The Long March
Coverage of AIDS in newspapers from the People's Republic of China
as the product of the Nexus of Cultural Values
by Naiyu Zhang
Department of Journalism
Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas 77843-4111
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Timonhy N. Walters, Ph.D.
Northeast Louisiana University
Lynne Masel Walters
Department of Journalism
Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas
The Long March
This study examined the coverage of AIDS-related topics in three newspapers
from the People's Republic of China during 1987. The newspapers largely viewed
the disease as something accompanying Western lifestyles and through the prism
of Chinese morals and Chinese traditions of communication. This viewpoint is
important. For scholars and observers must remember that ideological influences
on media in the People's Republic of China consists of the nexus of Chinese
traditional values, Marx's communism, and Western concepts.
China has never forgotten Confucian ideology. The effects of this belief system
can be seen in the coverage of AIDS through: 1) praise of the achievements of
China and of things Chinese; 2) approval of Chinese traditional lifestyles and
disapproval of Western lifestyles; 3) lack of coverage of subjects regarded as
violating traditional values, such as homosexuality; and 4) sympathetic
treatment of the "innocent victims" AIDS. The Long March
It is quite a long way from the People's Republic of China to the United
States, but when it comes to AIDS transmission, the distance has been shortened
year after year. This incurable pandemic is no longer a latent threat; it has
penetrated into the country at an accelerating pace. As of 1995 the Chinese
government officially had recorded 3,400 HIV carriers, including 80 cases of
full-blown AIDS (Cowley, et al., 1996). While there may be debate over the
accuracy of these figures, (Quinn, 1992), one fact is clear. The incidence of
AIDS infection in China has grown at an accelerating speed. The number of
infections detected in 1990 was higher than that of the previous five year total
(Lili, 1990); those detected in the first half of 1995 surpassed the total of
1994 (Beijing Review, Dec. 1995). This trend has been severe enough to alarm
authorities in the most populous country in the world.
Because prevention has been viewed as more effective than treatment, health
services in China have emphasized "prevention first, "and this policy achieved
significant successes in some health care campaigns during Mao's age. Successful
campaigns include fly-killing, river-swimming, anti-spitting, family planning
and others (Rogers, 1973, Chang, w., 1978; Sidel's, 1982). And, Chinese mass
media has played a significant role in governmental information campaigns.
Nevertheless, while the HIV virus is attacking China, the Chinese populace at
large seems unaware of what is happening. Surveys of small specialized groups of
Chinese people, including gay men, taxi drivers, hotel workers, policemen,
health workers, and college students, suggest that most of them are confused
about the disease, its transmission modes and preventive measures. In fact, the
existence of this dreadful disease seems to have been ignored (Furlong, 1993;
Leicester, 1992; Parker, 1992; Quinn 1992; Walsh-Childers, 1994).
Why is this so?
That is the central question addressed by this research.
This study is designed to: 1) enhance understanding of the factors influencing
media content in the People's Republic of China; 2) add to the understanding of
Chinese culture and Chinese newspapers; and 3) analyze the causes that prevent
the Chinese from accessing complete information about AIDS through newspapers.
Background and Literature Review
Walsh-Childers and his colleagues surveyed Chinese students in a university in
southeastern China on the effectiveness of Chinese mass media in spreading
knowledge of AIDS in 1994. He found that Chinese students did not have a clear
knowledge of AIDS. Even so, the interviewees reached a consensus that "Chinese
media are providing people with adequate information about AIDS." The reason the
Chinese people were ill-informed, Walsh-Childers decided, was not because of the
frequency of consistency of the coverage, but because the Chinese people felt
they did not need to know much about AIDS (Walsh-Childers, 1994, p. 17).
This finding was similar to Aoki's AIDS prevention models of Asian-American
communities in the United States. Aoki and his colleagues found that AIDS is an
invisible disease in the Asian communities in the United States. Although AIDS
has been a hot topic of the mass media in the United States, some
Asian-Americans remained confused about the transmission modes and preventive
measures of the disease. Aoki and his colleagues attributed this to the
Confucian influence on Chinese-Americans and Japanese-Americans (Aoki, 1989).
But, unlike Aoki's interviewees, Walsh-Childers and his group attributed the
reasons for miscommunication to the Chinese government.
Which model rings true with respect to the People's Republic China? And, more
importantly, why is it so?
This study examined AIDS coverage in three Chinese newspapers: China Daily,
People's Daily domestic edition, and Guangming Daily from Jan. 1, 1987 to Dec.
31, 1987. While all the publications are national ones, they cater to different
readers and have different relationships with the Party.
People's Daily (Renmin Ribao), the second largest newspaper in China , is an
official, serious and quality newspaper. As a house organ of the Party, it has a
responsibility to propagate the Party's political lines, policies, and tasks
among the Chinese people. Usually, it has eight pages, but on some Chinese
official holidays, its publication may stop, or its pages reduced by half.
