, particularly when Chinese youth do not demonstrate a strong desire to access foreign media.

Finally, it is a bit surprising for this paper to find that there exists a reverse trend between what Chinese media have portrayed in their foreign coverage and what country Chinese youth prefer. It would be interesting, though, to observe at a future research project if their perceptions may change when they grow up, which in fact may further consolidate the functions of personal needs and social environment.


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Ke Guo & Ying Wu

Center for Global Public Opinions of China

Shanghai International Studies University

(1) The project has been sponsored by the China Program, Heinrich Boll Foundation.

(2) Chinese media in this paper refer to all the existing media organizations including newspapers, magazines, radio and TV stations and Internet websites. Except for a few media organizations that produce contents in English or other foreign languages, almost all other media organizations manufacture and release contents in Chinese.

(3) China's GDP reached 30067 billion RMB yuan in the year of 2008, according to a news report on January 22, 2009 at

(4) The research paper was cited from smys/data/25/htm/lltt.files/24.htm

(5) The one-child policy only allows one Chinese family to have one child in most parts of China, and is a population control policy that China started to implement in 1979 to alleviate its overpopulation, and social and environmental problems. In practice, the one-child policy is more restrictive in urban areas, where employees can be laid off if they violate the one-child policy. However, in the rural areas, the one-child policy is more feasible and allows a farmer's family to have a second birth if the first child turns out to be a girl. In recent years, sociologists are proposing a change in the one-child policy which can affect the population structure in China if it continues and also social problems related to the only child of a family.

(6) Media consumption in this report refers to preferences, uses, access and exposure to media and contents by urban Chinese youth in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

(7) Global vision in this paper refers to the functional shaping of attitudes, values and views as held by urban Chinese youth towards their social environment and even the outside world. The paper has addressed this issue within the context of their relationship with their media consumption.

(8) Cited from 00paper/shehui/ shehuixiangguan/20080123/46980.html

(9) After the initial design of survey questions, a pretest was done in Shanghai with about 30 samples. Upon the collection of the pretest, a small assessment meeting was organized on the campus of Fudan University on June 10, 2007 and invited Prof. LI Liangrong from Fudan University, Prof. DAI Yuanguang from Shanghai University and Dr. Ian Weber to comment on the initial design of survey questions, after which it was dramatically revised.

(10) The original plan was to have a sample of 300 persons in each of the three cities with a total of 900 persons in all, but the actual sample size amounted to 941 persons.

(11) The reason for selecting education as a measurement is that education is an easy and noticeable way to identify this age group of youth.

(12) The study originally designed only one focus group in each of the three surveyed cities. But upon initial contacts, the study found that two focus groups were needed for effective in-depth interviews and communications.

(13) Focus groups were assisted by graduate students at Shanghai International Studies University, China Youth University for Political Science in Beijing, and Guangzhou Foreign Languages & Trade University. Focus groups provided in-depth interviews among participants and concentrated on discussions of specific issues or cases. They included (but were not limited to) discussions on all the five research questions, which were carried out in a more informal manner, so that every group member could share their specific experience of media consumption. These focus groups offered an opportunity to explore attitudes and evaluations on media by Chinese youth through previously designed questions and imagined media consumption situations. Furthermore, they provided insight into user responses to the development patterns of media contents in China, which is of special significance for understanding China's rapidly changing social structure.

(14) This statement was confirmed among the members of six focus groups conducted in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

(15) Overseas websites are those that have their UP addresses established from outside China and normally are not subject to the controls of the Chinese government.

(16) As explained earlier, the term "global vision" is employed here to discuss the functional shaping of attitudes, values and views of urban Chinese youth towards their outside world and is specially discussed under the context of their relationship with media consumption.

(17) This "Other" category includes about 40 countries in five continents, and most of them are destinations of tourism, but they are so sparsely distributed that they do not come up to 2%.

(18) China has decided to barter trade Sky-TV landing in the Guangzhou area for CCTV -9 landing in the LA area in the U.S.

(19) Hong Kong and Taiwan TV media are available in Guangzhou areas, but not in Beijing and Shanghai, where they are only accessible in hotels above three stars.

