The metalanguage’s mechanism of communicating the whole via the part

How the image of China is constructed via non-governmental symbols

On January 17, 2011, a publicity video clip entitled “People” which was designed to showcase the image of the present-day China started to be run on the world-famous big screen in the Times Square in New York City, marking the first time that China presents to the world its “soft power of culture” with an unprecedented openness and confidence. In this “People” episode, more than 50 most outstanding individuals from China’s scientific and technological circle, the financial circle, the sports circle and the art and literature circle are featured, who are shown in groups. At this “Crossroads of the World,” those “Chinese faces” greeted the people who came from around the world, projecting the national image of the contemporary China.

I mmediately after this video was shown, immense sensations were created. Among a multitude of reactions, the views expressed by Ji Yun, an assistant professor with Buddhist College Singapore, deserve our attention. He believes that China’s use of such a mode of publicity indicates that China still lacks in-depth understanding about the world. In one of his articles, he argues, “This recent version of the publicity video is a mere repetition of a number of conventional stereotypic practices. The movie itself is produced with stunning beauty but what is portrayed in it looks like a superbly perfect heaven cut off from the real-world human existence. There is little that evokes warm feelings of humanity with which the viewers would identity. But it is precisely this feeling of humanity that is most valued in the Western culture. In particular, in this present version, all the people are celebrities who are readily identifiable to the general populace in China. However, except for Yao Ming and Zhang Ziyi, few of those Chinese celebrities are known to the average American audience. Will an ordinary American person change his or her impression about a country simply because a group of unknown celebrities have just flashed across the screen in front of his or her eyes? The answer is definitely negative!”1 He points out that, as a matter of fact, this recent publicity video was still produced from the conventional perspective of the Chinese audiences themselves. If China really wants to expand the Westerners’ understanding about it, the advertising campaign must be approached from the Western perspective, according to the way the Westerners view China. “Rather than having a large group of celebrities whom only the Chinese can recognize put on a grand show, it would be much more effective to have an image, say, a Chinese soldier wading through the deep water during a major flood of the Yangtze

River. With two thirds of his body submerged in the flood, the soldier carries a plastic basin on top of his head, and inside the basin a baby is fast asleep, safe and sound. Or it could be an image about the ordinary life of an ordinary family, who give hearty smiles after a day’s hard work. Such an image could allow European and American individuals who have never been to China to understand that, despite differences in the political system, people who live in China are not a totally different species of human creatures. Instead, they are equally normal human beings, with normal human feelings and emotions just like anybody else in the Western world.”2 Just as the renowned public relations expert Richard Edel- man put it, “(in the creation of national brands), the fewer the connections with the government, the more effective such creation will be.” As a matter of fact, the public life is inseparable from the performance of the government and the profound truth behind Edelman’s assertion should be self-evident.

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