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Framing The Revolution In Chinese

November 8, 2018

Greater China_s reporting on the role of social media in the Arab UprisingsIt will come as no surprise to most of us that how the Egyptian Revolution, and the Arab Spring more generally, was covered in global media would depend on the attitudes of authorities in those countries toward uprisings in general, democratic uprisings more specifically, and the use of social media as a tool of mobilization in particular.

Still, the details of how particular media frame events is usually interesting, and that proves to be the case in an article entitled “Tinted revolutions in prismatic news: Ideological influences in Greater China’s reporting on the role of social media in the Arab Uprisings” by Ying Roselyn Du of Hong Kong Baptist University, published in Journalism.

Du uses a sample of 162 news stories for the analysis, including 55 from mainland China, 65 from Hong Kong, and 42 from Taiwan. These stories came from 60 newspapers, including 32 from mainland China, 15 from Hong Kong, and 13 from Taiwan.

Essentially, Dr. Du found that newspapers in Taiwan and Hong Kong were far more likely to discuss the role of social media in the Egyptian protests than mainland Chinese newspapers, and that Taiwanese newspapers were more likely to write about the ways people found to get around Egypt’s Internet blockade than either Chinese or Hong Kong news media.

Du concludes that:

Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan have contrasting ideological controls amounting to not free, partly free, and free press systems. The results of this study support the general hypothesis that newspapers in the three jurisdictions applied different frames in their coverage of the Arab Spring and the related Internet censorship issues. The constraints of communist ideology led newspapers in mainland China to adopt frames distinct from those applied in the other two regions, especially Hong Kong, in covering the Arab Spring.

Much of what Dr. Du is saying in this article parallels her findings in her 2015 article “Same Events, Different Stories: Internet Censorship in the Arab Spring Seen From China” published in Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly.

Anyone who has read much of my stuff knows I’m no fan of the way most communication scholars handle the concept of framing.

As conceived by Gregory Bateson and Erving Goffman, frames are perceptual ways of organizing human action and experience into habitual or institutionalized types of situations like ‘family dinner,’ ‘university lecture,’ or ‘birthday,’ and secondary frames (“keyings”) that shift the character of these primary frames, like ‘joke’ or ‘rehearsal’ or ‘formal.’ In any given situation, social actors perceive and interpret situations, adopting the appropriate frames from their socially learned repertoires, which in turn organizes
their attention, perception, understanding, experience, motivation, emotion, action,
communication and so forth.

Any serious discussion of framing, therefore, ought to involve people interacting with texts–the processes of people creating news stories, or the processes of people consuming them.

Mainstream communication studies allows scholars to claim to recover frames directly from texts; that is, scholars treat frames as a property of the texts themselves, of which the scholar is a nonparticipant discoverer. Du’s work clearly falls into this category, insisting that frames carry ideologies which can be located within texts themselves, not in the encounters of people with texts, can be easily quantified and labeled with simple categories like “not free,” and “partially free.”

Still, one can hardly blame Du for engaging in a form of study that is normative in her field. While I would love to know more about how Chinese news consumers in Hong Kong and Beijing use these media accounts to frame their interpretations of the Arab Spring, I’ll have to live with imagined consumers adopting statistically likely positions in the face of particularly constructed texts.

They’re still interesting.


Social media is widely seen as playing a crucial role in the Arab Uprisings. This study compares news coverage in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan regarding social media in the Arab Uprisings. Content analysis of 162 news stories revealed that media in the three regions constructed their coverage within different frames, despite the events being geographically remote to the three Greater China regions and occurring in countries with which Greater China has little cultural, religious, ethnical, or economic connections. Overall, a clear pro-social-media pattern was found in Hong Kong and Taiwan media coverage, whereas in mainland China social media and the users involved in the Arab Uprisings were treated in the news in an obscured or unfavorable manner. Mainland China’s coverage was less likely to mention censorship of social media in the revolutions, whereas Hong Kong and Taiwan media frequently reported censorship and took a stance against it. Hong Kong and Taiwan media were also inclined to relate situations in the Arab Uprisings to mainland China. Such variations in the media coverage arguably are mainly due to ideological differences.


Du, Ying Roselyn. 2015. Same Events, Different Stories: Internet Censorship in the Arab Spring Seen From China. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 93(1): 99-117.

Du, Ying Roselyn. 2017. Tinted revolutions in prismatic news: Ideological influences in Greater China’s reporting on the role of social media in the Arab Uprisings. Journalism 19 (9-10): 1471-1489.

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