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Rise of China or Western conspiracy? A fantasy theme analysis.

Abstract: Mo Yan's award of the Nobel Prize in Literature provoked competing voices in the global Chinese media, ranging from official media to online citizen forums, and from Chinese mainland media to overseas Chinese Internet forums. Drawing on Symbolic Convergence Theory (SCT) and Fantasy Theme Analysis (FTA), our study explores to map the metaphorical symbolic landscape of different media responses. Our findings indicate that there were four rhetorical visions shared among media treatments of Mo Yan's award, which were further illustrated alongside five value orientations: nationalism, moralism, pragmatism, liberalism, and orientalism. Our cross-media mapping suggests: a) the dominant rhetorical response of Chinese official media implied a recognition of the Nobel Prize in Literature as the supreme authority in world literature; b) the Chinese official media applied the "Rise of China" as the main message, and the "Fame Follows Merits" as a subsidiary message in constructing its mainstream rhetoric--both of which were ideas sanctioned by nationalism and moralism; c) Chinese netizens in civil online forums and official media shared the same value orientations, but presented two opposite fantasy types; d) the overseas Chinese forums presented "Communist Dictatorship," "Oriental Empire," and criticisms of Orientalism, which were missing in both official and Internet discourses in China.

[Mei Wu & Wen-bo Zhu. Rise of China or Western Conspiracy? A Fantasy Theme Analysis. China Media Research 2017; 13(2): 23-36]. 4

Keywords: Mo Yan; Nobel Prize in Literature; symbolic convergence theory; fantasy theme analysis; rhetorical vision; cross-media chaining

On October 11, 2012, Chinese writer Mo Yan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his work that "with hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary", as was announced by the Swedish Academy (, 2012). As the 109th recipient of this literary prize, and the second Chinese Nobel recipient in the Literature category, Mo Yan was the first Chinese Nobel recipient in any category to be supported by the Chinese government. The first Chinaborn writer to receive the Prize in Literature, Gao Xingjian, was honoured in 2000, but is a French citizen. Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo received the Noble Peace Prize in 2010, but enraged the Chinese government and was not openly supported in receiving his honours.

Considering that Mo Yan is the first Chinese Nobel recipient with Chinese citizenship and membership of Communist Party of China (CPC), his award of the world-renowned Nobel Prize provoked various responses in the Chinese media and throughout online media forums home and abroad. In a manner that was totally different from its previous response to Chinese recipients, Chinese official media erupted into something close to a national celebration. In addition to this official rejoicing interpretation being a huge boost to China's national psyche, Chinese netizens from both mainland and overseas Internet forums overwhelmed cyberspace with their own interpretations of the award. The seemingly chaotic discussion implicated a wide spectrum of political ideologies, economic interests, cultural orientations, collective memories and value systems in the Chinese mediascape, which represents an extensive and open nexus of official mainstream media, online citizen forums, overseas media, and global Chinese diasporic communities.

This essay, which uses the theoretical framework Symbolic Convergence Theory (SCT), views this wide spectrum of voice both in the mainstream media and online discussion groups as constituting various shared symbolic realities. We analyse the range of responses to Mo Yan's award using Fantasy Theme Analysis (FTA) as a primary methodology, and identify a cross-media, fantasy-sharing phenomenon that sprang up in the event. SCT concentrates on interpreting the shared symbolic reality of group consciousness during the process of communication. As its founder Bormann (1972) claimed, "words/rhetoric are the social reality" (p. 401). We construe that various symbolic realities concerning Mo Yan's award were constructed and shared through public chaining by Chinese official media as well as Chinese netizens, both at home and abroad.

Literature Review

Symbolic Convergence Theory

SCT centres on explaining the human tendency to interpret our environment within shared symbolic systems. It studies the rhetorical reality that people use in creating, completing and maintaining a communicative meaning system of the mind. This theory describes the "dynamic tendencies" in the process of social interaction, which give an impulse to the involvement of communicative practices and forms (Bormann, 1973, p. 144; Bormann, 1982a, p. 50).

SCT is comprised of three essential notions: first, that symbolic forms of communication that repeatedly appear constitute the basis for group consciousness; second, that how group consciousness starts, develops, and is maintained supplies meanings, emotions, and motivations to members of a symbolic community; and finally, that people come to share or stop sharing a mutual symbolic reality by means that can be explored and understood (Cragan & Shields, 1992, p. 199).

According to this theory, communication is a social process in which human beings interact with each other continually and consciously in order to create, elevate, and maintain a common consciousness. This process is open and observable in a rhetorical way. Participants explain "their experience in terms of narrative accounts, analogies, metaphors, irony, and word play" (Bormann, 1982a, p. 51). By analysing this symbolic common ground, it is possible to establish convincing explanations for, as well as reliable predictions of, human behaviour (Bormann, Cragan, & Shields, 2003).

There are some basic terms and concepts that are frequently associated with SCT studies: the fantasy theme, fantasy type and rhetorical vision. A fantasy theme is a dramatizing message that depicts characters engaged in action within a setting that accounts for and explains human experience (Bormann, 1972). It is an imaginative and creative way to fulfil a psychological or rhetorical motive. A fantasy type is a recurring storyline in the symbolic system of a group. "Several related fantasy themes are grouped into a fantasy type... [and incorporate] similar dramatizations" (Page & Duffy, 2008). A fantasy type is a rhetorical device that arouses shared emotions and motives by interpreting new incidents in terms of old scripts and experiences. A rhetorical vision is a unified visualization that pulls together various shared storylines and offers a broader view of a group's symbolic reality (Bormann, 1982a, p.50).

