China is one of the largest, most populated countries in the world and has risen above a past of Communism and governmental control to emerge with a relatively well-developed media system and renowned film industry. The Chinese film industry remains one of the most influential in the world upon American cinema, with its theme of martial arts fight sequences and weaponry. Although foreigners visiting China for the first time may expect to find a monolithic and tightly controlled communist media, the reality is quite the opposite. The media system of China is extremely competitive and driven by diversification and commercialization.
China is bordered by fourteen countries, including India, North Korea and Russia and boasts the title of fourth largest country in the world, with an area only slightly smaller than that of the United States. China is known for its extremely diverse climate, with arctic winters in the northern regions of the country and subtropical conditions in the southern regions. Mountains, beaches, hills, deserts, deltas, plains and plateaus can all be found within Chinese borders.
In addition to boasting beautiful landscape diversity, China also boasts the largest population in the world: over 1.3 billion people. The average lifespan in China is seventy-three years, with a median age of thirty-three years old. The literacy rate of the country stands at 93% (95% for males, 86% for females). Common religions in China include Taoism and Buddhism, making the country officially atheistic on paper. However, there is a 3-4% penetration of Christianity, and a 1% Muslim penetration. Spoken languages in China include standard Chinese (also known as Mandarin), Cantonese, Shanghainese and Minbei.
The People’s Republic of China was formed on October 1, 1949, after the country’s civil war. The Chinese Communist Party essentially runs the country, led by Mao Zedong up until his death in 1976. The first television broadcast in China was coverage of Zedong’s funeral, broadcast on eight inch television sets supplied by the government. The current president of the country is Hu Jintao, leader of the country and executive overseer of the Nation People’s Congress, a unicameral legislative body with 2,987seats. Each congressman serves five year terms. China has three levels of courts: the Supreme People’s Court, the Local People’s Court and the Special People’s Court.
The Chinese population was first exposed to television in 1976 when the funeral of late party Chairman Mao Zedong was broadcast throughout the country on eight inch, government-supplied television sets. That was in the 1970s. Today, TV is one of the wealthiest mediums in the Chinese culture because of its impact on the entertainment industry. According to a 2001 survey by A.C. Nielsen Media International, China’s television sets reaped $8.1 billion in total advertising revenue, $5.2 billion more than newspapers and $7.9 billion more than magazines. (www.acnielsen.com)
Much like their radio stations, Chinese television stations are erected along governmental administrative lines: national, provincial, municipal, county, and some communes. Almost every station provides some format of news at least three times a day, as well as popular entertainment programs, the majority of which are in genres similar to American soap operas, but with a faster pace. China also imports American entertainment programming. Lately, interactive quiz shows have become extremely popular, especially among the middle class society. Some news shows can become nerve-wracking for the Chinese government, such as Jiaodian Fangtan, which airs on CCTV and is a kind of talk show that discusses hot issues within the government, but mostly problems. There are over 3,000 TV stations in China, covering over 88% of the population.
Previously-mentioned CCTV refers to one of the, “most powerful and influential television stations in China.” (Global Journalism: Topical Issues and Media Systems, de Beer and Merrill, 4th ed.) One of several issues with Chinese television, particularly with CCTV, is paid news. Many political individuals in the Chinese government are more than willing to pay news stations to do favorable stories on them. As with American journalism, there are rules, ethics and regulations that forbid such behavior, but often the temptation is too strong to resist.
Over 10,000 radio stations broadcast from China on a daily basis, covering 90% of the Chinese population. Radio stations remain a popular source for news in both urban and rural areas of the country, with A.M. morning news shows remaining the most popular. Some mountainous regions of China must rely solely on radio for their access to local, regional and world news events and issues. In 2002, Chinese Vice Premier Li Lanqing called for, “improved radio and TV programs in remote western regions.” (“Vice-Premier 2002, Global Journalism: Topical Issues and Media Systems, de Beer and Merrill, 4th ed.) Lanqing believed expanding the role of radio and TV networks to reach inland regions of the country was of great importance, partly to promote economic development, social stability, and ethnic harmony.