Guangming Daily used to be under the auspices of the democratic parties that
had been in existence since the founding of the People's Republic. It is a
four-page newspaper with a readership composed mainly of Chinese intellectuals.
China Daily is the first English language daily newspaper in China. It aims to
serve the increasing number of foreigners in China, as well as Chinese who
understand and want to improve their English. According to Chang (1989), the
editorial policies of China Daily differ from those of other Chinese newspapers.
The paper's principal goals are "objectively presenting China and China's news
to its unique group of readers and providing services and entertainment
specially suited to those readers." (Chang, W. H., 1989).
News coverage of AIDS was defined as any article containing the words "Acquired
Immune Deficiency Syndrome," or its acronym "AIDS." We analyzed the content of
all this information, both quantitatively and qualitatively. News coverage was
classified into four groups. The first was "sidebars." A "sidebar" was defined
as the sentence(s) or section(s) that contained AIDS information but was
packaged with a larger story. AIDS had only a little to do with the main topic
of the story. Then, came the "columns and editorials." These were defined as a
commentary on AIDS or AIDS-related effects. The aim of these stories was not to
report factual situations, but to set forth a position on something about AIDS.
The annual number of columns of each newspaper, the commentator's attitude,
either positive or negative, and the things the commentator targeted or attacked
were recorded. Whether the "subjects" were things happening in China or
elsewhere was also marked. We also noted who the reporters were -- whether they
worked for a news agency, these newspapers, or were freelance writers.
The number of columns and editorials in the newspapers was compared. The study
also compared the commentators' opinions toward their subjects, as well as the
location of the event (inside or outside China).
Next, the news (excluding "sidebars" and "columns and editorials") was divided
into two hard news and features. Events happening in the People's Republic of
China, reported within three days after they happened, were considered hard
news. Otherwise, there were coded as features. The reasons to apply different
criteria to stories about China and other countries included the fact that the
affairs in a country other than China happened in a different time zone. Besides
the difference in time, those reports written in a language other than Chinese
needed translating. More time was assumed necessary for selecting and editing.
Finally, stories reported with an obscure date, such as "recently" and other
similar words, were regarded as features.
Each individual story was a coding unit. The coders identified and recorded the
following elements: 1) primary country where the event happened, 2) themes, 3)
number of sentences, 4) source of information, and 5) page on which the story
appeared in the newspaper.
Themes in the newspaper accounts were coded following the example of Walters
and Walters (1997). The categories were: 1) toll of AIDS patients, 2) cure, 3)
prevention, 4) cause, 5) policy, 6) meeting, and 7) transmission. "Toll" was
defined as the number of AIDS death, or a description of the death of an AIDS
patient or patients, an HIV carrier or carriers. The cause of the death is a
physical disorder. "Cure" was the announcement or description of a drug or
therapy to combat AIDS, or a discovery of a mechanism which can kill HIV.
"Prevention" was the description or implementation of preventive measures,
testing, campaigns, or the discovery or use of a preventive or diagnostic tool,
or a preventive, diagnostic or testing method. "Cause" was the announcement of,
or description of the quarrel over where AIDS first appeared, or the discovery
of the genesis or development of the disease, or of HIV. "Policy" was the
institutional or governmental policies expressed in regulations or stipulations,
or laws. "Meeting" was the notification, opening or closing of a local or
international meeting, convention, or seminar. Stories with this category do not
include those emphasizing one or two specific topics discussed in the meeting.
"Transmission" was the announcement of the number of AIDS patients and HIV
carriers, the description of the spread of the disease, the report of the change
in people's feelings, thoughts, behavior or life style caused by the spread of
the disease. Any story not otherwise defined fell into the category "others."
The number of the hard news, features and their total of the three newspapers
was compared on the basis of themes.
AIDS coverage (and percentage of total AIDS coverage) in People's Daily in 1987
was 5 sidebars (14.71% of total AIDS coverage), 11 hard news (32.35%), 15
features (44.12%), and 3 columns (8.82%). Each of the five AIDS sidebars,
including one hard news, three features and one column of other themes, averaged
more than one-tenth of a page, indicating they were considered important
One sidebar, the hard news of a international convention of traditional Chinese
medicine, appeared on the first page, on which usually only hard news of great
significance appears. The AIDS information in this sidebar provided a supportive
attitude toward traditional Chinese medicine. It gave an impression that
traditional Chinese medicine was an effective medical measure against AIDS and
that some American scientists had achieved success applying traditional Chinese
medicine to AIDS patients.
Two of the other sidebars described medical achievements and developmental
trends. In one, the reporter indicated that American scientists had predicted
that by 2000, vaccines preventing AIDS would be discovered and more than half of
AIDS cases would be curable. The sidebar also reported that only a small
fraction of the known 1.5 million HIV carriers in the United States might
develop the disease.