(20) The author of the current paper did research on the World Images in the Media of China in 2004 by content analyzing the world news of six media organizations in China from 1993 and 2002. The six media organizations are Xinhua News Agency, CCTV Newsline, China Daily, Global Times, Jiefang Daily and Yangcheng Evening News, which are basically located in the three cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Correspondence to:

Ke Guo

Box 337, Center for Global Public Opinions of China

Shanghai International Studies University

No. 550 Dalian Road West, 200083, Shanghai, China

Table 1-1: Media Preferences among Urban Chinese Youth in %

 Barely 1-3 days 4-6 days Everyday
Media Access per week per week

Newspaper 20.5 41.3 18.5 19.7
Magazine 24.9 49.0 16.7 9.3
Internet 8.7 32.6 17.9 40.9
TV 19.5 30.9 15.8 33.8
Radio 50.6 25.3 9.4 14.6

Table 1-1-1: Media Preferences by Location

 % of % of % of
Media Frequency Beijing Shanghai Guangzhou

Internet Barely Access 9.7 11.3 5.0
 1-3 days per week 29.5 34.0 34.4
 4-6 days per week 19.1 21.7 12.6
 Everyday 41.6 33.0 48.0
TV Barely Access 26.8 14.6 16.6
 1-3 days per week 21.0 32.5 40.1
 4-6 days per week 13.7 23.7 9.9
 Everyday 38.4 29.2 33.4
Newspaper Barely Access 25.3 21.0 14.7
 1-3 days per week 36.6 40.1 47.7
 4-6 days per week 20.1 16.2 19.0
 Everyday 18.0 22.7 18.7

Table 1-1-2: Most Favored Internet Websites in %

 by Selection by Education

 Below Under-
 Junior Senior Junior graduate
Types Total High High College & Above

Search Engine 41.81 48.8 47.5 47.6 26.2
Portal 36.23 25.4 34.0 33.1 50.2
Video 5.24 7.5 6.6 3.2 3.0
Game 2.34 4.8 2.0 1.6 0.7
BBS 2.01 2.4 0.4 2.4 3.0
Entertainment 1.67 1.6 2.0 2.4 1.1
News Website 1.56 0.4 1.2 1.6 3.0
Music 1.45 2.8 1.2 0.8 0.7

Table 1-2: Content Preferences

News 22%
Videos and Music 67%
Advertising 3%
Services 4%
Sports 2%
Games 1%
Others 1%

Note: Table made from pie chart.

Table 1-2-1: Content Preferences by Gender, Age and Education in %

Gender/Age/ Education Others Sports Services Advertising


Male 1.8 3.3 3.8 3.8
Female 1.7 0.6 4.0 2.5


15-17 2.9 2.9 1.4 3.2
18-22 0.8 0.8 5.8 3.3
23-25 0.8 7.5 1.7


Below Junior High 2.3 1.5 1.5 2.6
High School 2.2 3.4 2.3 3.4
Junior College 0.8 11.1 5.6
Undergraduate & Above 1.1 1.1 4.5 1.9

Gender/Age/ Education News Videos & Music


Male 29.0 58.5
Female 17.1 74.2


15-17 16.2 73.4
18-22 25.4 63.8
23-25 34.2 55.8


Below Junior High 17.3 74.8
High School 15.6 72.6
Junior College 19.8 62.7
Undergraduate & Above 34.7 56.7

Table 2-1: Purposes for Accessing Media in Percentage

Searching Info 7%
Learning Knowledge 11%
Just a Habit 13%
Accessing News 20%
Relaxing & Fun 47%
Making Friends & Exchanging 2%

Note: Table made from pie chart.

Table 2-2: Purposes for Accessing Media by Gender, Age and Education
in %

Categories: Make Search Learn
Gender/Age/Education Friends Info Knowledge


Male 2.0 6.8 12.0
Female 1.1 7.2 11.2


15-17 2.5 6.3 10.4
18-22 0.8 8.2 13.9
23-25 -- 5.8 8.3


Below Junior High 3.4 5.7 10.6
High School 1.9 7.2 11.0
Junior College -- 7.9 12.7
Undergraduate & Above -- 7.7 12.5

Categories: Just Access Relax
Gender/Age/Education a Habit News & Fun


Male 10.8 25.8 42.8
Female 14.4 16.1 50.1


15-17 9.5 16.6 54.6
18-22 14.8 22.1 40.2
23-25 18.2 28.1 39.7


Below Junior High 9.1 15.2 56.1
High School 8.0 18.6 53.4
Junior College 13.5 21.4 44.4
Undergraduate & Above 21.0 26.6 32.1

Table 2-3: Media Roles Among Chinese Youth

Others 6.0
No Long Feel Isolated 2.6
Keep Me In Pace with Fashion 2.8
Increase Contacts with Society 7.8
Become Part of Life 9.4
Keep Me Well Informed 9.5
Helpful to Work and Study 23.9
Make Life Colorful 37.9

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Table 2-4: Mean Scores, Standard Deviation and Agreement Percentage
to 10 Statements

