Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

Rhetorical Moves in Chinese Sales Genres, 1949 to the Present

Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

Rhetorical Moves in Chinese Sales Genres, 1949 to the Present

Article excerpt

This paper examines the development of sales genres in mainland China in the pre-reform period (1949-78) and the reform period (1978 to the present). In the first period, sales qingshi (requests raised by subordinates), sales pifu (official replies), and sales tongzhi (circulars) were used. In the second period, sales qingshi and pifu disappeared while sales letters and sales invitations began to appear. In addition, sales tongzhi have evolved in response to changes in the economic context.

All of these sales genres are related to the three larger genres in Chinese written discourse: xiaxing wen (the superior writing to the subordinate), shangxing wen (the subordinates writing to the superior) and pingxing wen (equals writing to each other). In the history of Chinese written discourse, these three genres reflect the social structure. Changes in the social structure are the fundamental reason for changes in specific sales genres.

Keywords: Safes Genres, Social and Economic Context, Chinese Business Communication. History of Business Communication

This paper examines the development of sales genres used in mainland China from 1949, the beginning of the People's Republic, to the present. Writing related to sales or sales policies includes sales letters, sales qingshi (requests raised by a subordinate), sales pifu (official replies), sales tongzhi (circulars), and sales invitations.

Very few studies discuss Chinese sales genres in either written business communication or in Chinese written discourse in general. All the literature on this topic in Chinese sources comes in textbooks, such as Gu (1995) and Li (1983). These textbooks mainly provide a "recipe" (Freadman & Macdonald, 1992) for genres and may not reflect their full features. One exception is Zhu (1996; 1997a; 1997b; 1998a; 1998b; 1999), who investigates Chinese sales genres from both cultural and historical perspectives.

A few cultural studies of Chinese business communication exist. For example, Krone, Ling, and Hongmei (1997) and Varner and Beamer (1995) examine managerial practice from the perspective of cultural values. Similar research has also been conducted to explore other aspects of Chinese business communication (such as Campbell, 1996; Ulijn & Li, 1995; Zhu, 1997b).

Important related research includes Swales' (1990) work on genre, which offers a fuller view of genre than the "recipe" textbook. As Huckin (1997) points out, the limitation of genre study is too much focus on text or discourse. This study will extend genre research by combining it with a historical approach.

Historical studies to date focus on British and U.S. business writing. For example, Douglas and Hildebrandt's (1985) collection of essays examine business writing in which sales letters play a very important role in product promotion. Locker (1987) systematically traces the historical development of English business jargon. In Chinese, only gongwen (official letters) have been systematically studied.

First, this paper will provide some background knowledge about Chinese written discourse, genre study, and the history of gongwen. Second, the paper will discuss the different periods in Chinese business communication. Third, sales genres used in the periods will be examined to answer the following questions: What kinds of sales genre are used in each period of Chinese business communication? Why are different kinds of sales genres used in different periods? What factors determine the type of sales genres used in each period? How have sales genres evolved in response to social changes?


All the letters discussed in this paper are authentic letters collected from mainland China. The earlier writings come from the archives of a local business bureau. Only three letters are included in this paper because of difficulty of access. Detailed information about this source has been concealed to maintain confidentiality. …

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