Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

A Cluster Analysis of Gender Discrimination in Chinese and Western News Media

Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

A Cluster Analysis of Gender Discrimination in Chinese and Western News Media

Article excerpt


This study is a rhetorical analysis of the gendered language both Chinese and Western news media perpetuate in depicting the female Chinese Olympian Ye Shiwen at the 2012 London Olympics. The analysis reveals that both media employ a language that constructs Ye as an immature, childlike being whose achievements are not only unexpected but unnatural. After initially identifying Ye with the doping history of Chinese athletes in the 1990s, Western journalists depicted her as a passive victim of unethical child training programs, described in terms which imply a rhetorical identification with China's doping history. In its turn, Chinese news media defended the integrity of its Olympic ethos by casting Ye as a dutiful daughter, and innocent child; this construction of her ethos absolves her of blame by denying her agency, effectively placing strict boundaries around her ownership of achievement, boundaries which reflect normalized assumptions of submissiveness as appropriate female behavior. The readiness of both the Western and Chinese media to default to a rhetoric of gender discrimination when norms are challenged demonstrates how the Olympic ideal of surpassing boundaries can still be a closed border for Chinese women.

Keywords: gender discrimination, cluster analysis, identification, feminism, Confucianism

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1. Introduction

In the introduction, we will elaborate upon the research objectives this study aims to achieve, the research background it is built upon and the materials it examines.

1.1 Research Objectives

Drawing upon Kenneth Burke's cluster analysis-an approach to conduct rhetorical criticism, in this article, I aim to explore how the news representations of female Chinese Olympic swimming champion Ye Shiwen in both Chinese and Western news media reveal a discriminatory gender ideology against her achievement.

1.2 Research Background

In the 30th London Summer Olympic Games in 2012, Ye was 16 years old when she won the gold medal and established a world record in the 400m Individual Medley, where she completed her last 50 meters in 28.93 seconds. However, her success immediately raised the suspicion of U.S. coach John Leonard, who was the executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association. According to Leonard (Note 1), Ye must have doped because her speed in the final 50 meters was even quicker than that of the male American swimmer champion Ryan Lochte, a suspicion which was ultimately proved groundless. Olympic Games are for breaking cultural, physical boundaries as expressed in the Olympic motto of "Swifter, higher, stronger". However, the news portrayal of Ye establishes her as constrained by, rather than transcending, strong gender and cultural boundaries.

2. Theoretical Foundation

As one of the approaches to conduct rhetorical criticism, cluster analysis aims to "[reveal] the repetitive nature of a writer's associational (and terminological) logic" (Blakesley, 2002, p. 103) through the terms that convey similar semantic meanings, which Burke calls the "terministic screens" of the rhetor (Blakesley, 2002, p. 115). In other words, the terminologies we use are "a reflection of reality, by its very nature as a terminology it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent it must function also as a deflection of reality" (Burke, 1989, p. 115; emphasis original). Accordingly, the vocabulary used to describe an athlete will not only reflect the rhetor's attitude, but will in its turn select reality. Meanwhile, the vocabulary deflects the audience's attention from the rhetor's attitude and onto the object (the athlete), so that the athlete herself seems to be the source of the attitude. As Brown (1969) states, by tracing the "clusters of words and images and the listing of the elements in a work according to such generalizations as 'what goes with what', 'what versus what", and 'from what to what'" (p. …

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