 Statements Mean Standard Totally
 Scores Deviation Disagree

1 It is happy to be with
 family 3.6 0.6 1.3%

2 Making more money is a sign
 of success 2.8 0.8 6.6%

3 I want to closely follow 2.7 0.8 4.8%

4 Foreign life on TV deeply
 attracts me 2.7 0.8 5.7%

5 Internet is a free space and
 can say whatever 2.7 0.9 7.5%

6 I long for romance and love
 on TV 2.7 0.9 10.4%

7 I am tired of intimate TV
 scenes 2.4 0.8 11.5%

8 Successful figures in TV
 dramas are my idols 2.4 0.9 15.0%

9 Life of stars is colorful
 and meaningful 2.4 0.9 15.6%

10 I often buy what is
 advertised in media 2.0 0.8 24.5%

 Statements Relatively Relatively Totally
 Disagree Agree Agree

1 It is happy to be with
 family 4% 26.2% 68.6%

2 Making more money is a sign
 of success 28.9% 46.9% 17.6%

3 I want to closely follow 34% 46.1% 15.1%

4 Foreign life on TV deeply
 attracts me 37.8% 40.3% 16.1%

5 Internet is a free space and
 can say whatever 32.8% 40.2% 19.5%

6 I long for romance and love
 on TV 29.8% 41.7% 18%

7 I am tired of intimate TV
 scenes 51.5% 26.5% 10.5%

8 Successful figures in TV
 dramas are my idols 44.6% 29.5% 11.0%

9 Life of stars is colorful
 and meaningful 42.7% 31.1% 10.6%

10 I often buy what is
 advertised in media 52.8% 18.8% 4%

Table 3-1: Access Frequency to Global Media by Chinese Youth in %

 Often Sometimes Barely Don't
Global Media Access Access Access Know

BBC 7.8 32.8 42.0 17.3
MTV 21.4 35.4 33.9 9.3
Phoenix TV 29.3 40.2 24.8 5.7
New York Times 3.3 15.3 64.3 17.0
ESPN 4.7 13.1 40.2 41.9
Discovery 12.9 25.5 34.3 27.3
Total average 13.2 27.1 39.9 19.8

Table 3-2: Chinese Youth's Willingness to Access Overseas Websites

Selection Yes, I want to No, I don't want Not Certain

Total respondents 478 305 154
Percentage 51.0 32.6 16.4


Beijing 52.0 33.0 15.0
Shanghai 37.3 44.5 18.2
Guangzhou 63.9 19.9 16.2


15-17 38.3 41.2 20.5
18-22 60.7 25.7 13.7
23-25 67.8 22.3 9.9

Table 3-3: Chinese Youth Experience with Overseas Websites

Can basically log on, 26%
Sometimes can not log on, 57%
Basically can not log on, 17%

Note: Table made from pie chart.

Table 3-4: Chinese Youth's Responses to Limits of Overseas Websites

Not certain 4.2%
Very disappointed 14.0%
Do not care 18.9%
Can understand 24.5%
Not so disappointed 38.4%

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Table 3-5: Top 10 Favorite Countries
Among Chinese Youth

Country Selected Frequency Percentage

1 USA 239 25.9
2 France 159 17.2
3 Britain 100 10.8
4 Japan 97 10.5
5 Korea 56 6.1
6 Australia 49 5.3
7 Italy 31 3.4
8 Switzerland 27 2.9
9 Canada 24 2.6
10 Germany 20 2.2
 Others (17) 121 13.2

Table 3-6: Country Images
among Chinese Youth in%

 Statements / Countries USA Russia Japan Germany

1 Rich life 76.7 19.2 51.7 51.1

2 Can say whatever 8.9 5.7 7.2 5.0

3 Stable society 0.6 21.6 10.6 17.7

4 Well-behaved people 2.8 11.8 9.3 11.6

5 Beautiful environment 1.2 16.5 8.7 7.2

6 Advanced technology 6.3 6.6 6.4 3.3

7 Less constrained
 in marriage and sex 2.0 2.2 2.9 0.8

8 Huge gap between
 rich and poor 0.7 9.5 1.6 1.1

9 Charismatic leaders 0.2 5.6 0.7 0.9

10 Free election 0.2 0.3 0.1 0.2

11 Much violence 0.1 0.7 0.9 0.2

12 Good world image 0.2 0.3 -- 1.0

Table 3-7: How Media Consumption Affects Global Visions among
Chinese Youth

Personal Experience, 2%
Newspaper, 5%
Family & Friends, 14%
Internet, 16%
Books & Magazines, 24%
Radio & TV, 38%
Others, 1%

Note: Table made from pie chart.
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Author:Ke, Guo; Ying, Wu
Publication:China Media Research
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Oct 1, 2009
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