rightIn the old days many people got information about the outside world from teahouse “news singers.”

All domestic media in China are owned by the state and remain strictly controlled by the government, with tight censorship rules in place. The news media in Communist China has traditionally focused on routine party meetings and activities and speeches of leaders. In recent years, there has been a call for it to report about topical social, economic, cultural and health issues. In some ways the media has responded as it has become more independent, the number of media outlets directly supported by the government has been reduced and some foreign investment in the media has occurred.

On the difference between the media in China and Canada, one recent immigrant to Canada from China told AFP, the “media is different here. In China it is propaganda, promotion of things well done. Here they speak of disasters or human rights, look for negative sides.”

Suspicion of the media has a long history in China. In 1591, a Chinese border official complained of irresponsible “newspaper bureau entrepreneurs” who give no consideration to “matters of [national] emergency.”

Many Chinese now turn to the Internet for news rather than the traditional media. Some people still get their news the old-fashion, Communist way from notice boards which usually feature pages from the latest copy of the People's Daily as well as family planning posters, PLA recruiting notices and pictures of mutilated traffic accident victims, executed prisoners and people who blew themselves up playing with fireworks or dropping cigarettes at gas stations.

20111107-Wiki C  TV_2010_baseball_games_&_Asian_Games_on_CTS.jpg
Chinese journalists often choose a pen name when they write something bearing state-sponsored ideology with which they (privately) disagree. But not just any pen name will do. A proper psuedonym gives the reader a tipoff to the author’s dissenting opinion using coded language.

Because of low salaries, journalists in China often struggle with whether to take bribes, called hongbao, or red envelopes.

Sherly WuDunn of the New York Times won a Pulitzer prize for her work in China.

Good Websites and Sources: Council of Foreign Relations on Media Censorship in China ;, an English-language blog on the Chinese media ; China Media Blog ; China Today ; Freedom House Report ; List of Media in China ; Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (MCLC) Media Bibliography Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (MCLC) ; News About China ; China Media Project ; China Digital Times


Early Foreign Media Coverage of China

“Arguably, more column inches were devoted to China in the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century than since. In 1928 the Sunday edition of the New York Times was running seven and sometimes eight columns of material on China from their correspondent Hallett Abend and sending urgent telegrams instructing him to send yet more China news.”[Source: “Foreign journalists in China, from the Opium Wars to Mao” by Paul French, June 19, 2009]

‘starting around the time of the Boxers and the Siege of the Legations in 1900, the world’s public began to want significantly more information about China, and so the world’s great newspapers started sending and hiring full-time correspondents backed up by an army of stringers. Their numbers grew and then spurted in the 1920s.”

Radio and Television in the 1980s

Radio and television expanded rapidly in the 1980s as important means of mass communication and popular entertainment. By 1985 radio reached 75 percent of the population through 167 radio stations, 215 million radios, and a vast wired loudspeaker system. Television, growing at an even more rapid rate, reached two-thirds of the population through more than 104 stations (up from 52 in 1984 and 44 in 1983); an estimated 85 percent of the urban population had access to television. As radio and television stations grew, the content of the programming changed drastically from the political lectures and statistical lists of the previous period. Typical radio listening included soap operas based on popular novels and a variety of Chinese and foreign music. [Source: Library of Congress]

“Most television shows were entertainment, including feature films, sports, drama, music, dance, and children's programming. In 1985 a survey of a typical week of television programming made by the Shanghai publication Wuxiandian Yu Dianshi (Journal of Radio and Television) revealed that more than half of the programming could be termed entertainment; education made up 24 percent of the remainder of the programming and news 15 percent. A wide cross section of international news was presented each evening. Most news broadcasts were borrowed from foreign news organizations, and a Chinese summary was dubbed over. China Central Television also contracted with several foreign broadcasters for entertainment programs. Between 1982 and 1985, six United States television companies signed agreements to provide American programs to China.

Commercialism and Advertising in China


Some expect China to overtake Japan as the world’s second biggest advertising market after the United States by 2010. The biggest advertisers in China are drug companies followed by cosmetic firms, retailers and service industries.

