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FramingofEUandUSinChineseNewspapers GraduateSchoolofCommunication ChinaandtheWest:PartnersorRivals?FramingofEUandUSinChineseParty-ownedandMarket-orientedNewspapersStudentName:XiandiHanStudentID:12687715Master’sThesisErasmusMundusMaster’sinJournalism,Media


Academic year: 2023

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Graduate School of Communication

China and the West: Partners or Rivals? Framing of EU and US in Chinese Party-owned and Market-oriented Newspapers

Student Name: Xiandi Han Student ID: 12687715

Master’s Thesis

Erasmus Mundus Master’s in Journalism, Media and Globalization Supervisor: Andreas Goldberg

Words: 7345

Date of completion: 2021-05-28



In recent years, China has become a rising power and its relations with the West are influencing the world. Two representative major western powers, the EU and the US, were chosen to see how China perceives the West in its news coverage. Framing analysis, which has been well-developed on studies of western news media, focuses on how news media presents a particular issue and affects public understanding of the issue. The use of frames in relevant EU and US news in Chinese news media has received little attention and framing analysis in different types of Chinese news media was also rarely touched upon. This research adopted a manual quantitative content analysis method to investigate how Chinese party-owned and market-oriented newspapers frame EU-related and US-related news differently from January to October of 2020. The findings of this research revealed differences in the use of frames between the EU and the US news coverage, and differences between party-owned and market-oriented newspapers indicated the propaganda nature of party news media and the reader-driven characteristic of market-oriented news media in China.

Key words: Framing Analysis; China-EU; China-US; Chinese Newspapers


China and the West: Partners or Rivals? Framing of EU and US in Chinese Party-owned and Market-oriented Newspapers


The extent of China’s relations with other countries is commonly reflected through news coverage in Chinese media (e.g., Ha et al., 2021; Zhang, 2010, 2016). Given the fierce changes in recent years in China’s relations with two major western powers: the EU and the US, this research aims to compare how Chinese news media portray the EU and America differently.

China’s relations with the EU and the US are at different stages. In 2020, China and the EU have made many economic and trade cooperation achievements, including signing the first bilateral trade agreement. However, it was a difficult year for China-US relations as the US and China force consulates to close. The EU, as a global power, is becoming more pivotal to China, particularly during the China-US trade war. As Chan (2010) observed in the first decade of the 21st century, China anticipates balancing the US hegemony with the help of a more unified EU.

The change of Chinese news coverage can be observed while China shifts its policy and diplomatic strategy with other countries. Firstly, the long history of the EU-China relations influencing how Chinese news media cover EU stories since the media in China is loyal to the Party-state (Zhang, 2016): a previous study on the image of the EU in Chinese press coverage (Zhang, 2010) showed that the EU is usually portrayed as an economic and political partner that China could side with against the US hegemony. Furthermore, prior studies also indicated the same situation when it comes to the US-related stories in Chinese news. For example, during the China-America trade war in 2018, when Beijing toned down the rhetoric and attempted to seek


more negotiations with Trump in exchange for a more ideal result, the higher use of peaceful discourses was frequently seen in Chinese news media (Ha et al., 2021). In fact, unlike western countries, China has a unique media ecosystem. Following China’s reform and opening up in the 1980s, market-oriented media has coexisted with party-sponsored media. Both, however, have to comply with Communist Party rule. President Xi Jinping emphasized the key duty of the Chinese news media is to properly guide public opinions to be in line with official views (Xu & Cao, 2019). Despite under the rule of the Communist Party, market-oriented media do not receive government subsidies and are responsible for their own profits and losses through the reader market. Party-owned media always prioritize the party’s interests, whereas market-oriented media must promote the party’s interests while also attracting more readers’ subscriptions.

Therefore, it would be interesting to focus on how the EU and America are represented by Chinese party-owned and market-oriented news media.

