Critical discourse analysis of Chinese household appliance advertisements from 1981 to 1996

  • Wang Chong

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The boom in the Chinese advertising industry after its economic reform in 1978 has aroused the scholarly interest of linguistic researchers. However, most studies of advertising discourse tend to consist of pure linguistic analysis focusing on vocabulary, grammar and textual organization. Little attention has been given to other components, such as the visual images of the advertisements, while study at the ideological level is rare. In order to fill this gap, I employed a critical approach to Chinese household appliance advertisements that appeared in the 1980s and 1990s.The theoretical framework for this research was constructed in line with the theories of Fairclough (1994, 2006), Altheide (1996), Wisker (2008), Halliday (2008) Dyer (1993), Williamson (1978, 2005), and so on. Of these theories, the theory of critical discourse analysis as developed by Norman Fairclough has been central throughout the research. The focus of the research is centered on the particular manifestations of the advertisements in magazines entitled Household Appliance rather than broad generalization. To this end, purposive sampling was undertaken and approximately 82 sample advertisements were collected covering three time periods within the general chronological frame of 1981 to 1996 (i.e. 1981-1985, 1986-1990 and 1991-1996). The data analysis has been conducted on the two major components: first, linguistic features with three values (i.e. experiential, relational and expressive values) and intertextuality; second, the visual images concerning the themes of actors, clothing, props and settings. The research findings revealed that the ideological values in the Chinese household appliance advertisements are embedded in the advertising language and illustrations. These ideological elements represent the values of culture, social relations, economy and politics. The findings also revealed that the ideological values were either dynamic or static, but they were intertwined. Meanwhile, the comparative study of the data over the three phases presented a changing trend in ideological values. In addition these could be seen as related to the changing mainstream values in China. The findings of the analysis suggest that ideological values are adopted in the advertisements consciously or unconsciously to attract viewers’ attention and persuade them to purchase products. Meanwhile, the ideological elements have the function of mirroring and transmitting the values of society. My conclusion is that examining advertising discourse ideologically through linguistic and visual components shows how Chinese ideology moved in a pattern from simplicity to diversity (e.g. more ideologies in terms of number and variety), from being politically-oriented to being economic and profit-oriented, from conservation to globalization and westernization (e.g. more relaxed lifestyle, individuality and spiritual freedom) during the period of 1980s and 1990s. The changing pattern reflects the reality of Chinese politics, economy and society at a time when China experienced the growth of the market economy and evolution of Chinese mainstream ideologies and this also indicates the impact of economic reform on the change of ideological meanings in advertisements. It is hoped that my work allows the researcher to discover more profound meanings behind the superficial content of the advertisements.
Date of Award2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Northampton
SupervisorDave Burnapp (Supervisor) & Janet Wilson (Supervisor)

Cite this