Fantasy Theme Analysis

FTA is an operational approach to data collection and data analysis derived from SCT. It aims to uncover three levels of rhetorical construct that follow from SCT: fantasy themes, fantasy types, and rhetorical vision. SCT contends that human beings are born fantasizers: we will consciously or unconsciously fantasize interpretations to make sense of new events and situations. The fantasy is not unfounded fictional fancy, but is a symbolic interpretation of new things deriving from the meaning system rooted deeply in people's minds and in the community's collective memory. Once a fantasy forms a fixed symbolic expression, a fantasy theme emerges. Thus, fantasy theme refers to the imaginative interpretation of new things based on the existing stock of symbolic elements and rhetorical devices in a meaning system. If a certain fantasy theme keeps occurring, it generates a "chain-out" effect.

The fantasy theme, as the most fundamental unit of analysis in FTA, contains "dramatized messages" that can lead people to begin fantasizing meanings during events. A fantasy theme is made up of the following dramatic elements: setting, character, plot line, and sanction agent. If a number of fantasy themes keep repeating similar characters, plot lines, and settings, a fantasy type emerges during group communication.

A rhetorical vision is a more rigorous structure, offering more complex drama and more complicated fantasy phenomenon constructed through a set of fantasy types and themes. It forms an overall visualization of natural and social realities shared by the community and a broader outlook on the community's symbolic reality.

Relevant Studies of SCT

SCT, which originated from group communication studies, has been applied in a large variety of contexts and topics, ranging among political rhetoric (Bormann, 1973; Bormann & Cragan, 1996; Bormann, et al., 1984), mass media and organizational group communication studies (Bormann, 1982b; Putnam, Shirley & Connie, 1991), and applied communications practices like corporate planning and public relations (Cragan & Shields, 1992; Vazquez, 1993). In recent years, SCT has been applied in many studies of online group discussions (Hammers, 2007).

However, most studies merely focused on one media platform and few studies investigate the fantasy-sharing phenomenon among different media types. This study hopes to be an initial effort in applying SCT and FTA while investigating both mass media and Internet forums' response to Mo Yan's award. The article therefore both provides insight on the public response to Mo Yan's Nobel Prize, and also argues that fantasy-sharing is a phenomenon happening across genres and mediums.

Research questions

(1) What fantasy themes and fantasy types were constructed in China's official media, mainland Internet forums, and overseas Chinese Internet forums respectively?

(2) What rhetorical visions emerged in the convergence of the fantasy themes and fantasy types?

(3) How to interpret these identified rhetorical realities with regard to value systems?

Research Method

Operationalization of FTA

FTA is a qualitative research method of text analysis formulated and developed by Bormann and his team (Bormann, 1972, p. 401). Following Bormann's research design, this study started from key words and key sentences to search for the "chained out" fantasy themes and rhetoric. The steps were as follows:

(1) Read the text carefully, find the dramatic words that carry historical memory and stimulate readers' imagination, and the sentences that reflect the author's subjective interpretations, then record them;

(2) Find similar settings, characters, plot lines, and sanction agents which appear frequently in key words and sentences, then refine the fantasy theme;

(3) Integrate fantasy themes that have similar plot lines or sanction agents to a fantasy type;

(4) Investigate whether there are inner correlations among fantasy themes and fantasy types, and identify the rhetorical visions constructed by those correlated fantasy themes and fantasy types.

Selection of Media Types and Samples

This study is an inquiry of the Chinese mediascape in three major types of media: official media in mainland China, Internet forums in mainland China, and overseas Chinese Internet forums. It adopts a purposive sampling method to select representative and influential media as the source of text samples for analysis.

The representatives of official media selected are the People's Daily Overseas Edition (PDOE) and the Southern Metropolis Daily National Edition (SMDNE). PDOE is an overseas outlet of the leading Chinese newspaper People's Daily under the direct control of CPC, representing the official voice of the Chinese government in international communication. Besides, it is published in more than 80 countries with broad readership in global Chinese communities which fits our research objective of studying global fantasy sharing phenomenon. SMDNE is a mainstream yet more liberal spectrum of the official metropolis and evening newspapers in China. The representative of Internet forums in mainland China selected is the Tian Ya Internet Forum (TY), which is one of the most influential online communities in mainland China, supporting more than 80 million registered users and a large number of Internet celebrities. TY is known for provoking many popular Internet events and represents the civil online forum in China.

For overseas Chinese Internet forums, this study selects online forums in the BBC Chinese Network (BBCC) and the Wenxue City Chinese forum (WXC). The former is associated with a major Western news service and the latter functions independently as a civil discursive space for Chinese diaspora. In the BBCC, two sub-forums, "How to think about Mo Yan's award of the Nobel Prize for Literature" and "How to think about Mo Yan's award-winning speech", are selected as samples for this study. The WXC is one of the most well-known and popularly used Chinese forums in the overseas Chinese community. Its two sub-forums, "Comments on Current Issues" and "My China" are selected because of the quantitative postings on the topic of Mo Yan.

Selection of Sample Text

The text studied here covers the period from October 11, 2012, the date when the Nobel Prize Committee announced the award to Mo Yan, to March 1, 2013. All the news stories in the selected newspapers were collected from the Huike news database using the keyword searches "Mo Yan" and "Nobel Prize in Literature"; posts in the selected forums were collected through the website search function in the forums with keyword searches "Mo Yan" and "Nobel Prize in Literature." They served as primary data. We then filtered out those irrelevant to the topic and those that were not easy to identify. Finally, the study selected 115 news stories from the sampled newspapers in China, 60 posts from TY, and 215 posts from the sampled overseas forums of BBCC (106 posts) and WXC (109 posts). The list of quoted articles from China official media (PDOE and SMDNE) is attached in Appendix 1, and the list of quoted posts from Internet Forums (TY, BBCC and WXC) is attached in Appendix 2.

Fantasy Types and Fantasy Themes

This section illustrates all the fantasy types and fantasy themes that are identified through key symbolic clues, rhetoric expressions, and plotlines from the three media platforms: China's official media, China's Internet forums, and overseas Chinese Internet forums. The coding scheme of all the fantasy themes is shown in Table 1.

