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Wrestling with ‘the West’ – Consistency and change in representations of the United States in the Chinese Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily, 1949-1950 & 1978-1979

By M. Siegerist


Images of the West – how consistent are they? On the basis of an extensive review of theories of Occidentalism, the author conceptualizes portrayals of the West in the non-Western world as both a category in identity construction and a – mostly political – strategy, against a backdrop of dominant Western power. The author goes on to examine the consistencies and changes in such representations of the West, focusing on portrayals of the United States as a proxy for the West in the newspaper People’s Daily – the mouthpiece newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Between 1949-1950, when China was hostile to the United States, and 1978-1979, when China opened up to the Western world, representations of the United States predictably changed from extremely negative to generally positive. However, underneath these changes, the colorful portrayals of the United States in the People’s Daily also displayed unexpected consistencies, both with each other and with images that existed in China prior to 1949. The author hypothesizes (1) that these continuities are necessary in order for general changes in imaging to be accepted by the intended audience, and, by implication, to be effective in promoting the images’ corresponding strategic goals. She also concludes (2) that expressions of Occidentalism may contain a third, intermediary pole – in the Chinese case Japan; (3) that emulation and rejection of the West are ideal-typical policy extremes; and (4) that the dimension of dominant Western power does not universally apply – as the case of imperial China until the 1840s attests – making Occidentalism a more direct inversion of Orientalism

Topics: Letteren, Occidentalism, China, United States, images, representations, politics, consistency, People's Daily, Chinese Communist Party, CCP, history, People's Republic of China, PRC
Year: 2009
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