Media in China: Constructing National Resistance in Natural Disaster Representations

by Weimin Zhang (Author)
Thesis 214 Pages


This book examines how media can be used in facilitating crisis control following natural disasters. Set in the context of the contemporary Chinese nationalistic culture this book dissects how Chinese media enhances disaster relief by constructing the meaning of it. It takes a historical overview of the negotiations between discursive power and media coverage of natural disasters in Chinese media. It then conducts a case study of the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake to analyze how Chinese media enhance crisis control in engaging with contemporary Chinese nationalism. In examining the mediated disaster relief closely relevant to this study within a global context this book briefly analyzes the Australian media’s representation of the 2013 Tasmanian Bushfire. In a penetrating investigation of the research question a systematic theoretic framework is structured consisting of the theories of representation, discourse and power, cultural identity, media framing and narratives.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgment
  • List of Tables
  • Chapter One Introduction
  • Chapter Two Theoretical Framework and Methodology
  • Chapter Three Discursive Control of Natural Disaster Reporting in Chinese Media: a Historic Overview
  • Chapter Four Chinese Media Representation of the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake
  • Chapter Five Articulating Chinese National Identity in the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake Coverage
  • Chapter Six Discourse of Resistance: the Global Implication
  • Chapter Seven Conclusion
  • Bibliography

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The author would like to thank colleagues and friends who supported in different ways in the process of conducting this research and the production of this monograph. Special gratitude goes to respectable Associate Professor Peter C. Pugsley and Associate Professor Xianlin Song, who are my mentors guiding me patiently and effectively to conduct research in the western academic discourse.

Special gratitude is due to colleagues in the School of Journalism and Communication at Lanzhou University for the considerate supports. Thanks go to scholars in the Discipline of Media, School of Humanities, the University of Adelaide for the valuable comments to my work. I thank my families for the continuous emotional encouragement. I am grateful to Dr. Kate Cadman, Dr. Baohui Xie, Dr. William Wang, Dr. John Walsh, Professor Richard Russell, Ms. Sandy McConachy, Ms. Iris Liu, Dr. Minghua Wu, Dr. Bei Guo, Dr. Cheng Hu, Ms. Camille Zhang, for the help. Sincere thanks go to Ms. Johanna Lüder and Ms. Marina Essig, editor and production manager at Peter Lang, for the patient and considerate support making this monograph finally came to fruition.

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List of Tables

Table 1: Strategies for national identification

Table 2: Constructing uncertainty and anxiety

Table 3: Constructing the war of resistance

Table 4: Constructing resistance

Table 5: Othering the disaster

Table 6: Representing the individuals threatened by the crisis

Table 7: Representing national consciousness

Table 8: Representing national memories

Table 9: Constructing national identity

Table 10: The progression of identification

Table 11: Cultural imaginations and mechanisms for identity formation

Table 12: Audience recognition of the representations

Table 13: Constructing the “demon”

Table 14: Constructing actions of resistance

Table 15: Community-building discourses

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Chapter One


The earth is cramping. The disaster continues. In every minute, there is a possibility of death among our country fellows. Life is in crisis; our motherland is in crisis.1

(Southern Weekly 22 May, 2008)

On May 12, 2008 a serious earthquake occurred in the south-western part of China. In the central area of Wenchuan County in Sichuan Province, the severity of the earthquake reached 8.0 degrees on the Richter scale. Official figures show that more than 69,197 people were confirmed dead, with 374,176 injured, 18,222 missing (Xinhua Net 20 July, 2008). It was the deadliest natural disaster in Chinese history since the Tangshan earthquake in 1976. In the first several days after the earthquake the public had no clear grasp of information about the event, which caused rumour-producing and a highly intense sense of crisis (Yang and Liu 2010, p. 204). The public such as those in Sichuan Province’s Mianyang City, close to the epicentre of the earthquake, were anxious for authentic and trustworthy information about facts from official channels. The public anxieties were eventually lessened after Chinese state-owned media provided reassuring information about the event (Yang and Liu 2010, p. 204). One research survey showed that in releasing earthquake information to the public, the media was a principal platform adopted by the Chinese government for information disposal. News reports of the disaster in official media outlets such as Xinhua Net and the Sichuan Daily claimed high credibility among the public due to the fact that China’s mass media is seen as the most trustworthy source for acquiring crisis information (Yang and Liu 2010, p. 197).

In the period surrounding this tragic event, the Chinese media produced its own “media event” (Dayan and Katz 1992) which affected how the crisis was perceived by the public. After the earthquake, people were in a state of intense uncertainty and anxiety because of the disorderly information ← 11 | 12 → flow. In that event, people’s reactions were highly associated with the information released from media and their understanding about the earthquake was tremendously impacted by how the media covered it (Zhang 2010, p. 456). It seems that the crisis situation brought about by the earthquake was not limited to the destruction of the disaster, but also closely related to the crisis of information flow. In a natural disaster situation, the disaster is out of people’s control, but the crisis of information flow can be managed by the media. In a crisis situation, it is argued that the media should guide public opinion, provide timely support with a constructive interpretation of the situation, placate any panic and cope with irrational sentiments caused by the pervasion of disruptive information (Shao 2009, p. 238). How the media deals with such information flows within a crisis is a question that needs further investigation. Therefore, this study chooses to address natural disasters and their ensuing media coverage as its research topic.

In dealing with human responses to natural disasters, a variety of academic disciplines have initiated research, including the social and physical sciences in areas as diverse as geology, astronomy, meteorology, and psychology. However more recently this has become an area of interest for media scholars. Among the themes explored across these disciplines, one important focus examines the impact of media communications on social understanding and subsequent human actions in response to natural disaster situations.

From this perspective, the discourse constructed by the media during and after a natural disaster situation is an important focus for research. In natural disaster situations, how the media transmits information about the facts of the situation and sets up reporting frameworks clearly affects the way people in the disaster area (and beyond) orientate their perceptions and actions. The media’s coding of disaster information and construction of images about people’s state of suffering strongly influences the way the disaster is understood, attitudes to it and the social meaning that can be interpreted from it. Therefore, the media’s communication in natural disaster situations becomes an essential focus not only in interpreting the disaster, but also in carrying out disaster relief. Before reviewing the existing research on this topic, it is necessary to define the concept of a natural disaster to clarify what is meant by natural disaster communications. ← 12 | 13 →

1.1 Natural disasters and natural disaster communication

Biographical notes

Weimin Zhang (Author)

Dr. Weimin Zhang is a lecturer at the School of Journalism and Communication, Lanzhou University, China. He acquired his PhD in the Discipline of Media, School of Humanities, the University of Adelaide, Australia. His research focuses on cultural communication, media theories and organizational communication.


Title: Media in China: Constructing National Resistance in Natural Disaster Representations