In the other sidebar, the reporter, who was not employed by the Xinhua News
Agency or a newspaper, wrote that while anti-AIDS vaccines had been developed
in some countries, human research had not been done. Meanwhile, the sidebar
indicated that a US. national lab had found that the AIDS virus was mutating
into a complicated family, which may challenge the development of the anti-AIDS
vaccine. This coverage praised the discovery by an American scientist of Chinese
origin who had worked in this lab.
The other sidebar in a feature story was about blood transfusion. The column
warned about reusing used syringes and indicated that Americans had a great fear
of AIDS. This feature story also described in detail how to be transfused with
one's own blood, if visitors needed a transfusion when traveling to the United
States and/or when they were afraid of being transmitted by AIDS. Meanwhile, the
story also indicated that AIDS transmission may be through the same route as
that of hepatitis.
As to the sidebar packaged with the column, the information it provided also
discussed the fact that AIDS might have the same transmission route as hepatitis
- through blood transfusion. But, since the column aimed at pointing out the
evils of Western society, the writer indicated that Chinese should not worry too
much about AIDS. After all, AIDS transmission through blood transfusion was
caused by waste syringes used by drug addicts. There weren't any drug addicts in
China. These sidebars indicated that AIDS was an issue of great concern to some
people, but the number of the stories with the core theme of AIDS in People's
Daily in 1987 totaled only to 29.
Among the 11 pieces of hard news, six provided factual information, and the
other five had supportive background information. Among the six pieces of "pure
information" hard news, four had only one sentence, one had two sentences, and
only one had more than five sentences. Five were reported by the reporters of
People's Daily itself, and the other one was from Xinhua News Agency. Judging
from the content, four of them were about AIDS transmission (three of the four
had only one sentence, and provided mainly the numbers of AIDS patients in the
world.), one about a prevention measure (one sentence) and the other concerned
the law of the Soviet Union (two sentences).
Of the five pieces of supportive background information, two were about AIDS
transmission, one was about prevention, one legislation, and the other an
international meeting. In three of them, the additional information included
figures of AIDS transmission. In one of the other two, it was a indirect
quotation of a person who was not a main character involved in the original
story. The quotation indicated that the Japanese decided to ask people going to
Japan to fill out items about AIDS in a health inquiry form. In the other one,
which described an overseas Chinese AIDS patient who died in China, the
additional information mentioned AIDS prevention measures the Chinese government
and health institutions took.
Four of the five pieces of news were obtained from Xinhua News Agency, and the
other (about the international meeting) was written by a reporter of People's
Of the 15 features, seven were about AIDS transmission and its results, three
about prevention, two about AIDS cure, another two legislation, and the other
one the isolation of the AIDS virus.
Of the seven features about AIDS transmission and its results, six were about
affairs in a country other than China. The statements in these six features
included: 1) AIDS was a fearful disease, the only preventive measure was not to
have extramarital affairs, as no vaccine had ever been found; 2) AIDS changed
US. youth's attitude toward marriage and sex, and regulated their sexual
behavior; 3) the number of AIDS virus carriers in Taiwan was increasing, and 4)
children with AIDS were being discriminated against in the US. Besides the one
about the increase of AIDS virus carriers in Taiwan, two features about AIDS
transmission had no more than two sentences. The one about AIDS transmission in
China focused on advocating the control of imported blood products, and it
seemed that if this were done, no more worry would be necessary for the Chinese.
Meanwhile, it said that the four HIV carriers were well cared for by health
institutions concerned (Actually, one of them was dead by the time the story
Information from one of the three features about prevention stated: 1) because
of the fear caused by AIDS, Brazilians' life styles had changed; 2) anti-AIDS
education should be combined with administrative measures; and 3) pornography
and drug transactions should be wiped out. Another feature also indicated
education was an effective way to prevent the disease, although this time, this
preventive measure was conducted by Argentina not Brazil. The other feature
concerning prevention described a method invented by British virologists for
diagnosing AIDS virus with saliva. This feature had fewer than five sentences
and had no commentaries.
The two features about cures were followed by different commentaries, although
both of them had something to do traditional Chinese medicine. One described the
application of acupuncture. It indicated that in Beijing, American doctors
believed that the application of acupuncture had a long-term preventive value
and may raise the survival rate of AIDS patients and reduce the reoccurrence of
some complications. The other one was about the use of some traditional Chinese
herbal medicines. Japanese researchers did the experiments. The feature story
showed that their research was ineffective for patients in severe conditions.
The two policy features were about governmental attitudes and legislation in
the United States. One indicated that because of the spread of the fearful
disease, the U. S. government would give millions of Americans AIDS tests.
Another reported that a law forbidding AIDS patients to immigrate to the United
States would be effective. These indicated that Americans were frightened of the
disease, which originated from their bad living habits and life styles.