In terms of how the media presents a certain issue and affects public understanding of the issue, it is the focus of media framing analysis. To frame is to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem of definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation for the item described (Entman, 1993). Four general news frames including (1) conflict, (2) economic consequences, (3) human interest, and (4) attribution of responsibility identified by Neuman, Just and Crigler (1992) and Semetko & Valkenburg (2000) have been frequently used by previous scholars. When it comes to the framing of the EU and the US related news, most priory researches focus on framings in western news media, particularly from


European countries: Dutch serious newspapers frequently used the responsibility frame and the conflict frame in their EU politics coverage while the human interest frame was adopted more in Dutch sensationalist newspapers (Semetko & Valkenburg, 2000); Germany and Russian news media commonly employed an economically-framed way to cover the EU-Ukraine relations under the background of Ukraine’s energy partnership with Germany and gap disputes with Russia (Kleinschnitger, 2018). Only a small number of Chinese scholars paid attention to which topic (economic/ politic/ culture…) takes more space in Chinese newspapers. There is a lack of media framing analysis of the EU and America in Chinese news coverage. Hence, instead of focusing on frequent topics, as Kozman (2017) stated that generic frames tell us more about the way the media package any issue, the news framing analysis used by this study aims to reflect how Chinese news media interprets the EU and US affairs and which aspect of the event catches journalists’ attention the most.

Moreover, most studies are based on the situation under Obama’s America and Hu Jintao’ s presidency or before current leader Xi Jinping tightened his grip on absolute power in 2017. On the one hand, unlike their predecessors, President Xi has adopted a more ambitious global strategy from rule-follower to rule-maker in the emerging world order. Trump’ s China policy is tougher than Obama’s. On the other hand, the EU and China are pursuing a more comprehensive strategic partnership, and cooperation is entering a new phase. Both the political environment of China and the international environment have changed dramatically in recent years. Hence, it would be meaningful to focus on the media frames of EU and US in Chinese news under these new circumstances. This research investigates how Chinese party-owned newspapers and


market-oriented newspapers frame EU-related and US-related news. The findings of this research provide insights into differences in the usage of news frames in the EU and US stories between party-owned newspapers and market-oriented newspapers.


As addressed before, China is an emerging power whose relations with the West are influencing the world, particularly with two major western powers: the EU and the US.

Observing the news frames in Chinese news coverage can reveal how China views relevant international issues. Furthermore, most of the research regarding news frames in the EU and US news coverage has focused on western media. To investigate how Chinese party and market-oriented newspapers frame relevant EU and US issues, theoretical background of China’s relations with the EU and US, their image in Chinese news, and types of Chinese media are discussed first, and then this section mainly focuses on the framing analysis.

China’s relations with the EU and the US

China views its relationship with the EU as equal and open, unlike its off-track relations with America, according to what Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at the fourth session of the 13th China’s National People’s Congress in 2021: China and the EU have broad common interests, meanwhile, Wang took a firm tone to warn the US to remove unreasonable restrictions on bilateral relations and stop interfering domestic affairs (Cheng, 2021; Gu, 2021).

In recent years, when China-US relations are at the lowest point caused by trade disputes, China-EU relations are constantly deepening. China needs a responsible and coherent partner to balance the US hegemony in multipolar world order (Chan, 2010; Chang & Pieke, 2018;


Finamore, 2014; Geeraerts, 2011). The EU, as the perfect representative of the West (Wang et al., 2017) and one of the emerging powers which China can relate to, remains crucial to China (Chang & Pieke, 2018; Geeraerts, 2011; Wang et al., 2017). Since the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was proposed by Xi, Chinese shareholders in infrastructure and financial investments of Western and Southern Europe have been actively expanded, which revitalized a more proactive and engaged China-EU relation (Wang et al., 2017). In 2020, China has surpassed America to become the EU’s largest trading partner and signed an investment agreement deal with the EU. In contrast to the United States’s confrontation with China, the way the EU dealing with China is unique (Finamore, 2014; Geeraerts, 2011): as long as China meets a number of standards and keeps its policy of opening-up, the EU is willing to invest in China’s development. The EU prefers a more discrete approach (Finamore, 2014) to expand its influence through ever-increasing economic interdependence and shared values, instead of taking up military bases in Asia to curb Chinese influence (Geeraerts, 2011). Domestically, China and the EU have a common interest in enhancing social equality and welfare (Geeraerts, 2011). Internationally, both aim to promote a rule-based and inclusive global order (Wang et al., 2017). Shared interests enhance solid China-EU cooperation.

