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People, propaganda and profit: Understanding media in China

Offer semester
2nd semester

Lecture time
Wednesday 14:30 - 16:20

Lecture venue

Course description

The aim of this course is to understand China’s changing media landscape in post 1978 reform period. The course surveys the historical roots of mass propaganda in the Chinese media during the Mao Era, analyzing the political, social and cultural dimensions of their developments. This will be followed by an in-depth look at how Deng’s market liberalization policies have infused profit making mechanisms that reshaped media practices within the context of continued government control. Specific examples will be used to illustrate how the emergence of new media technology enabled the voice of the people to be heard, enabling new facets of the media’s role as a communication vehicle. Using the “people, propaganda, and profit” framework throughout the semester, the course will examine the implications of shifting relations between the state, society, and the market on cultural or media production and reception.

This course utilizes media studies and sociology theories and engages students in a cross-disciplinary investigation on the social implications of the changing media environment in China. By analyzing various forms of media and communication, including newspapers, television, film, advertising, the arts, and new media, this course examines the subtleties and dynamic interplay of evolving social, political, and economic forces and their prospects for the transformation of mass media and culture in China.

Course learning outcomes

  • Identify and describe major factors that transformed China’s media from a vehicle of mass propaganda to mass communication.
  • Assess the limitations of unfettered media commercialization and profit making within continued Party ideological domination.
  • Describe the emerging of the people’s voice via the rise of new media, other diverse media and popular culture forms and analyze its contribution to the development of China’s nascent civil society.
  • Critically analyze the on-going debate concerning media autonomy and Party control by applying various media studies and sociology theories covered.

Study load

ActivitiesNumber of Hours
Reading / self-study26
Assessment: Essay / Report writing50
Assessment: Presentation (incl preparation)20


Group project30%
Individual assignment40%
Tutorial presentation and participation30%

Required reading

Brady, A. M. (2009). Mass persuasion as a means of legitimation and China’s popular authoritarianism. American Behavioral Scientist53(3), 434-457.

DeLuca, K. M., Brunner, E., & Sun, Y. (2016). Constructing public space: Weibo, WeChat, and the transformative events of environmental activism in China. International Journal of Communication10, 19.

Hawes, C. S., & Kong, S. (2013). Primetime dispute resolution: reality TV mediation shows in China’s “harmonious society”. Law & Society Review47(4), 739-770.

Jiang, Z. (2011). Environmental journalism in China. In S. L. Shirk (Ed.), Changing Media: Changing China, pp. 115-127.

Kang, L. (2012). Searching for a new cultural identity: China’s soft power and media culture today. Journal of Contemporary China, 21(78), 915-931.

Kraus, R. C. (2004). The party and the arty in China: The new politics of culture. Lanham, Md. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. [pp. 1-36]

Ma, E. K. W. (2000). Rethinking media studies. De-Westernizing media studies. [pp. 21-34]

Shao, G., Lu, J., & Hao, Y. (2016). Assessing China’s media reform. Asian Perspective40(1), 27-50.

Sima, Y., & Pugsley, P. C. (2010). The rise of a ‘me culture’ in postsocialist China youth: Individualism and identity creation in the blogosphere. International Communication Gazette, 72(3), 287-306.

Stross, R. (1990). The return of advertising in China: a survey of the ideological reversal. The China Quarterly123, 485-502.

Sullivan, J. (2014). China’s Weibo: Is faster different?. New Media & Society16(1), 24-37.

Wang, Y. (2005). The amateur’s lightning rod: DV documentary in postsocialist China. Film Quart58(4), 16-26.

Zhao, Y. Z. (2000). Watchdog on party leashes? Context and implications of investigative journalism in post-Deng China. Journalism Studies, 1(2), 577-597.

Recommended reading

Cheek, T. (2006). Living with reform: China since 1989. Zed Books.

Goldstein, A., & Yang, G. (2016). The Internet, social media, and a changing China. University of Pennsylvania Press. [HKU e-book]

Latham, K. (2007). Pop culture China!: Media, arts, and lifestyle. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. [HKU e-book]

Required websites

SupChina Sources 2017 for China news, insight, and humor


Course co-ordinator and teachers

Office opening hours adjustment