Discourse across cultures : a study of the representation of China in British television documentaries, 1980-2000.
The principal objective of this thesis is to explore the representation of China in British
television documentaries broadcast between 1980 and 2000, focusing on historical
documentaries. The thesis addresses, as its primary research questions and on the basis
of substantial database, what is represented, how that representation is realised, and the
social, historical influences which contextualise and underpin the representation of
China. These questions relating to textual representation are framed within the wider
context of Sino-Western relations, Western self-perceptions and conceptions of China.
The study aims to reveal mechanisms of textual representation by concentrating on two
main dimensions: the internal narrative structures and key discursive formations of the
documentary text (including visuals), and structures of power relations operating to
shape the representation in both the textual domain of meaning mediation and
institutional domain of documentary production. Two aspects of the representation are
foregrounded: China as a civilisation and China as a Communist `other'.
The thesis focuses primarily on the narrative as a methodology in approaching
representation, as documentary achieves meaning mainly through the stories it tells.
Two dimensions of narrative are explored: a structuralist dimension drawing on theories
developed by Propp and Silverstone, and a discursive dimension which is framed within
Foucault's concept of power and knowledge. Extensive primary research established the
database for the study, which is made up of 170 documentaries broadcast during the
sample period between 1980 and 2000, and 18 field interviews with key personnel in
broadcasting and production companies.
The thesis argues that the British television documentary representation presents a
largely Western understanding of China filtered through, among other things, selfperceptions
and conceptions of the `other', and mediated by various sources of power.
The process of representing `what is China' is enmeshed with the process of
constructing how China should be viewed. The result of this social construction of truth
and knowledge is that certain values, convictions, and ideologies are reinforced and
reproduced in the vital domain of documentary representation