Fantasy type I: Fulfill a China dream. "Fulfill a China Dream" is the most prevailing fantasy types in all the three media platforms. In contrast to the American Dream, President Xi Jinping of People's Republic of China (PRC) stated "achieving rejuvenation is the dream of the Chinese people" (Xi, 2014) in November 2012, when he firstly clambered to supreme power. The newly coined "China Dream" rhetoric echoes a known storyline in China that China should become strong and recognized by the West. Thus when anyone from China receives a Western award, it is an indication that China is no longer weak and backward. Mo Yan's award provides the latest attestation: The Nobel Prize for Literature is "the sacred hall of world literature", the success of the Chinese author Mo Yan proves the success of Chinese literature "standing on the most glorious stage of the world", representing the recognition of China power by the world and the "great rejuvenation of China", finally "realized China's Nobel complex". The Nobel dream that Chinese have long been craving for has finally been realized. This type is mainly supported by two fantasy themes.

Fantasy theme: China's great rejuvenation. This fantasy theme comes from the official discourse of Chinese state-owned newspaper, which tells a story of China's "Great Rejuvenation": Under the opening-up and reform policy carried out by CPC, China has developed its economy, strengthened its national power, ended its history of Western humiliation, and finally realized its dream of national revival. The chaining of "national power (guo jia shi li)", "rise of China (zhong guo jue qi)", "economic development (jing ji fa zhan)", and "opening-up and reform (gai ge kai fang)" indicates this fantasy theme. For example:

* The thunder of guns from the Opium War broke the sweet dreams of the Central Empire. (PDOE1)

* Mo Yan's Nobel Prize in Literature is not only representative of the prosperity of Chinese literature, but also of the continuous rise of comprehensive national power and international influence of our country. (PDOE3)

* A Chinese writer who won a great renowned prize in the world literary arena is like Xu Haifeng, who won the first Olympic gold medal for China. (PDOE7)

Fantasy theme: China's Nobel complex released. This fantasy theme depicts a plotline that, Chinese people had expected, coveted, and waited a long time for this prize, but westerners didn't give them any chance; finally, Mo Yan successfully won the prize, as a hero helped the nation release the complex. The chaining symbols are "tangled complex (nan jie de qing jie)", "longstanding envy (ke wang er bu ke ji)", "release (shi huai)", "desire (ke wang)", etc. For example:

* The Nobel Prize has become a complex tangle in Chinese writers' hearts. For many years, we had long been expecting luck and had turned anxious with desire, becoming resistant due to disappointment, even falling suspicious out of resentment. (PDOE7)

* [Mo Yan] seems to have become the hero of China overnight, standing on the world podium... finally the "Nobel dream of literature prize" that Chinese people had taken to heart for so long has been fulfilled. (PDOE2)

Fantasy type II: Western countries overthrow China. This type has a plotline that the Nobel Prize for Literature is an anti-China political award manipulated by Westerners. Western countries always plan to overturn the Chinese government and smear Chinese civilization. This fantasy type contains three fantasy themes to interpret Mo Yan's Nobel Prize.

Fantasy theme: Smear Chinese civilization. This theme visualizes that Western countries aim to smear Chinese civilization by awarding Mo Yan, whose work depicts "barbarous, foolish and backward Chinese" and tarnishes the Chinese culture. The chained-out keywords and phrases are "Westerners (xi fang ren)," "foolish (yu mei)," "Chinese civilization (zhong hua wen ming)," etc. For example:

* Mo Yan's work perfectly presents the Chinese as foolish, cruel, backward people, as if Chinese culture distorts human souls. [According to Mo Yan,] the world under universal glory must eliminate Chinese people and Chinese culture, which are dissonant music notes! (TY3)

Fantasy theme: Plot against Chinese government. This theme views that Mo Yan's Nobel Prize was a plot against the Chinese Communist government, because the Nobel Committee selected Mo Yan's novel Frogs for the award. The novel is considered a literary disapproval of the birth control policy "family planning" implemented by the Chinese government. The chained-out keywords are "plot (yin mou)," "Frogs (wa)," "family planning policy (ji hua sheng yu zheng ce)," "Chinese government (zhong guo zheng fu)," "cruel (can ren)," etc.

* The subject of Frogs is the sensitive "Basic State Policy" that touches on the weaknesses of contemporary China. The novel deeply denounces the cruel slayings of Chinese people imposed by the birth control policy. (TY4)

Fantasy type III: Fame follows merits. "Fame follows merits" is a known positive fantasy for judging a famous person in China. It refers to the notion that someone's reputation comes naturally for being virtuous, especially for the excellent practice of Confucian norms. This fantasy type appears in judging Mo Yan: Mo Yan' Nobel Prize in Literature represents great fame, and it comes not only from Mo Yan's artistic talent, but also from his abiding by traditional Chinese moral norms. Four fantasy themes are identified in this fantasy type.

Fantasy theme: Humble storytelling farmer. The plotline of this fantasy theme is that, Mo Yan, a humble son of farmers with talent in storytelling from a Chinese village, not only presents the charm of China by writing Chinese village stories, but also behaved in a modest manner lauding good moral traits of the "Chinese farmer" in Stockholm and China, so he deserves the honour. "Son of farmers" is a positive moral label in the Chinese rhetorical discourse. The chained-out keywords are "storytelling (jiang gu shi)", "son of farmers (nong min de er zi)", "village (nong cun)", "Chinese stories (zhong guo gu shi)", "humble (di diao)", "modest" (qian xun), etc. For example:

* Mo Yan is really a farmer, a storytelling farmer. When he was young, he told his dreams; his friends, neighbours and parents were his audience. When he grew up, he told stories to the world in 20 languages, and the entire world was his audience. The world became silent on the day he walked up to the hall. (PDOE8)

* Mo Yan said frankly that the Nobel Prize in Literature made him a "celebrity," but he much preferred to return to a normal life, to continue writing and still be a "son of farmers." (SMDNE3)