However, China-US relations have experienced turbulent changes in recent years. In human history, conflicts and competitions between an existing power and a rising power are unavoidable (Lu, 2011). Given the US’s role as a global hegemon (Chang, 2018; Finamore, 2014; Lu, 2011;

Nathan, 2009; Shambaugh, 2003) which always attempts to impart so-called universal human values to other countries (Lu, 2011; Shambaugh, 2003), China has been distrustful of the US and


suspecting its intention (Finamore, 2014; Lu, 2011; Shambaugh, 2003). Military strategic competition, conflicts of values, and current trade frictions make the US a greater threat to China than the EU. According to what President Xi called (Moore, 2021), the US has become the biggest threat to China’s security and the biggest source of chaos in the present-day world. Since 2018, President Trump raised tariffs on China to solve the trade deficit, and imposed sanctions including banning technology share with Chinese tech giants. Facing this circumstance, Xi did not want to yield and change anything structural in China’s development model (Nathan, 2019).

Chinese exports to the US dropped by 4.8% in the first five months of 2019, at the same time, Chinese exports to the EU increased by 14.2% and imports from the EU went up by 8.3 percent (Nathan, 2019). China is seeking to get rid of its dependence on the American economy and technology.

Image of the EU and the US in Chinese news

China’s relations with the EU and the US can have an impact on how they are portrayed in Chinese media. The way Chinese media cover relevant international issues highly depends on the Chinese government’s stances (Chang & Pieke, 2018; Ha et al., 2020; Lai & Zhang, 2013;

Shambaugh, 2003; Zhang, 2010). For instance, the China-EU partnership has been the focus of media attention in the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, with mostly neutral to positive coverage (Barcevičius et al., 2015: p. 106). Despite increasing doubtful voices existing when it comes to the EU’ s capacity to dealing with the eurozone debt crisis, refugee crisis, and rising nationalist sentiments, since China and the EU were in the honeymoon period at that time, Chinese media and elites still perceived a strong EU as one stable pole in the multipolar world


which China could partner with (Lai & Zhang, 2013; Chang & Pieke, 2018). In Chinese coverage about the eurozone debt crisis, the EU’ s numerous attempts to address the crisis have been highlighted, and most news showed optimism that the crisis can be solved (Lai & Zhang, 2013).

Moreover, Chinese media featured Chinese economists who remain cautiously positive about EU’s economic future (Chang & Pieke, 2018). It can be seen that the Chinese media do not want the debt crisis to make the EU seem less promising or less important to Chinese people, which indicated the Chinese government’s view of the EU as a crucial partner (Lai & Zhang, 2013: p.

33). Thus, the collaborative China-EU relations stimulate neutral and positive EU news stories.

Unlike the EU’ s media image, as the China-US conflict has heated up, the image of the US has deteriorated in Chinese news (Ha et al., 2020; Lu, 2011; Shambaugh, 2003; Yin, 2007). In past decades, China has been cautious about the export of universal human values advocated by the US (Lu, 2011; Yin, 2007), therefore, certain images such as American hegemony and demonization are frequently seen in Chinese national media (Shambaugh, 2003). As the Chinese government condemned the US allegations of China’s human rights violations, the national media of China expressed strongly opposition to American interference in internal affairs (Yin, 2007).

Furthermore, when covering the trade frictions with the US, mainstream newspapers such as Global Times and People’s Daily were more likely to depict it with tough rhetoric (Ha et al., 2020). Hence, the confrontational China-US relations generate a negative and demonized image of the US in Chinese news.