The first television commercial in China was an advertisement for a tonic wine broadcast on a Shanghai television station in 1979. Advertising revenues increased from $400 million in 1991 to $2.4 billion in 1994 to $10 billion in 2001. Growth in the early 2000s continuing at a blistering 40 percent rate, compared to 3 or 4 percent in the United States.

Three percent of outdoor space, three percent of prime time television commercials and 10 percent of newspaper and magazines advertising are set aside for government propaganda. If media companies don't comply with these quotas they risk losing their licenses that allow them to operate. In Shanghai alone three percent of outdoor space works out to 27 acres.

The world’s largest billboard---measuring 300 meters by 45 meters---was erected along the Yangtze River in Chongqing and taken apart without ever attracting a single user. The problem was that the billboard was often shrouded in fog and no one could see it.

Advertising and Marketing for a Chinese Audience


Advertisers have difficulty developing national marketing schemes in China because income levels, education levels and other demographics vary so much from place to place. One advertising researcher, for example, found though focus group studies that young people in Guangzhou are much more “pragmatic cool,” wanting their cell phones to have MP3 players, than their counterparts in Shanghai who wanted an Ipod and a separate, trendy, cell phone. [Source: International Herald Tribune]

Advertisers aiming for a national market must at least develop copy in both Mandarin and Cantonese, and preferably other languages and dialects too. Even though Mandarin speakers outnumber Cantonese speakers by a 10 to 1 margin, Cantonese speakers in Guangdongand other southern cities tend to be significantly wealthier than Mandarin speakers.

The advertising market in China is divided into Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3 and Tier 4 cities. The Tier 1 cities are Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Tier 2 cities include Chongqing, Harbin, Wuhan, Nanjing, Chengdu and Tianjin. Tier 3 and 4 cities often have populations of over a million people but possess names Westerners have never heard of. Thus far major western brands have had success in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities but have had difficulty penetrating Tier 3 and Tier 4 cities, which are dominated by Chinese brands.

With the help of Henry Kissinger, Gallup polls was allowed to open shop in China as a joint venture with a Chinese company. The polling company has been hired by U.S. chocolate producers, oil and electronics companies and Coca Cola to do marketing surveys but is not allowed to ask political questions.

Disrespectful Advertising and Chinese Control of Advertising


Advertisers have to answer to the Communist party. Coca-cola, for example, was forced to pull a multimillion dollar ad campaign with the popular Taiwanese singer A-Mei in 2000 because she sang the Taiwanese national anthem at the inauguration for a the Taiwanese president.

Government guidelines of advertisers include avoiding the use of superlatives like "best"when making comparisons to competitors; refraining from displaying flags and other national symbols; and following vague principals such as not "jeopardize the social order." Many foreign companies have had their ad rejected by censors for no clear reason with no explanation provided.

Ads that have been pulled have included Bufferin ads that claimed the headache medicine was best and Budweiser ads that claimed the beer was "America's favorite" (even though Budweiser had statistics to back up its claim). The anti-"best" guidelines were put in place to discourage exaggerated claims. The advertising industry is notorious for making false claims. In the past Chinese companies have claimed their tonics made people smarter and develop larger penises and their soaps have helped people lose weight.

Advertisers also have to abide by modesty rules. Models must cover the area between six inches below their necks and six inches above their knees. One shampoo commercial was pulled because it showed a woman's shoulder. Rebelliousness is also a no no.. A Pizza Hut showing a man standing on a table telling his friend how good his pizza tastes was pulled because standing on a table is considered rebellious. A Pepsi ad that showed Michael J. Fox scampering through traffic to get a can of Pepsi for an attractive neighbor was changed to show Fox stopping for a red light.

Tattoos and pierced ears are taboo. Anything that smack of individualism is frowned up. A Nike advertisement showing NBA star LeBron James defeating an animated martial arts master was banned because it was considered “disrespectful to Chinese traditional culture.” A Toyota ad that featuring an SUV cruising past kowtowing Chinese lions was yanked for the same reason.