Fantasy theme: Fearless Chinese intellectual. This fantasy theme is based on the traditional Chinese notion that good intellectuals should take responsibility for truly recording historical realities and bravely criticizing darkness in society. Mo Yan is fantasized to be a brave and responsible Chinese intellectual because he depicts tragedies in Chinese history. The chained-out keywords are "responsible (fu ze ren)", "history (li shi)", "reality (xian shi)", "truth (zhen shi)", "intellectual (wen ren)", "brave (yong gan)", "fearless (wu wei)", etc. For example:

* Mo Yan is a writer who takes on the responsibility of telling history. (SMDNE2)

* [Mo Yan's] novels present us with times of tragedy in history. Only a responsible and brave writer could do this. (PDOE10)

Fantasy type IV: Flatter China. This fantasy type was chained out by netizens from overseas Chinese Internet forums. It is based on the pragmatic belief that, as China grows in its power, other countries will fawn on and flatter China for their benefit. In the case of Mo Yan, the Nobel Committee's award is fantasized as a gesture in flattering China for political and economic interests. We discovered two associated fantasy themes.

Fantasy theme: Comfort Chinese government. This fantasy theme suggests that the Nobel Committee and Swedish government intended to please and comfort the rising country of China by awarding Mo Yan, a recognized writer from this country, because they did not want to offend China as they did in 2010 when awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. The chained-out keywords are "comfort (an wei)", "bilateral relations (shuang bian guan xi)", "Liu Xiaobo", etc. For example:

* China is a "don't speak" country. Because the Nobel Committee awarded Liu Xiaobo before, they want comfort as if after a beating; so Mo Yan, the Vice President of the Chinese Writers Association, won the prize as a comfort to the Party Central Committee and the State Council. (WXC1)

Fantasy Theme: Butter the New Moneybags. This fantasy theme indicates that the Swedish government's award to Mo Yan is aimed at seeking China's economic assistance to weather the economic crisis, as China has become the "new moneybag" for Western countries. The chained-out keywords are "money (qian)", "economic crisis (jing ji wei ji)", "new rich (xin cai zhu)", etc. For example:

* If the Euro topples, Westerners would beg for relief from China's new riches. Sweden would suffer a great loss if other countries all get it [the relief] except for Sweden. (BBCC5)

Fantasy type V: Sold while counting money. "Sold while Counting Money" is a fantasy type chained out in the overseas Internet forum. Derived from an old Chinese proverb, it means that someone is so foolish and fatuous that he or she trusts and works for those who have betrayed him or her. In the case of Mo Yan, the Nobel Prize in Literature is viewed as an Western criteria for judging other civilization and culture; the award to Mo Yan is interpreted as an act of rebuilding its supreme authority over Chinese civilization. The implication is that the Chinese rejoicing over the award is stupid as their civilization is being smeared. Three fantasy themes are discovered.

Fantasy theme: Caters to the hard-core flavour of Westerners. This fantasy theme denotes that the Nobel Committee's award to Mo Yan is because his work presents China in a cruel, bloody, and backward image that caters to the "hard-core" Western imagination. The chained-out keywords are "flavour (kou wei)", "Westerners (xi fang ren)", "Oriental China (dong fang zhong guo)", "bloody (xue xing)", etc.

* Mo Yan's Sandalwood Death vilifies China; his work is disgusting and full of shock-horrors! This just caters to the hard-core favour of Westerners. (WXC7)

* We don't know the real intention of the judges; perhaps they truly enjoy this kind of hard-core

* flavour. Read, imagine, and appreciate these bloody procedures. (WXC6)

Fantasy theme: Rebuilds the authority of Nobel Prize. This fantasy theme shows the Nobel Committee's award to Mo Yan as being intended to rebuild the authority of Nobel Prizes in China, but Chinese people still cheer for it. The chained-out keywords are "authority (quan wei)", "judge (ping pan)", "influence (ying xiang)", etc. For example:

* The authority of the Nobel Prize is well established and will become indestructible from now on: the elation about the Prize itself admits the authority of the Nobel Prize. From now on, will Chinese people not take the Nobel Prize seriously? They will regard it as a great honour. (WXC8)

* Those Chinese people who cheered have been betrayed, but still count money for those who sold them. (WXC9)

Fantasy type VI: Expose the Oriental society. This type fantasizes that China is from an uncivilized "Oriental society," and further suggests that writers should expose the ugliness, darkness, and cruelty of such a country. This fantasy type contains three fantasy themes.

Fantasy theme: Sly Chinese farmer. This theme depicts Mo Yan himself as a typical Chinese farmer who is sly and tactfully survives without dignity. The chained-out keywords are "sly (jiao xia)", "tactfully (jiao hua)", "farmer (nong min)", etc. For example:

* Mo Yan is a sly farmer in nature and his books are stories about sly farmers. (WXC2)

* I am a farmer, very ugly with black teeth; I am wimpish and a coward. (WXC3)

Fantasy theme: The ugly Chinese. This fantasy theme denotes that Mo Yan won the Nobel Prize for the reason that he truly presents the ugly and savage nature of Chinese people, and the cruel reality of China as a murderous Oriental regime. The chained-out keywords are "ugly (chou lou)", "savage (ye man)", "truly (zhen shi)", "bloody (xue xing)", "cruel (can ren)", "Chinese people (zhong guo ren)", etc. For example:

* It is true that Chinese people have bad habits in traditional mainstream Chinese culture. Extreme selfishness and ugliness exist in their cultural genes; acting in accordance with Confucianism, they are incredibly abnormal and evil. (BBCC4)

* The preference of a Nobel Prize in Literature turned out be the dark literature of peeling off skin, harming infants, Sandalwood Death. these reflect the cruel reality of China. Look, how bloody and ruthless the Chinese are: we (the Westerners) are the civilized world. (WXC6)

Other individual fantasy themes. Beside the fantasy types with integrated fantasy themes, there are also two individual and separate fantasy themes discovered from the responses on Mo Yan's event.