The only opinion expressed in the feature story about the isolation of the
first AIDS virus by a Chinese-American said that this separation was of great
significance in diagnosing and preventing AIDS in his native country.
Two of the three columns aimed at the panic in West European countries caused
by AIDS. The other one described what happened in Japan. Attitudes in all of the
three columns were similar, although the columnists were from Xinhua and
People's Daily itself, and a freelance writer. Two of them targeted the
corruption of public morals and sexual liberty in the Western countries. The one
about the Japanese situation not only attacked the decline of public morals, but
also indicated that as an oriental country, Japan should question the bad
effects of imported Western culture.
Of all the hard news and features of AIDS in People's Daily, only four pieces
(13.8%) - one hard news and three features - referred to what happened in China.
Two of the three features (each on the third page of the newspaper) praised
traditional Chinese medicine and the achievements the Chinese had made in
preventing and curing the disease. The other feature story (on the third page of
the newspaper) and the hard news (on the fourth page) showed that the disease
was foreign, and that although AIDS had entered China, it had been successfully
Most hard news and features appeared on the sixth and seventh page, two on the
fourth page, and three the third page. Usually the third and fourth pages are
used by the newspaper for less important feature stories about Chinese affairs
and some important features about international affairs. The sixth and seventh
pages are used for less important international news and features. From this, we
could surmise that AIDS information was not assigned great importance by
Thirteen of the hard news and features (45% of the total) had main theme about
AIDS transmission and its results. In other words, this newspaper stressed not
the prevention or therapeutic methods of AIDS, but emphasized the bad effects
AIDS had in other countries. The editorial stance seemed to indicate that, if
Chinese did not contact foreign people or use foreign blood products and kept
their current lifestyle, they would be immune to AIDS.
AIDS coverage of Guangming Daily in 1987 included one sidebar (2.7% of the
total AIDS coverage), seven hard news (18.9%), 26 features (70.3%) and three
The sidebar was a feature story telling how syphilis had spread in the United
States. Provided by a freelancer, the sidebar suggested a relationship between
AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. It had three sentences, and
appeared on the last page of the paper. The implication was clear: the number
of AIDS patients increased in the United States was because of their sexual
habits and lifestyle.
Among the seven pieces of hard news, four provided pure information, and the
other three had supportive background information. Among the four pieces of
"pure information" hard news, one had over five sentences, two had two sentences
and one had three sentences. All of these four were provided by Xinhua News
Agency. Three described AIDS transmission, and the other a recent discovery of
The one with the most sentences was about AIDS transmission in China. Compared
with the story about the same affair provided by People's Daily, the lead was
almost the same in the two newspapers. The difference was in the ending. The one
in Guangming Daily was shorter and gave no additional supportive information. In
Guangming Daily, the sources of all the sentences were attributed, but in
People's Daily, although some sentences of the ending were similar to that in
Guangming, the sources were not attributed. Therefore, it was quite difficult
for readers to judge where the additional information in the People's Daily news
came from. In the lead, Guangming Daily indicated the date of the news release,
but People's Daily used only "recently" instead.
Of the three pieces with supportive background information, one was about an
international meeting (four sentences), one about the worldwide transmission of
the disease (three sentences), and the other one about the first isolation of
AIDS virus in China (over five sentences). The first one was provided by Xinhua,
and the latter two by reporters from Guangming Daily. The one concerning the
first isolation of AIDS virus was similar to the feature story in People's
Daily. The reporter praised the achievement. He said it had great practical
value and was unmatchable by the similar achievements made in other countries.
Compared with that in People's Daily, this one was more detailed. Guangming put
this news on its first page.
Of the 26 features, fourteen were about AIDS preventive measures, six about
therapeutic measures, four about AIDS transmission and its results, one about
the source of the disease, one about governmental attitudes.
Of the 14 features about AIDS prevention, four concerned scientific
achievements in prevention in a country other than China. One of these was
provided by Guangming Daily's own reporter, one came from Xinhua News Agency,
and the other two were reported by freelancers. All had no more than four
The other ten feature stories concerning AIDS prevention mainly stressed the
plans, campaigns and suggestions for effective prevention. The descriptions of
the implementation of AIDS prevention campaigns launched by world health
organizations or in a country other than China stressed the importance of
education. The writers, mainly freelancers, pointed out that AIDS had a close
relationship with human behavior, ethics and values.
One of the eight features mentioned three suggestions by a Chinese virologist
to prevent the spread of AIDS in the People's Republic of China. These
suggestions included banning imported blood products, using disposable syringes
and needles, reinforcing the detection for the antibody of AIDS virus, and
It seemed that AIDS in China had nothing to do with homosexuals. Actually,
people rarely knew the word "homosexual" before the disease was discovered.
Another feature described the relationship between AIDS and hemophilia.