In overseas areas, China Radio International, formerly known as Radio Beijing, represents the voice of the Chinese government, similar to the United States’ Voice of America. Besides broadcasting news in over 43 languages to areas around the world, it has an extremely wide following. In 1997, the station sponsored a knowledge contest on tourism and investment in Sha’anxi, as over 260,000 listeners tuned in from 155 countries.
Newspapers in China today fight for survival in a highly competitive market. They cannot remain “politically correct” simply by keeping a stern face. They must appeal to their readers. Lately, print media has experienced an “explosive growth”, as the population has begun to realize that newspapers and magazines can be money makers, in addition to having a political role. (Global Journalism, Topical Issues and Media Systems, de Beer and Merrill, 4th ed.) According to the China Journalism Yearbook, in 2001 there were 2,007 newspapers in circulation throughout China and 8,725 published magazines. There are eighty-four newspapers that continue to use ethnic languages. China became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in an attempt to remain one step ahead of competition with foreign media.
Aside from Reference News and the People’s Daily, other top-circulation papers include papers that target the student population of the country, such as Elementary Students Journal, which boasts over 1.75 million readers and China Early Teens Journal, with over one million readers. Digest papers such as Baokan Wenchai (1.47 million readers) and Weekly Digest (1.2 million readers) remain ever popular.
Investigative journalism has been unheard of for years in Chinese society. However, in recent years, several papers have begun pioneering this form of journalism, despite strong resistance from the local government. Zhang Baoming, head of the State Administration for Production Safety, has called on the media for more active participation in the investigation of major industrial accidents, almost every one of which he claims are connected with some form of corruption. (“Giving”, 2002).
China’s magazine industry has experienced a great deal of change and expansion. “A Chinese magazine used to educate, not entertain.” (Global Journalism: Topical Issues and Media Systems, de Beer and Merrill, 4th ed.) “Consumer magazines” were almost unheard of by most Chinese. However, today there are a high number of consumer magazines for sell in bookstores and for check-outs in libraries. Magazines can now be seen on almost every corner in every major city, on subway stands, newsstands, even in local post offices. Chinese magazines cater to nearly every demographic group, with themes such as sports, fashion, hobbies, women’s interest, men’s interest, etc. Chinese magazine versions of the acclaimed Elle and Vogue can also be found in the country.
The first film shown in China was in 1896, with a title difficult to translate into English. The first official screening of a motion picture was held in Shanghai on August 11, 1896, as an “act on a variety bill.” (http://.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinema_of_China) China’s film industry officially began in 1913, with the release of “The Difficult Couple.” American filmmakers and directors traveled overseas to train Chinese producers on filming and production techniques. Historically, Chinese films often represent periods of Chinese history, whether they be good or bad. In 1986 the government moved the film industry to the Ministry of Radio, Film and Television to gain more control over the industry. The “Sixth Generation” developed and started underground films that became very popular.
China has been known throughout the years for its martial arts films, many of which have revolutionized fight scenes and action sequences in American films (such as “The Matrix”) for decades. In fact, one early, black and white Chinese film centered its entire storyline on a weapon: a “swinging guillotine”, a handheld weapon swung by use of a chain, capable of beheading an enemy on contact with the neck. Countless American action films now rely on martial arts fight scenes to produce desired effects.
One of the most popular American “runaway” films shot in China was the 2000 release “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, starring Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh. Director Ang Lee based the film storyline on a novel by Wang Du Lu called “Crouching Tiger”, which contained a plot filled with revenge. (www.rottentomatoes.com)
In 2001, China had over 30 million Internet users and over 260,000 published websites. The NetNews Bureau of the China Internet Information Center controls Internet content. The Bureau has blocked several websites, including the L.A. Times, BBC and CBS, but have allowed Fox News to remain online. In 2002, Google was blocked after posting negative things about China’s president. In China, the Internet is used in schools to tackle controversial issues such as sex education.
Despite a past of governmental control and attempts at press censorship, China has become a leader in world technology and film productions, while remaining on the competitive edge in the areas of Internet and print media. The effects of Communism remain unseen for the most part in China today, as ideals of diversity remain more important and essential to the growth of Chinese media.
Works Cited and Resources:
1. Global Journalism: Topical Issues and Media Systems, de Beer and Merrill, 4th ed.