Fantasy theme: Shame of Nobel Prize. This fantasy theme suggests that the Nobel Committee's award to Mo Yan is a lifelong shame for the Nobel Prize, as the Nobel Prize should be the torch of freedom and not designed to support an accomplice of a dictatorial communist regime. The chained-out keywords are "shame (chi ru)", "authoritarian (wei quan zhu yi)", "accomplice (bang xiong)", "communism (gong chan zhu yi)", "dictatorship (du cai)", "universal values", etc. For example:

* Mo Yan is a beneficiary and accomplice of a totalitarian regime. (BBCC3)

* Awarding Mo Yan should be the lifelong shame that the Nobel Committee will bear. It could only encourage more mainland writers who have taken root in authoritarian culture to become inclined to benefit from relying on the totalitarian system. (BBCC2)

* The Nobel Committee awarded a writer who hadn't departed from the CPC culture and the sense of being a servant. (BBCC6)

Fantasy theme: Slick mouthpiece of the Lord. This fantasy theme constructs Mo Yan as a "slick mouthpiece of the Lord," who fawned to and spoke for any political "emperor" in power without obeying the moral principles of upright, loyalty and honesty. The chained-out keywords are "a mouthpiece (hou she)", "loyalty (zhong cheng)", "lord (zhu zi)", "slick (jiao hua)", etc. For example:

* [Mo Yan] is a speculator. If he has a conscience, why didn't he write when Mao was alive? If he really has a conscience, why didn't he write about the political commissar Deng, whom he admires? But one day, when Deng's clout is gone, he will probably write much more, showing loyalty to a different leader. (TY6)

Rhetorical Visions and Symbolic Reality

Further analysis reveals that four rhetorical visions emerge from the symbolic convergence of fantasy types and themes. See Table 2.

Rise of China. "Rise of China" is a predominant rhetorical vision in modern China that derives from the country suffering historical humiliation since the Opium Wars in the mid-1800s. Before the Opium War in 1840, China was a great empire, thought by many to be "the centre of the world," a country with the strongest power and the highest authority. However, the Chinese empire collapsed when it was defeated in a series of wars by Western powers and Japan--the Opium War (1840), the Second Opium War (1856), the Sino-Japanese War (1894) and the Siege of the International Legations (1900). The nation was believed to be on the verge of national destruction and genocide during the Anti-Japanese War in 1937-1945. The desire for the revival of China in being a strong nation with independence, mightiness, and dignity converged into the vision of a Chinese rise. In recent years, as China's economy registered a remarkable growth, the rhetorical vision of "Rise of China" is explicit in both mainstream media and online discourse. In the case of Mo Yan, this rhetorical vision resonates across the mediascape, within China's official media, the domestic online communities, and overseas Chinese Internet forums.

Western conspiracy. The "Western conspiracy" is another prevailing rhetorical vision that is reinforced during the Cold War, when China was isolated and antagonized by Western countries. It is a deeply rooted vision among many Chinese people that Western countries have been continuously staging secret plans to westernize, destabilize and divide China, and to subvert state power. Mo Yan's Nobel Prize award is regarded by some as part of this Western conspiracy in both domestic and overseas Chinese netizens' discourse, however, this vision is not resonant in the official media.

Communist dictatorship. This is a prevalent rhetorical vision emerging in the overseas Chinese Internet discourse. China is considered a totalitarian communist dictator which blatantly defies universal values of freedom, democracy, and human rights. This vision is also derived from the Cold War, when China was in the Communist block. In the case of Mo Yan, people influenced by this vision strongly criticize the Nobel Committee's decision, as they believe that the Nobel Prizes should be a torch for universal values, not a trophy for a communist accomplice.

Oriental empire. The "Oriental Empire" is another rhetorical vision towards China based on the Orientalistic view of China as an ancient yet alien society. Edward Said (1977) argued in his book, Orientalism, that there is a construct of Eastern societies by the West which depicts Easterners as "Others", so as to emphasize Western civilization. The Oriental construct tends to stereotype diverse civilizations and societies as being savage, murdering, overly sexual, and so on. In the case of Mo Yan, the Oriental vision of China as a bloody, savage, and ruthless "Central Empire" resonates in the overseas Chinese online discourse.

Mapping the symbolic landscape. This part presents the distribution of rhetorical visions and individual fantasy themes among the three media platforms. See Figure 1.

Value Orientations

The concept of value orientation is not normally associated with SCT research which usually uses "sanction agents" and "master analogue" to further elucidate fantasized discourse and rhetoric visions. But in our study, we discover that the identified rhetoric realities illustrate an interesting pattern alongside of an ideascape of major value systems in Chinese society which include Nationalism, Moralism, Pragmatism, Liberalism, and Orientalism. It is interesting to note that these rhetorical constituents can be arranged along with the major value orientations with two opposite streams of rhetorical imagination, except for liberalism and pragmatism. See Figure 2.

Nationalism. Nationalism is a shared group feeling in the significance of a geographical and sometimes demographic region seeking sovereignty for its culture and/or ethnicity that holds that group together (Rothi, Lyons, & Chryssochoou, 2005). In the Chinese context, nationalism emerged with the rise of China's democratic revolution in the early 20th century, which eventually led to the deposing of the imperial monarchy and establishment of the first modern nation-state in the Chinese history in 1911. In November 2012, President Xi proposed the term "China Dream" to reinstate the discourse of nationalism. It has been one of the most influential ideologies, whose elements include the supremacy of China as a nation-state, the unique continuation of Chinese civilization for 5000 years, the humiliation of being defeated and semi-colonized by foreign powers in modern history and the desire of eventual national rejuvenation in the world.

Moralism. This is an important component of Confucianism. The ideal of this traditional value system is to cultivate people to be "Junzi", who are morally perfect with noble personalities. Ames (2011) describes "Junzi" as "exemplary person". The Confucian moral principles for Junzi have been accepted as one of the Chinese values for social practice, specifically for intellectuals and officials. Writers, according to the Confucian ethics, should behave as Junzi, whose fame should depend not only on his achievements, but more on his moral characters: loyalty, modesty, honesty, caring for humankind, etc. Only those who possess both ability and morality deserve fame and reputation.