Seemingly, the existence of AIDS only brought one more risk to Chinese patients
Reporters from Guangming Daily wrote three of the six features about cures.
Compared with the other three (one via Xinhua and two by freelancers), they were
much longer. Two of the three were concerning the discoveries by Chinese
American scientists. These discoveries were considered as "bringing new hopes
for the study of AIDS drugs" (Guangming Daily, Sep. 1, 1987 p. 4), and "one more
step in human beings' fight against AIDS" (Guangming Daily, Dec. 29, p.4). The
other one showed that WHO officers confirmed that traditional Chinese medicine
was effective in treating AIDS, and that they hoped China to bring the ancient
medical art into full play. To Chinese, this was more proof that foreigners were
begging for help.
The feature about Egyptian law indicated that Egyptians would ask foreign
visitors to provide an certificate attesting to their HIV- status before they
entered Egypt. It also said that Egypt was controlling blood products and ban
importing blood products. All these measures were similar to what Chinese
government was doing.
Of the four features about AIDS transmission, the one about the transmission in
China was the same as that in People's Daily. Although one of the AIDS carriers
had died at that time, this report still said all of the four AIDS carriers had
received relevant treatments. It appeared on the first page of the newspaper.
The other three features were about AIDS transmission in the world at large. One
indicated that in Americas, Europe, and Oceania, AIDS was mainly transmitted via
homosexuals, bisexuals, and venous injections of drugs, while in Asia,
transmission was caused by blood transfusion, the use of blood products imported
from countries with high incidence of AIDS, and sex with people from those
countries. Another two showed figures of transmission. One of them was labeled
"the Most Recent Statistics About AIDS," but its figures had been released
almost two months before.
Two of the three columns had similar content and themes to those in People's
Daily. One talked about the panic in Western societies. It attacked sexual
freedom and careless sex, and encouraged people to be loyal to their spouses and
maintain harmony in their family. The difference between this story and the one
in People's Daily was that in this one, the columnist did not mention countries
affected by AIDS The columnist was a freelancer.
The other one was about Japanese AIDS panic. The columnist, another freelancer,
pointed out that this disease was closely related to prostitution. Although AIDS
frightened the Japanese, they did not want to eliminate prostitution, and
therefore, they could not eliminate AIDS. The other column, also written by a
freelancer, was about Americans' attitudes toward children with AIDS. This
column expressed great sympathy for children with AIDS.
Of all the hard news and features about AIDS in Guangming Daily, only five
pieces (13.5%) - two pieces of hard news and three features - referred to what
happened in China. One of the hard news pieces, about isolation of the AIDS
virus in China (on the first page of the newspaper), was little different from
the feature story about the same topic in People's Daily. It highly praised the
The hard news that an overseas Chinese with AIDS was detected (on the third
page of the newspaper) was the same as that in People's Daily. The feature about
four Chinese HIV carriers was exactly the same as that in People's Daily, but
appeared on the first page of the newspaper. The other two features, although no
matching stories in People's Daily were found, shared similar views with other
stories. These were: 1) foreigners praised traditional Chinese medicine, and 2)
preventive measures in China included controlling imported blood products,
strengthening the detection of AIDS, and eliminating prostitution.
Most hard news and features appeared on the last (fourth) page of the
newspaper. Four appeared on the first page (three about affairs in China and one
was the comparison between AIDS and hemophilia). Two appeared on the third page
( one about Chinese AIDS situation and one about AIDS in the world). Fourteen
pieces (37.8%) were about AIDS prevention. None of the hard news and features
was about mortality associated with the disease.
One thing more interesting to note was that Guangming used two different
translated terms for AIDS. Although the translations had the same
pronunciations, with different Chinese characters, implications could be made
from the translated terms. One of the translation, which was also used uniformly
by People's Daily, had no implications, but the other one may mean that this
disease was caused by love affairs.
AIDS coverage of China Daily was composed of one sidebar (1.2%), 51 pieces of
hard news (61.4%), 30 feature stories (36.1%), and one column (1.2%).
The sidebar was a feature story of an international award for best photo. Since
the photo of an AIDS patient received the first award, it was quite reasonable
to publish the photo, although readers could only gain terrible implications
from that photo.
Among the 51 pieces of hard news, 23 provided pure information, 23 had
supportive background information, and five provided an opposite view to the
opinions or behavior of the main characters in the story.
One of the different angle hard news stories was about AIDS transmission in
China. It described an American tourist with AIDS who was sent back to the
United States. It indicated that before his flight back, Chinese doctors said
his general condition was good, but upon arriving in the Philippines, US.
doctors said the patient was seriously ill. This story was not attributed.