Advertisements that promotes products by showing the how they increase one’s wealth and status seem to be do better in China than ones that show the pleasure the product will bring. One American advertising man told the Los Angeles Times, “Nothing is about feeling good or tasting good. Everything has to have a payoff.” Duped by April Fool's Prank is China’s official internet information center, a one-stop shop for the latest in the party line. On April 1, 2009 it ran a story---China to be Painted White to Fight Global Warming.” The article details a ‘sweeping new initiative’, announced by the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), to “turn the Chinese landscape white in order to reflect heat back into space.” [Source: Elizabeth Balkan,, April 1, 2009]

According to the article, the MEP spokesperson replied to a request for details of the all-white uniform’s design by saying: “We have consulted several foreign fashion experts, including world-famous French designer Jean-Paul Gaultier, and we are convinced we have come up with something that people will find both convenient and stylish.”

The article ended: “Undoubtedly the most controversial part of the plan will be the use of advanced biological engineering techniques to turn basic food crops white. One of the earliest crops to be affected will be yellow rapeseed flowers. Scientists have already completed a two year trial of bio-engineered white rapeseed and have said the new engineered crops will be used in pilot projects in Henan and Shandong provinces over the coming year. Chinese people are fond of bright yellow landscapes created by rapeseed flowers and there is likely to be some resistance to government plans from traditionalists. But the Rapeseed Association of China said in a statement, 'Obviously we will be sorry to see the traditional yellow color go, but we believe our government and our Party have the best interests of the Chinese people at heart.”

A quick google searched turned up no previousarticles, on this website or others, by the story’s author, He Kuada. Nor any indication that the “Rapeseed Association of China” actually exists. It turns ou that in Chinese “Kuada: can be translated as “exaggeration,” “hyperbole” or “over the top”; and the surname, “He” is the root of the word “harmonize.” He Kuada, translates roughly into “unified hyperbole” or “harmonious exaggeration.” did not comment. He Kuada left no means of contacting him.

Liu Bolin, China’s Invisible Man artist
and his take on advertising

Fifty Chinese Celebrities Help Boost China’s Image Abroad

In 2010, China’s State Council Information Office released a 30-second television commercial and a 15-minute promotional film aimed at polishing China’s global image. The first part, “People” featured 50 Chinese celebrities, including wealthy businessman Li Ka-Shing, basketball star Yao Ming, astronaut Yang Liwei, Olympic diving diva Guo Jingjing, film director John Woo, pianist Lang Lang. movie star Jackie Chan Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma and actress Zhang Ziyi. [Source: Chang Ping, China Media Project, October 6, 2010]

The producer of the State Council publicity spots, Zhu Youguang, said that while “not every country has “national image publicity films”, all countries promote themselves in different ways.” The United States does not produce publicity films to promote its image, said Zhu, but this was simply because all of America’s feature films, animations and musical productions promoted its national image.

Zhu You’s argument is that China does not yet have the cultural means to get its messages out. Therefore, he says, “[We] must resort to publicity films like this in order to achieve short-term results.” What are foreigners supposed to glean from this publicity film? The idea is that foreigners will recognize the faces of these Chinese celebrities and see them as representative of China. In one Chinese media report, the film spot’s executive producer, Su Mingxia “, said the 30-second film ‘shows the situation of ordinary Chinese, and how they live and work.”

The campaign was only one high profile example of China’s effort to sell its virtues to the rest of the world. In 2009 alone, the central government spent 45 billion yuan (US$6.6 billion) to increase the international influence of the Xinhua News Agency, China Central Television (CCTV) and China Radio International (CRI). Also in 2009, Chinese leaders welcome international media bigwigs such as News Corp chief Rupert Murdoch and the former British Broadcasting Cooperation's former executive, Richard Sambrook to the Great Hall of the People in Beijing for the first World Media Summit, dubbed the “Media Olympics”. It also witnessed the international launch of the English-language version of the Global Times, as well as a US edition of China Daily, the primary English-language mouthpiece for the Chinese government. [Source: Kent Ewing, Asian Times]

Image Sources: 1, 2) Landsberger Posters; 3, 4) Censorship symbols, Human Rights Watch; 5) Hu Jintao, Wikipedia ; 6, 7, 8) Advertising, University of Washington ; Liu Bolin, China’s Invisible Man artist, Global Times Chinese:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated April 2012

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