Pragmatism. As a philosophical concept, pragmatism originated in the United States around 1870. Introduced to China at the beginning of 20th century, it quickly came to its first climax in China during the period of May 4th movement when John Dewey was invited to China to give lectures (Yang & Wang, 2005). Then, Chinese pioneer intellectuals, such as Hu Shi, regarded pragmatism as a remedy for saving China, so they strongly advocated the empiricism and methodology of pragmatism. Finally, pragmatic attributes were stated to be embedded within the Chinese philosophic tradition. Pragmatism with Chinese characteristics reinvested itself when Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping set the country on the course of economic reform in 1978. The core element of pragmatism is the pragmatist maxim, a rule for clarifying the contents of hypotheses by tracing their "practical consequences" (Hookway, 2015), such as actual utility, real effects, and concrete benefits.

Liberalism. As a Western concept, liberalism was introduced to China after mid-1800s, and became popular during the May 4th Movement in 1919 when Chinese students and intellectuals advocated democracy publicly. After PRC was established in 1949, liberalism experienced ups and downs, but remained to be part of the mainstream ideological rhetoric in China. Generally, liberals regard freedom, democracy and human rights as universal values, and support ideas such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free markets, civil rights, democratic societies, rule of law, etc. (Nader, 2009; Sehldon, 2004).

Orientalism. It refers to a patronizing Western attitude towards Middle Eastern, Asian and North African societies which was formulated by Edward Said (1977). In Said's analysis, this attitude regards Oriental societies as static and undeveloped, in contrast with Western society which is developed, rational, flexible, and superior (Mahmood, 2004). As a non-Western society, China was often fantasized as a horrific, mysterious, barbaric and savage oriental society which should be more evolved and enlightened (Gu & Wang, 2013). As a latent mindset, Orientalism functions to influence views over China, which is especially evident in the rhetoric used by Chinese diasporic communities.

Then, a table of three value orientations represented in the opposite fantasy types is produced. Each value system develops two opposite streams of rhetorical imagination, except for liberalism and pragmatism, which show only one end of fantasizing vision.


This study has examined how the official media and netizens in China and abroad construct symbolic realities of Mo Yan's award. Our findings illustrate some tendencies in the rhetorical imagination of the mediascape.

(1) The dominant rhetorical vision of Chinese official media implied recognition of the Nobel Prize as the utmost authority, while domestic and overseas netizens doubted. The Chinese official media constructed the Nobel Prize in Literature as being like a "sacred Olympic hall for literature." Such an idea stimulated the fantastical notion that Mo Yan's award signified a "Rise of China" that "fulfilled a China dream" with Western countries "flattering China". The legitimacy and authority of the Nobel Prize in Literature were taken for granted as the ultimate judging criteria for 5,000 years of Chinese literary history and even national honour of China.

However, domestic and overseas netizens forums widely questioned the authority of the award. Chinese netizens' discourse was suspicious of the intentions behind Mo Yan's Nobel Prize. Those forum participants chained out the "Western conspiracy" as they connected Mo Yan's prize to their knowledge of previous Chinese-related Noble Prize awards. The Nobel Prize was seen as a tool to "smear Chinese civilization" and "plot against the Chinese government." Diasporic netizens presented an even more critical view of the Nobel Prize as being a weapon to wreck Chinese civilization. Taking into consideration the interests of host countries, the limitations of judges in the Nobel Prize Committee, and the Oriental imagination of Western audiences, some netizens in overseas forums even condemned Mo Yan's award as an explosive "piercing the heart of other civilizations."

(2) The Chinese official media constructed the "Rise of China" as a dominant vision and the fantasy type "Fame Follows Merits" as a subsidiary line, reflecting nationalistic value and Confucian ethics. Within the most prominent vision of a "Rise of China", the Chinese official media dramatized the event as "a China Dream" that implies "Great Rejuvenation". This century-old rhetoric has been rooted in the Chinese cultural landscape ever since the Opium War in 1840. From then on, the central Chinese empire was defeated by the British army, which eventually led to the fall of the imperial dynasty, as well as 100 years of foreign invasions and civil wars.

A secondary line visualized Mo Yan's award from the Chinese traditional value of moralism, which judges the success of intellectuals primarily on their moral integrity of Confucians. According to the Chinese moralistic view, a renowned writer should above all be a role model for morality. The rhetorical vision of "Fame Follows Merits" emphasized the moral quality of Mo Yan as being a "Humble Storytelling Farmer" and "Fearless Intellectual".

Thus, "Rise of China" and "Fame follows Merits" complemented each other to construct the official symbolic vision, which was also shared and echoed in both domestic and overseas Internet forums, although the level of quantity, frequency, and symbolic clues varied.

(3) Chinese netizens in civil online forums and official media shared the same value orientations, but presented two opposite rhetorical visions. The fantasy types of "Fulfill a China Dream" and "Western Countries Overthrow China" were derived from the same value system of nationalism, which places supremacy on the national interests rather than human rights. However, the types represented two opposite visions due to different evaluations of the prize. The official type "Fulfill a China Dream" glorifies the prize as the "Sacred Olympic Hall for Literature," while the opposing type dramatized the Noble Prize as the "Western Anti-China Award." This opposing vision is missing in the official media discourse, yet prominent in netizens' discussion forums home and abroad.

"Fame Follows Merits" and "Slick Mouthpiece of Lord" were rooted in the same value orientation of moralism to interpret Mo Yan's fame, but represented opposite evaluation of Mo Yan's moral qualities. The view of "Fame Follows Merits" fantasized Mo Yan as a literary man with humanity and moral integrity, while "Slick Mouthpiece of Lord" despised Mo Yan for not worthy of the sacred honour.