Types of news media in China

Following media marketization in the late 1970s, plenty of market-oriented news media


emerged in China. However, all news outlets are subject to official censorship and following the ruling party’s guidelines for journalistic work. Party-sponsored news outlets are propaganda-oriented and fully or partially state-subsided, while non-party news outlets rely on advertisements and readers’ subscriptions (Huang, 2016). Compared to party news outlets, market-oriented news outlets have the freedom to report “politically safe” and less sensitive issues which do not threaten the Communist Party’s sovereign (Kuang & Wei, 2018; Lee, 2000;

Simons et al., 2017). Moreover, market-driven news outlets target the public more than party-owned news media (Kuang & Wei, 2018), implying that mass appeal is crucial to market-driven news media. In summary, party-owned news media only need to consider the Communist Party’s interests as the priority, while market-oriented news media have to take care of both the party’s interests and readers’ preferences to survive. As for market-oriented media, as long as they do not cross the red line of the Party such as reporting sensitive topics that harm the government’s image, they can report the news as they want in order to trigger readers’ attention.

Generic news framing analysis

As previously stated, news framing analysis examines how the media portrays a topic and how it affects public perception. The research regarding the use of news frames in the US and the EU news coverage in Chinese news media, particularly in both party-owned and market-oriented newspapers is rarely touched upon. To explore differences in the use of frames between EU and US news in Chinese party-owned and market-oriented newspapers, the following discusses news framing analysis theory. In the communication field, framing defined by Entman (1993) and Lecheler and De Vreese (2019) refers to focus on how elements of a perceived fact are selected


and highlighted by the news media. Neuman and colleagues (1992) described framing as a conceptual tool used by media to convey, interpret and evaluate information. There is no standard definition of framing, however, generic frames identified by Neuman et al. (1992) and Semetko

& Valkenburg (2000) have been frequently adopted in previous studies (e.g. Duan & Miller, 2019;

Han et al., 2017; Kozman, 2017; Kuang & Wei, 2018; Luther & Zhou, 2005; Yang, 2012; Xie, 2015; Zhou, 2008). Generic news frames include (1) economic consequences, (2) conflict, (3) human interest and (4) attribution of responsibility.

Economic consequences frame emphasizes influences which an event, issue, action, or problem has created economically on individuals, groups or nations (Luther & Zhou, 2005;

Neuman et al., 1992; Semetko & Valkenburg, 2000). Conflict frame targets disputes or disagreement between individuals, groups or institutions to capture viewers’ attention (Semetko

& Valkenburg, 2000). Human interest frame brings a human face or an emotional angle to the presentation of an event, issue or problem (Semetko & Valkenburg, 2000: p. 95), and reflects the consequences or causes of an event or issue on human being’s lives (Duan & Miller, 2019).

Attribution of responsibility frame refers that the story attributes the responsibility of the event to what government(s) or individuals, or which government should address the issue (Duan &

Miller, 2019; Semetko & Valkenburg, 2000).

Furthermore, a unique type of Chinese coverage focuses on salient events such as leader’s national visits or speeches issued by the top-level leaders and evaluates the governing ability.

Based on this circumstance of Chinese news media, another general news frame, leadership frame, has been identified through previous studies (Kuang & Wei, 2018; Luther & Zhou, 2005;


Zhou, 2008), which refers that a news coverage emphasizes the activities, actions or speeches of a leader of a nation, an institution, a government agency or a group, or highlights the discussion and assessment of the leadership (Kuang&Wei, 2018: p. 1440). Generic news framing analysis, which is more generalizable to investigate different news story topics occurring in different time and space (Duan & Miller, 2019), could transcend thematic limitations (de Vreese, 2005). This research focuses on the usage of frames in general EU and US news stories, including a variety of topics from relevant EU and US news articles, rather than coverage of a single event or a specific type of coverage. Hence, to explore how Chinese newspapers frame EU-related and US-related news differently, five general frames are included in this research: (1) economic consequences, (2) conflict, (3) human interest, (4) attribution of responsibility and (5) leadership.