Of all the hard news, four described AIDS in China. Besides the story mentioned
above, one more piece concerned the same AIDS patient. The information about
this tourist was unavailable from either People's Daily or Guangming Daily. Only
one of the four hard news story was reported by People's Daily and Guangming
Daily - the overseas Chinese with AIDS. The report on this affair by China Daily
was more detailed than the other two. China Daily also provided a piece of news
concerning the implementation of preventive measures in a local area. These news
stories just indicated that controlling imported blood products and reinforcing
detection would be enough to prevent the spread of AIDS in the People's Republic
Nine of the 30 feature stories described AIDS affairs in China. Generally these
stories showed that 1) Western countries were greatly affected by AIDS and on
the contrary, Chinese were free from AIDS; 2) moral corruption caused AIDS; 3)
preventive measures should include sex and ethics education and control of blood
transfusions; 4) traditional Chinese medicine was very effective in curing the
disease; and 5) even foreigners invited Chinese physicians to research in their
But, a few features did show that preventive measures were insufficient in
China. The features about AIDS affairs in other countries showed that 1)
discoveries made by scientists from a country other than China were incomplete;
and 2) preventive measures should include sex education with stress on family
values, control of blood transfusion, and forbidding drug use. In some of the
features concerning scientific discoveries, the nationality of the scientists
was unclear, except one thing -- they were not from China.
Only four pieces of the hard news and feature stories appeared on the first
page of the newspaper. Affairs about AIDS in other countries were usually put on
the last (eighth) page. Eighty five percent of the total hard news and features
were from Xinhua. The sources of five pieces of hard news were not clear. Twenty
pieces of the total hard news and features emphasized on AIDS prevention, and 19
Like those in People's Daily and Guangming Daily, the column in China Daily
also aimed at the panic caused by AIDS in Western countries. The columnist was
Comparison among the three newspapers
Quantitatively, comparing the AIDS coverage reflected in the four categories,
sidebar, hard news, feature and column, the People's Daily had a close
correlation with Guangming Daily (r=0.88) and China Daily (r=0.779), but the
correlation between Guangming Daily and China Daily was not high (r=0.45). These
may indicate that People's Daily occupied a leading position, and other
newspapers, despite their different readerships, followed the People's Daily in
the aspect of handling news(Fig. 1). Except People's Daily, newspapers mainly
serving people from outside China may be quite different from those serving
[--- Pict Graphic Goes Here ---]
China Daily provided more than twice as much information as either People's
Daily or Guangming Daily, and its percentage of hard news in 1987 was the
highest among the three newspaper; while the AIDS news coverage of Guangming
Daily was mainly composed of feature stories, and among the three newspapers,
its number of hard news stories was the smallest. However, the proportion of
the features in Guangming Daily is the biggest. The total amount of AIDS
coverage of People's Daily in 1987 was the smallest, but the number of the
sidebars highest (Table 1).
Table 1. Composition of AIDS Coverage of People's Daily, China Daily,
and Guangming Daily 1987
[--- Pict Graphic Goes Here ---]
The proportions of the total hard news and features covering Chinese AIDS
information in the three newspapers were very similar (Table 2). The low
proportion (15-16%) may indicate that the newspapers felt that AIDS had little
to do with the People's Republic of China. While comparing the amount of total
hard news and features based on the reported area, we found similar correlations
to those gained from the comparison of the composition of AIDS coverage of the
three newspapers, Newspapers paid great attention to the collection of AIDS news
from the North America, European countries, and the world organizations. As for
the Asian countries and areas, especially those around China, People's Daily and
Guangming Daily did not show the same concern.
Classification of Hard News and Features in People's Daily, China Daily and
Guangming Daily 1987 on the Basis of Reported Area
[--- Pict Graphic Goes Here ---]
H*: Hard news. F*: Features
In 1987 prevention was a very important topic to these newspapers. China Daily
and Guangming Daily had prevention as their first priority, but People's Daily
stressed spreading the information of AIDS transmission, fear and harmful
effects caused by the disease (Table 3).
Sixty-nine pieces of total hard news and features were from Xinhua News Agency,
with a proportion of 85.2% of the total stories. Half of the information in
People's Daily was from Xinhua (13 pieces); but only 27.2% of the total hard
news and features in Guangming was from Xinhua (9 pieces). Guangming Daily
depended more on freelancers to provide them with news (13 pieces, with a
proportion of 39.4%). Twelve pieces (46%) of the total hard news and features in
People's Daily were reported by its own staff, 10 pieces (30.3 %) in Guangming
Daily, but only 3 pieces (3.7%) in China Daily.
The proportion of the reports having more than 5 sentences in the total hard
news and features in People's Daily, China Daily and Guangming Daily was 50%,
44%, and 51.5%, respectively; that of the reports having just one sentence was
30% and 4.9% respectively for People's Daily and China Daily in that order. In
Guangming Daily, all the reports have more than one sentences.
