Television Viewing and Perceptions of Traditional Chinese Values among Chinese College Students

Article excerpt

Television is not simply an entertainment medium; it has the ability to communicate the norms, rules, and values of a society. Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, and Signorielli (1986) state that the major social function of television lies in the continual repetition of patterns (myths, ideologies, facts, relationships, etc.), which serve to define the world, legitimize the social order, and cultivate cultural values. In a similar vein, Ball-Rokeach and DeFleur (1990) state that mass communication can play an important part in creating the conditions for development of values and value priorities. When substantial viewing time is devoted to programs from another culture, these effects become more salient. The current research investigates links between domestic and imported television viewing and endorsement of traditional Chinese values in a group of Chinese college students. Before presenting research questions and data, we will briefly review the literatures relating to (a) Chinese cultural values, and (b) media, cultural values, and cultivation theory.

Chinese Cultural Values

Numerous authors have noted the centrality of values to cultural integrity (Hofstede, 1980; Rokeach, 1973). Chinese society has been strongly influenced by Confucian principles of harmony and hierarchy (Hofstede, 1980; Ting-Toomey, 1994). Confucianism describes four principles enabling society to survive and prosper: Jen (Humanism), Yi (Righteousness), Li (Propriety), and Chong (Wisdom) (Yum, 1988). These broad principles still guide Chinese people's behavior in seeking harmony in relationships with others and social integration (Ng, 1998/1999). In dealing with people, Confucius describes a number of virtues (e.g., courtesy, persistence, patience, and sincerity) that allow for open and harmonious interpersonal relationships. Confucius stressed the importance of maintaining hierarchical relations as well as harmony. In order to maintain social stability, Confucius advocates that social hierarchical orders be observed and respected. Thus, if the outer side of Confucianism is conformity and acceptance of social roles, norms, and orders, the inner side is cultivation of conscience, morals, and character for the sake of stability and hierarchy. However, these values are receiving increasing competition from alternative sets of modern values (e.g., pleasure, individual achievement, and beauty).

Media, Cultural Values, and Cultivation Theory

Substantial scholarship has focused on the relationship between the media and cultural values. For some, the goal has been to illuminate the ways in which particular media messages reinforce and propagate existing cultural values (Carbaugh, 1988). For others the primary interest has been in the ways in which the media may operate as a threat to existing cultural values. Many critical scholars claim that foreign media play a significant role in changing indigenous value systems and cultures. It has been suggested that Western media can affect economic values by increasing desire for Western-produced goods and services (Beltran, 1978; Vilanilam, 1989). Similarly, media critics have suggested that social values are changed (Virulrak, 1983). For instance, Dorfman and Mattelart (1972) described the ways in which comics like Donald Duck might influence Latin American school children to be more individualistic, competitive, and materialistic. Such influences have also been suggested in political values (e.g., Masmoudi, 1979) and aesthetic values (e.g., Dissanayake, 1985; Virulrak, 1983). Unfortunately, scholars have rarely investigated the relationship between viewing foreign-produced media and cultural values from a social-scientific perspective.

Gerbner's cultivation theory is one of the most important and widely applied theories addressing the effects of media on beliefs and values (Gerbner, 1990; Morgan & Shanahan, 1998). According to Gerbner (1990), "cultivation means the specific independent (though not isolated) contribution that a particularly consistent and compelling symbolic stream makes to the complex process of socialization and enculturation" (p. …


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