Differences in news framing between EU and US news stories. Firstly, economic frames dominated in the relevant EU news coverage proved by previous studies. The EU as an economic power in the global sphere became the dominant frame in Chinese news coverage after the EU became China’s largest trading partner and EU-China trade risen exponentially since 2004 (Zhang, 2010). Between 2006 and 2010, there was a dramatic increase in economic news of the EU in Chinese news media, owing to the close economic cooperation between China and the EU (Lai & Zhang, 2013). As an increasing number of European countries participated in China’s proposed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, in the Chinese press’s coverage of Europe, the business and finance sectors drew the most attention and economy was the top frame (Barcevičius et al., 2015). Therefore, the economic consequences frame is likely to appear in more EU news stories. Moreover, the human interest frame emphasizes personal experiences


influenced by a certain issue or event. Human interest frames were frequently used to elicit viewers’ feelings (Yang, 2012), and in previous Chinese crisis coverage there were numerous reports about individuals’ improved lives due to the policy. In terms of this research, the China-EU economic collaboration stimulates China’s development and improves Chinese people’

s lives, as the Chinese government would like citizens to remember. Especially in light of trade tensions with the US, which could harm both countries’ economies and negatively impact people’s lives, the government wants people to sympathize with the positive aspects of policy such as how individuals benefit from the China-EU trade deal. Hence, this study anticipates seeing more human interest frames in the EU-related news.

Nevertheless, a negative image of the US is always visible in the Chinese news media (Shambaugh, 2003). The conflict frame and the attribution of responsibility frame are expected to be more commonly used in US-related topics due to the confrontational China-US relations and long history of mutual demonization (Chang, 2018; Finamore, 2014; Lu, 2011; Nathan, 2009;

Shambaugh, 2003), in contrast to China’s collaborative relations with the EU (Chan, 2010; Chang

& Pieke, 2018; Finamore, 2014; Geeraerts, 2011) and frequent EU’s positive image in the news (Barcevičius et al., 2015; Chang & Pieke, 2018; Lai & Zhang, 2013). When confronted with America’s accusations, China’s high-ranking officials usually make firm statements to bolster the nation’s faith. The leadership frame is widely used by Chinese media to build a positive image of the authority (Yang, 2012). Hence, the leadership frame is expected to be more visible while covering American issues.

H1: Compared to US-related news, EU news use more economic consequences frames (H1a)


and more human interest frames (H1b), and fewer conflict frames (H1c), fewer attribution of responsibility frames (H1d) and fewer leadership frames (H1e) in Chinese newspapers.

Table 1.

Hypothesis 1 about different generic news frames between EU and US news coverage EU-related News US-related News

Economic Consequences Frame + -

Human Interest Frame + -

Conflict Frame - +

Attribution of Responsibility Frame

- +

Leadership Frame - +


“+” means more frames in the news coverage; “-” means fewer frames.

Furthermore, this study also looks into how Chinese party-owned and market-oriented newspapers frame relevant EU and US news differently. As addressed before, party-owned media and market-oriented media follow different media logic. There could be differences in the use of frames in reporting the same country’s issues.

Differences of news frames in the US news between party and market-oriented newspapers. China’s market-oriented newspapers, similarly to the private media in the West, frequently use conflict frames and human interest frames to attract readers (Kuang & Wei, 2018;

Yang, 2012). Hence, this research predicts more conflict frames and human interest frames in


market-oriented newspapers. Given that China regards America as the biggest threat, strong leadership is required in the face of the enemy. It is expected that the leadership frame will be more visible in party-owned newspapers. Furthermore, when it comes to a national sensitive issue, reporting freedom for market-oriented newspapers will be restricted and must follow official opinions (Kuang & Wei, 2018). The China-US trade war is a sensitive and controversial topic because the government does not want the public to know which country has suffered the greatest economic losses. Since party media usually have more key information from the government about sensitive issues, such as financial reports, crucial data and political trends, economic consequences frames could be more commonly seen in party-owned newspapers. When China-US relations were tense in the past, it was common to see that China and America criticize each other and attribute the cause of affairs to each other (Shambaugh, 2003). Based on that, and the fact that party newspapers represent government’s stances, they may employ more responsibility frames to attribute the responsibility to America.

H2: In the US-related news coverage, party-owned newspapers adopt more economic consequences frames (H2a), more attribution of responsibility frames (H2b), and more leadership frames (H2c), but fewer human interest frames (H2d) and fewer conflict frames (H2e) compared to market-oriented newspapers.