(4) The overseas Chinese forums discussed "Communist Dictatorship," "Oriental Empire," and criticisms of Orientalism, which were missing in both official and Internet discourse in China. In addition to nationalism, moralism, and pragmatism appeared in mainland China, overseas civil forums emerged with the rhetorical visions deriving from the value orientations of liberalism and Orientalism. Overseas netizens insisted that awarding Mo Yan is "a lifelong shame" for the Nobel Committee, because the Nobel Prize should serve as a glorifying torch for freedom and not be "Awarded to the Accomplice" of a Communist authoritarian regime.

Another apparent value orientation was Orientalism. Some overseas netizens imparted Orientalist images of China by chaining out stereotypical portrayals of "the ugly Chinese" as sly, murderous, and savage. They considered Mo Yan is a "sly Chinese farmer" and his work exposed the reality of the Oriental society. Meanwhile, other netizens criticised the Orientalist intention they thought lay beneath the Nobel Prize awarding. As they regarded the Nobel Prize as a tool manipulated by Western power to judge non-Western civilizations, they condemned Mo Yan's work catering to the "bloody" Orientalist imagination of China from Western-centralism, and helped Nobel Committee reconsolidated the ultimate authority of the Nobel Prize in China. Therefore, they chained out the rhetoric of "Sold while Counting Money" with the feeling of being tricked.


This study illuminates a symbolic landscape in regard to Chinese debate of Mo Yan's award of Nobel Prize in Literature using SCT and FTA. It has made some novel contributions to SCT inquiries. First, it specifies the operational method of FTA, making it relatively structured in fantasy theme identification. Bormann and his research team produced the basic operational principles of FTA, and many scholars who follow the principles use them in a wide array of distinctive ways. This study demonstrates another effort to make the analysis more operationally organized in terms of converging symbolic emblems.

Second, this study was one of the initial investigations to converge FTA analysis in both traditional media and Internet forums, and also in a cross-border context of comparing symbolic sharing in mainland China and across the diasporic Internet, which should prove to be a good case for future study of multimedia and transcultural fantasy chaining phenomena in the age of new media and globalization.


1. Gaomi is Mo Yan's hometown.

2. Edward Waefie Said stated in his book, Orientalism, that Orientalism reflects the construct of Eastern societies by the West, which depicts the East as "Other," so as to emphasize the priority of Western civilization. The construct of the "Other" stereotypes diverse non-Western civilizations and societies as being savage, bloody, overly sexual, and so on.

Correspondence to:

Mei Wu, Ph.D., Associate Professor

Department of Communication

University of Macau

Room 2045, Humanities and Social Sciences Building, Taipa, Macau

Tel: (853) 8822 8994

E-mail: meiwu@umac. mo

Wen-bo Zhu, Research Assistant

Department of International Media Studies

China International Publishing Group

24 Baiwanzhuang Lu, Beijing, China

Tel: (86) 189 1088 0438



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Appendix 1. List of quoted articles from China official media

ID       Author       Title                        Time          Page

PDOE1    Zhang        The representative of        21 Jan.       01
         Yixuau       China Dream [Zhong guo       2013
                      meng de dai yan]
PDOE2    Chen         This year is good for        13 Dec.       05
         Zheukai      China and the world          2012
                      seems not bad [Zhe
                      yi nian zhong guo ting
                      hao shi jie si hu ye
                      bu tai huai]
PDOE3    Ye           Mo Yan's award surpassed     13 Oct.       01
         Xiaowen      the past but not the         2012
                      future [Mo Yan huo jiang
                      kong qian bu jue hou]
PDOE4    Bai Ye       On Mo Yan's winning of       13 Nov.       07
                      Nobel Prize in               2012
                      Literature [Mo Yan huo
                      nuo jiang yin fa si kao]
PDOE5    Zhang Xin    Why don't new Chinese        2 Nov.        12
                      immigrants speak Chinese?    2012
                      [Xiu yi min bu jiang
                      zhong wen wei na ban?]
PDOE6    Sim Jinyu    How traditional              18 Dec.       07
                      literature journals keep     2012
                      a foothold in the
                      multimedia age? [Duo mei
                      ti shi dai chuan tong
                      wen xue qi kan he
                      yi Ii zu?]
PDOE7    Zhang        Just like winning the        13 Oct.       05
         Zhidan       first Olympic gold           2012
                      medal [Qia ru ao yun
                      duo shou jin]
PDOE8    Song Bing    Mo Yan: I am just            1 Feb.        07
                      a storytelling farmer        2013
                      [Mo Yan: wo zhi shi
                      ge hui jiang gu shi
                      de nong min]
PDOE9    Chen         Take good care of            18 Feb.       07
         Lumin        the watermelon tree          2013
                      in children's heart
                      [He hu hai zi xin
                      zhong de "xi gua shu"]
PDOE10   Chen         The significance and         13 Nov.       07
         Xiaoming     artistic nature of           2012
                      Mo Yan's novels
                      [Mo Yan xiao shuo de
                      yi yi he yi shu te zhi]
PDOE11   Liu          Mo Yan fraifkly meets        7 Dec.        04
         Zhonghua     journalists [Mo              2012
                      Yan tan cheng shuai
                      zhen mian dui ji zhe]
PDOE12   Yang Kai     The return of peace          28 Nov.       07
                      hi Mo Yan's hometown         2012
                      [Hui fu ping jing de
                      mo yan guli]
SMDNE1   Xinhua       Goran Malmqvist:             13 Oct.       A22
         News         'Rich' officials from        2012
         Agency       Shandong gave me works
                      of painting and
                      calligraphy [Ma Yueran:
                      Shan dong kuo gan bu
                      song wo shu hua]
SMDNE2   Chen Guangwei: He            12 Oct.       A10
                      is a historical              2012
                      responsible writer
                      [Chen Guangwei: ta
                      shi yi wei you li
                      shi dan dang de
                      zuo jia]
SMDNE3   Xinhua       Mo Yan: Still be             8 Dec.        A11
         News         "the sou of fanners"         2012
         Agency       after winning the
                      prize [Mo Yan: de
                      jiang hou yi ran zuo
                      "nong min de er zi"]
SMDNE4                Carrots [Luo bo]             12 Jan.       B02
SMDNE5   Mi Lin       Mo Yan's winning             17 Oct.       C12
                      of Nobel Prize: the          2012
                      revelry for publishers
                      [Mo Yan huo into
                      jiang: chu bau hang
                      de kuang huan sheng yan]