Only four events in 1987 were covered by all the newspapers, but the dates at
which the reports about the same affair were published in the three newspapers
sometimes were different, their styles were different, and the information in
them sometimes was also different. One of them was reported on January by China
Daily, on February by People Daily, and March by Guangming Daily. Another
reported on June 29 by China Daily, July 5 by People Daily and Guangming Daily,
was about the spread of AIDS in China. In People Daily and Guangming Daily, the
stories did not tell the readers that one of the four HIV carriers in China had
died, but in China Daily, the death was mentioned in the headline. Some figures
about the disease transmission were reported by the two Chinese language
newspapers several months after they were released and reported by the English
language one. A suggestion made by a famous Chinese pathologist was reported by
China Daily almost 3 months later than those two newspapers. The People's Daily
and Guangming Daily did not even mention the discovery of full blown AIDS
patients in China.
Chinese newspapers covered AIDS in their own unique way. In general, news
coverage was infrequent, short in length, had unclear dates, and reflected the
Chinese way of interpreting the news.
While there was little news concerning AIDS in the two Chinese newspapers, in
the English language newspaper, the amount of news was also small. Stories there
were short in length. The proportion of reports having fewer than five sentences
was high in the three major newspapers, perhaps depriving readers of necessary
information with respect to an issue as complex as AIDS. Dates of news release
and of the affairs were vague. The words "recently" and "most recently"
frequently appeared, but sometimes they meant one or two months ago.
Most of the news stories were put in positions indicating a lack of importance
to the average reader. Few of the stories appeared on the first page of the
newspapers. Most were put on the last or the last but one page, which may
indicate that this news was less important.
Most of the news came from Xinhua News Agency, some were written by the
reporters from the newspapers, and very few were freelancers. None of these news
stories came directly from a foreign news agency. For some news stories,
attributions were unclear. A reader could hardly distinguish which parts were
from the sources and which parts were the reporters' own view. Because
information from only one view point constituted a large proportion of the
stories, readers could not make an informed decision without an overall
knowledge of the whole problem. Most of the features concerning discoveries
made by people from other countries showed disapproval at their endings. This
study could not determine if the newspapers added these disapproving opinions,
if they were added by Xinhua News Agency, or existed originally. However,
because Chinese reporters may perceive objectivity differently than in the
United States, it is hard to conclude that it is not objective for them only to
mention an event.
Lastly, news content and emphasis varied. Some stories were not reported by the
two Chinese language newspapers, such as the discovery of an American tourist
with AIDS in China and his deportation by the Chinese government. People's Daily
stressed the bad effects caused by AIDS transmission, Guangming Daily stressed
prevention, and China Daily treated prevention and transmission equally. Thus,
the information a reader gained from one newspaper was different from that
gained by another reader from another newspaper.
In reviewing these Chinese newspapers, this study shed light on coverage and
coverage patterns with respect to AIDS and in doing so showed that these
newspapers cannot be treated as "the Party's propaganda organ," or the "tool of
communist indoctrination." When reporting AIDS issues, Chinese newspapers
largely viewed the disease as something accompanying Western lifestyles and
through the prism of Chinese morals and Chinese traditions of communication.
These traditions cannot be looked at exclusively through the looking glass of
the Chinese Communist Party. For although the Chinese Communist Party has
emphasized high socialist consciousness and spiritual civilization, no clear
definition concerning these concepts can be found in Marxism. In the People's
Republic of China, the maintenance of a traditional Chinese lifestyle has been
used to make up for the blank slate of Marxism and it is those traditions, fused
with Marxism, that are reflected in news coverage.
Long before Communism, Confucianism advocated stability and harmony of society.
The Chinese traditional lifestyle is mainly composed of Confucianism and its
logical derivations. Confucianism, which was founded by Confucius (551-479 BC.),
stresses the importance of self-discipline and mutual benevolence in defining
the five relationships, that is, between king and subordinates, father and son,
husband and wife, elder brother and younger brother, and between friends.
The starting point of Mao's "cultural revolution" was to break up the Confucian
concepts of social stratum. Mao himself did not totally get rid of the old
ideology. He only removed some superficial phenomena of the traditional Ritual
Rules, and, though unaware of it, put himself in the same position as a
traditional leader if measured with Chinese traditional values. In Mao's age,
the Chinese Communist Party advocated a policy of selective heritage. This
means, as Mao put it, " to make foreign things serve China, to make the past
serve the present, to assimilate their essence, and reject their dross" (Mao,
1983). He became the supreme ruler and the mainstay supporting the society.
After his death, traditional values, which had not be eliminated during Mao's
Scholars from countries other than the People's Republic of China have had a
long march in understanding Chinese mass media. From about 1949 to the early
1970s before President Nixon made his trip to China, scholars such as Houn
(1961) and Yu (1964) viewed the media as tools for political indoctrination by
the Communist Party. Three or four years after Mao Tse-tung's death, researchers
compared Chinese media during the Mao's period and after his death and
discovered some interesting changes. Chu, upon examining communication and
cultural change in China, found that the cultural change in Mao's times
presented a challenge in the form of the communist political ideology versus
Chinese traditional values. Chu believed that "instead of following the
Confucian ethic of interpersonal harmony, the people of China (were) being
taught to accept conflict as a way of life and social progress. Innovation and
national self-reliance (were) being espoused to edge out traditional
conservatism" (Chu, G. C., 1979, pp. 2-3).