Differences of frames in the EU news between party and market-oriented newspapers.

Conflict and Human interest frames are more often used in market-oriented newspapers while covering controversial issues (Kuang & Wei, 2018). Moreover, sensational stories are more likely to be used in market-oriented newspapers (Huang, 2016; Yang, 2012). In terms of the EU issue,


conflict frames and human interest frames might be more likely to be used in market-driven newspapers. Leadership frames and attribution of responsibility frames may appear less frequently in market-oriented newspapers, since market-oriented newspapers target the public rather than officials. Economic progress is highly related to ordinary people’s lives, and because Chinese people are paying more attention to the EU’ s economic aspects (Barcevičius et al., 2015;

Lai & Zhang, 2013), the economic consequences frame could be used more frequently in market-driven newspapers.

H3: In the EU-related news coverage, party-owned newspapers adopt more attribution of responsibility frames (H3a) and more leadership frames (H3b), but fewer economic consequences frames (H3c), fewer human interest frames (H3d), fewer conflict frames (H3e) compared to market-oriented newspapers.

Given the differences in media logic between market-oriented newspapers and party-owned newspapers, this research anticipates more conflict and human interest frames in the EU and US news coverage in market-driven newspapers, and more leadership frames in both power’s news in party newspapers. Because party-owned media have more access to key information from the authority while market-oriented media have limited freedom to report on national sensitive issues such as the China-US trade war, economic consequences frames may be seen in more party-owned newspapers. Although relevant EU issues is also national sensitive due to the fact that those issues are regarding national diplomatic relations, China and the EU have made numerous economic achievements in recent years, and no government wants to hide its achievements from the public, this research predicts more economic consequences frames in EU


coverage from market-oriented newspapers.

Table 2.

Hypothesis 2&3 about different frames in the EU and the US news between two types of Chinese newspapers

US News EU News

Party-owned Newspapers

Market-oriented Newspapers

Party-owned Newspapers

Market-oriented Newspapers Economic Consequences


+ - - +

Attribution of

Responsibility Frame

+ - + -

Leadership Frame + - + -

Human Interest Frame - + - +

Conflict Frame - + - +


“+” means more frames; “-” means fewer frames.


To study how Chinese newspapers frame EU and US news differently, this research focuses mainly on the presence of each generic frame in the news articles, and a manual quantitative content analysis method is adopted.

Newspapers Types. Two representative newspapers from each type were chosen to compare


the differences between party-owned and market-oriented newspapers. Two party-owned newspapers: People’s Daily and China Youth Daily, are included in the sample, as well as two market-oriented newspapers, The Beijing News and Xinmin Evening News. The People’s Daily is the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China, which is widely regarded as the Chinese government’s mouthpiece. China Youth Daily is the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Youth League, a Communist Party-run youth political organization. The Beijing News is a market-oriented newspaper known for its high-quality investigative news coverage (Huang, 2016). Shanghai United Media Group’s Xinmin Evening News is a widely circulated newspaper that is also one of few market-oriented Chinese newspapers with foreign correspondents.

Time Frame. The time frame for this research is between 1st January 2020 and 31st October 2020. There were no major political events in that ten-month time period, such as the US presidential election or European Parliament election, which is helpful to obtain relatively neutral and general results. Moreover, as mentioned before, in light of new international circumstances it is a recent time period to observe the media situation of China. Therefore, this time period is feasible and representative for examining how Chinese news media interpreted EU-related and US-related news differently.

Data Retrieval and Sampling. The LexisNexis Academic Database does not include all the data of Chinese newspapers. People’s Daily has its own online database, the People’s Data Graphic Library, which contains news articles from 1949 to 2021. Another database, the Full-text Database of Digital Newspapers from China Digital Library, has collected all news coverage in


China Youth Daily, The Beijing News, and Xinmin Evening News. This study examines news articles about EU and US affairs: firstly, all coverage mentioning key words such as “EU/

European Union”, “European Commission”, “European Parliament”, “Council of the European Union”, “Von der Leyen”, “Charles Michel”, “China-EU”, “China-US”, “US/America”, “Senate”,

“House of Representatives”, “State Department”, “Trump” and “Pompeo” is gathered. Those key words are related to diplomatic relations, as well as important political institutions and figures from the EU and the US. Qualified articles were selected manually: only political news, economic news, environment news and society news were included as the sample for the research.