Appendix 2. List of quoted posts from Internet Forums (TY, BBCC and WXC)

ID     Author           Date          Time

TY1    QQ1154698072     11 Oct. 2012  21:34:52
TY2    1937tzb          11 Oct. 2012  10:47:39
TY3    Qing hei reu     12 Oct. 2012  12:57:00
       hui jia
TY4    Hong lin         16 Oct. 2012  13:16:00
       xiao sheng
TY5    Hou shi dai      12 Oct. 2012  20:57:00
       ren de shi jian
TY6    Kan dong         18 Oct. 2012  10:46:50
       fang 99
TY7    Qu shui hu       11 Oct. 2012  20:33:00
       shang 2012
BBCC1  Hui yin lie      13 Oct. 2012  08:34
BBCC2  Ai guo zei       11 Dec. 2012  15:47
BBCC3  Qian jun          7 Dec. 2012  15:23
       guan xian zuo
       xie fu zhu xi
BBCC4  Pang xian sheng  25 Oct. 2012  05:15
BBCC5  Whinejunkie      14 Oct. 2012  17:52
BBCC6  Qing liu pu      12 Oct. 2012  11:54
WXC1   Shen lan         11 Oct. 2012  15:53:30
WXC2   Ling hai          8 Dec. 2012  21:11:42
WXC 3  Da jiang chuan    8 Dec. 2012  19:24:39
WXC4   Rivers 8         11 Oct. 2012  07:57:49
WXC5   Jinhui20         11 Oct. 2012  10:20:06
WXC6   Jinlmi20         17 Oct. 2012  07:27:25
WXC 7  tianfangye       11 Oct. 2012  14:19:11
WXC 8  He li shi tou    16 Oct. 2012  13:33:49
WXC9   Jinhui20         12 Oct. 2012  13:06:09

Mei Wu, University of Macau, Macau

Wen-bo Zhu, China International Publishing Group, China

Fantasy Type            Fantasy Theme

Fulfil a China Dream    China's Great

                        China's Nobel Complex

Flatter China           Comfort Chinese
                        Butter the New Moneybags
Fame Follows Merits     Humble Storytelling

                        Fearless Chinese

Western Countries       Smear Chinese Civilization
Overthrow China
                        Plot Against Chinese
Sold while Counting     Caters to the Hard-Core
Money                   Flavour of Westerners

                        Rebuild the Authority of
                        Nobel Prize

Expose the Oriental     Sly Chinese Farmer
Society                 The Ugly Chinese

                        Shame of Nobel Prize

                        Slick Mouthpiece of the

Fantasy Type            Chained out Symbols for Coding

Fulfil a China Dream  "Fell behind", "The sick men of Asia",
                      "National power", "China rises",
                      "Economic development", "Open and Reform"
                      "Long time", "Desire", "Anxiety",
                      "Tangled complex in heart", "release"
Flatter China         "Comfort after beating", "Liu Xiaobo",
                      "Political pressure", Restore relation"
                      "Financial crisis", "Chinese economy",
Fame Follows Merits   "new rich"
                      "Son of farmers", "Storyteller",
                      "Audience", "Tell Chinese stories",
                      "Humble", "Modest"
                      "Historical responsibility",
                      "Tell truth", "Fearless", "Expose
                       the darkness", "Chinese Intellectual"
Western Countries     "Foolish", "Civilization", "Smear",
Overthrow China       "Cruelty", "Chinese dragon"
                      "Plot", "Western Conspiracy", "Frogs",
                      "Family Planning Policy", "CPC", "Cruel"
Sold while Counting   "Westerners", "Enjoy", "Hard-core flavour",
Money                 "Disgusting", "Bloody", "Enjoy",
                      "Oriental society"
                      "Authority", "Rebuild", "Influence",
                      "Sold whiling counting money", "Judge"
Expose the Oriental   "Sly", "Farmer", "Eat", "Tactfully",
Society               "Oriental", "Humanity of Chinese People",
                      "Ugly," "Savage," "Bloody", "Barbarism"
                      "Shame", "Authoritarian", "Dictatorship",
                      "Human Right", "Accomplice", "Universal
                      "Loyalty", "Slick", "Shameless", "
                       Betray", "Mouthpiece", "Serving the Lord"

Table 1. The coding scheme of fantasy themes

Rhetorical Vision   Fantasy Type      Fantasy Theme       Value
Rise of China       Fulfil a China    China's Great       Nationalism
                    Dream             Rejuvenation
                                      China's Nobel
                                      Complex Released
                    Flatter China     Comfort Chinese     Pragmatism
                                      Butter the New
Western             Western           Smear Chinese       Nationalism
Conspiracy          Countries         Civilization
                                      Plot Against
                                      Chinese Government
                    Sold while        Cater to the        Orientalism
                    Counting          Hard-Core Flavour
                    Money             of Westerners
                                      Rebuild the
                                      Authority of
                                      Nobel Prize
Oriental Empire     Expose the        Sly Chinese Farmer
                    Oriental Society
                                      The Ugly Chinese
Communist                             Shame of Nobel       Liberalism
Dictatorship                          Prize
                    Fame Follows      Humble Storytelling  Moralism
                    Merits            Farmer
                                      Fearless Chinese
                                      Slick Mouthpiece
                                      of Lord

Table 2: The four Rhetorical Visions
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Author:Wu, Mei; Zhu, Wen-bo
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Date:Apr 1, 2017
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