After Mao's death, Chu believed that a trend toward pragmatism had begun to
emerge in Chinese media. Pragmatism, a philosophical system or movement
stressing practical consequences and values as standards by which concepts were
to be analyzed and their validity determined, contradicted the traditional
conservatism that originated from the Confucianism. As such, pragmatism is
regarded as an ideology imported from Western countries (Chu, 1979).
By about 1989, scholars, witnessing a rapid development of the mass media in
China in the previous decade, noted the significance of economic development to
Chinese mass media. Said Bishop, "The population is now much more sophisticated,
and it would be hard to launch a real ideological crusade." At the same time,
media were restricted, relative to the Western experience in that "criticisms of
the foundations of the state and the Party have always been off-limits" (Bishop,
1989, p. 176).
Chinese journalists, equipped with modern technologies, have developed "a
twofold responsibility. Those are to (1) utilize the Western concept for better
informing other countries about the 55 nationalities that share the world' most
populated country; and (2) adhere to the principles of Marxism-Leninism and Mao
Tse-tung Thought" (Chang, 1989).
Studies looking at the interplay of politics and journalism in China suggest
that the communism Marx advocated is different from that advocated by Chinese
Communist Party. When Marxism is integrated with the practice in China, it
becomes "an embellished Leninism-Stalinism built on traditional feudalism."
While Communist ideology is the base of Chinese Communist Party, even Party
leaders have been affected by Chinese traditional values (Lee, 1990). Therefore,
Chinese journalists have to serve two masters - leaders and readers (Polumbaum,
1990; Womack, 1990).
Chan has analyzed the processes and tensions of the recent Chinese media reform
and posited that market mechanism has created competitive pressure on Chinese
domestic media to imitate their foreign rivals. At the same time, the influence
of foreign media culture in China is uneven and is contingent on the strength of
ideological control at both central and local levels, as well as on the media's
nature, geographical location and degree of commercialization (Chan, 1994).
Chang and his colleagues conducted an extensive content analysis of China
Central Television National Network News and People's Daily domestic edition in
1992, and compared this and earlier content analyses 15 years before. They
suggested that since the reform in late 1970s, news in China has provided the
Chinese society and people with the baseline knowledge needed for the building
of a forced consensus, the basis of communist rule and legitimacy (Chang, et
Thus scholars must remember that ideological influences on media in the
People's Republic of China necessarily consists of the nexus of Chinese
traditional values, Marx's communism, and modern Western concepts. So, an
explanation of AIDS (or other news) coverage must look to those roots. Because
China has never forgotten Confucian ideology, the effects of this belief system
can be seen in the coverage of AIDS. These include: 1) praise of the
achievements of China and of those having something to do with China; 2)
advocacy of Chinese traditional lifestyles and disapproval of Western
lifestyles; 3) lack of coverage of the news regarded as violating the
traditional values such as homosexuality; and 4) the sympathetic expressions for
children with AIDS. (As one of the famous Confucian, Mencius believed that the
nature of human at birth is good, or, in other words, children have no guilt.)
While the Chinese government is no more (or less) a supporter and a
representative of its traditions, some Western views, including competitive
thoughts and objectivity, have entered China with the implementation of the
economic reform and open policies. As proof of this, the organizational
structure of these newspapers has started to differentiate. China Daily has been
responsible for its own finances. People's Daily and Guangming Daily were
sponsored solely by the government. As the tongue of the Party, People's Daily
had more priority than Guangming Daily and received more money from the
government. To survive, China Daily has had to find recent news to attract its
readers. To increase the variety of news and lower its cost, obtaining its news
through Xinhua was a better option than sending its own reporters abroad.
Because Guangming Daily could not afford to obtain many pieces of news through
Xinhua News Agency most of its stories were features provided by freelancers.
Because of these disparate forces, observers should abandon the stereotype that
newspapers from the People's Republic of China are unanimously the tongue of the
party. Many factors influence Chinese newspapers. As this study has indicated,
the distinction between China and Western countries is not necessarily caused by
the communism, but traditional culture, values and feudal background of more
than 2,000 years. Without a clear understanding of the influences of Chinese
traditional values, no clear understanding of the Chinese media is possible.
Meanwhile, we should understand although Chinese traditional values may "hide"
AIDS, these same values also have benefits in preventing the disease. While
these provide us with the necessary background to study Chinese media and
coverage of issues such as AIDS, questions still remain. They will be the
subject of further study.
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