Entertainment news, sports news, photo news, and overlapping repetitive news stories in the search results were excluded.

In total, there are 183 EU-related news articles: 89 from People’s Daily; 13 reports from China Youth Daily; 13 EU-related articles from The Beijing News; and 68 from Xinmin Evening News, and 485 US news reports. Because international news occupies different spaces in different newspapers, there are unequal numbers of news items between various news outlets. However, after sampling as described below, the number of EU and US news, EU and US articles from party-owned and market-oriented newspapers are relatively equivalent. In order to have a similar sample size for EU and US news stories, US-related coverage should be reduced: every third article was collected. In total, 161 US-related news coverage were selected: People’s Daily contributed 78 articles; 12 from China Youth Daily; The Beijing News 20 articles and 51 from Xinmin Evening News. In summary, 344 news articles were gathered: 183 articles about the EU and 161 articles about the US; 102 EU-related articles and 90 US-related articles in party


newspapers; from market-driven ones, there are 81 EU-related articles and 71 US-related articles.

Framing Variables. This research identifies if a certain frame is present in the EU and US news reports, hence a series of questions are designed to measure each generic frame, and binary codes, yes (1) or no (0), are used. Each variable aims to measure one of five frames: economic consequences, conflict, human interest, attribution of responsibility and leadership. A frame was coded as present if they met the criteria (see more in Appendix A). There could be multiple frames in one news story. Examples of questions are: Does the story mention the financial achievements or loss of the event being discussed? (economic consequences); Does the story show the dispute between two sides? (conflict); Does the story include any information that could activate readers’ feelings? (human interest); Does the story attribute responsibility for its cause to any relevant parties? (attribution of responsibility); Does the story focus on the discussion and evaluation of the political leadership of either of two parties? (leadership). To compare frames in the EU and US news in party-owned and market-oriented newspapers, t-tests were used to examine mean differences between the EU and US news coverage as well as EU and US news between both types of newspapers. P-value was used to test if there are statistically significant differences in the data. All tests were conducted on SPSS.

Furthermore, 34 articles (10 percent of the sample) were coded for the establishment of intercoder reliability. Another Chinese-speaking coder was trained. The author and another coder worked on the sample independently. Intercoder reliability was calculated to 91.6% (reliability value for all variables ranged from 0.82 to 0.97), using Holsti’s formula which is suitable for tackling simple binary codes (0/1).



The research question asked how Chinese party-owned and market-oriented newspapers frame EU-related and US-related news differently. Firstly, this research tested the first hypothesis related to differences in news framing between EU-related and US-related news in Chinese newspapers. Table 4 indicates differences in framing between EU news stories and US news stories.

Table 3.

Differences in generic news framing between EU-related and US-related News (T-test) EU News (N=183) US News (N=161)

Mean SD Mean SD Mean Difference P-Value

Economic Consequence

0.514 0.501 0.460 0.500 0.054 0.317

Human Interest 0.164 0.371 0.242 0.430 -0.078 0.070

Conflict 0.443 0.498 0.683 0.467 -0.240 0.000**

Attribution of Responsibility

0.131 0.338 0.391 0.490 -0.260 0.000**

Leadership 0.536 0.500 0.317 0.467 0.219 0.000**


*p<0.05, **p<0.01

Although EU news used more economic consequences (m=0.514, sd=0.501) frames than that in US news (m=0.460, sd=0.500), p-value (p=0.317) implies the difference is not statistically


significant, hence H1a is rejected. Human interest frame is more frequently represented in US news coverage (m=0.242, sd=0.430) compared to EU news coverage (m=0.164, sd=0.371), meanwhile, the difference (p=0.070) is not statistically significant, so H1b is rejected. US news adopted more conflict frames (m=0.683, sd=0.467) than those in EU news coverage (m=0.443, sd=0.498), and the difference (p=0.000) is statistically significant, hence H1c is accepted.

Attribution of responsibility frame is more commonly used in the US news stories (m=0.391, sd=0.490) compared to EU-related news (m=0.131, sd=0.338), and p-value (p=0.000) shows statistically significant difference, so H1d is accepted. In terms of leadership frame, despite the difference (p=0.000) is statistically significant, EU news stories used more leadership frames (m=0.536, sd=0.500) than US news stories (m=0.317, sd=0.467), which rejects H1e. As a result, H1c and H1d are supported, indicating that the use of conflict frame and attribution of responsibility frame differs between EU-related and US-related news. In comparison to EU-related news, these two frames appear more frequently in US news coverage. Despite H1e has been rejected, there is a statistically significant difference in the leadership frame which was more commonly seen in EU-related news stories.

Table 4.

Differences in generic news frames of US-related news between party-owned and market-oriented newspapers (T-test)

Party-owned Newspapers (N=90)

Market-oriented Newspapers (N=71)


Mean SD Mean SD Mean Difference P-Value Economic


0.489 0.503 0.423 0.497 0.066 0.402

Human Interest 0.222 0.418 0.268 0.446 -0.046 0.505

Conflict 0.744 0.439 0.606 0.492 0.138 0.060

Attribution of Responsibility

0.467 0.502 0.296 0.460 0.171 0.027*

Leadership 0.322 0.470 0.310 0.466 0.012 0.867


*p<0.05, **p<0.01

Secondly, to answer the differences of news frames between party-owned newspapers and market-oriented newspapers, this research first investigated the differences in the framing of the US coverage. Party-owned newspapers used more economic consequences frames (m=0.489, sd=0.503) than market-oriented newspapers (m=0.423, sd=0.497) when covering US-relevant topics, however, p-value (p=0.402) indicates the difference is not statistically significant, so H2a is rejected. Party-owned newspapers adopted more attribution of responsibility frames (m=0.467, sd=0.502) than market-oriented newspapers (m=0.296, sd=0.460), the difference (p=0.027) is statistically significant, which supports H2b. Leadership frames are more frequently shown up in party-owned newspapers (m=0.322, sd=0.470) than market-oriented newspapers (m=0.310, sd=0.466), but p-value (p=0.867) does not show the statistically significant difference, which rejects H2c. Human interest frames are more commonly seen in market-oriented newspapers


(m=0.268, sd=0.446) than those in party-owned newspapers (m=0.222, sd=0.418), however, p-value (p=0.505) shows the result is not statistically significant, so H2d is rejected. Party-owned newspapers used more conflict frames (m=0.744, sd=0.439) than market-oriented newspapers (m=0.606, sd=0.492), and the difference (p=0.060) is not statistically significant, which rejects H2e. Therefore, H2b is supported by the results. Regarding US-related news, party-owned newspapers use more attribution of responsibility frames than market-oriented newspapers.

Last, this research tested the differences of news framing between party-owned and market-oriented newspapers while covering EU-related news. In terms of EU-related news, party-owned newspapers adopt fewer attribution of responsibility frames (m=0.108, sd=0.312) than market-owned newspapers (m=0.160, sd=0.369), while p-value (p=0.295) indicates it is not statistically significant, hence H3a is rejected. Party-owned newspapers use more leadership frames (m=0.608, sd=0.491) than market-oriented newspapers (m=0.444, sd=0.500), meanwhile, the p-value (p=0.028) implies a statistically significant difference, so H3b is accepted. What’s more, economic consequences frames are more frequently used in party-owned newspapers (m=0.676, sd=0.470) compared to EU relevant coverage in market-owned newspapers (m=0.309, sd=0.465), which differs from H3c, meanwhile, the difference is statistically significant (p=0.000), so H3c is rejected. Party-owned newspapers use fewer human interest frames (m=0.088, sd=0.285) than market-oriented newspapers (m=0.259, sd=0.441), and p-value (p=0.002) shows a statistically significant difference, hence H3d is supported.

Table 5.

Differences in generic news framing of EU-related news between party-owned and


market-oriented newspapers (T-test) Party-owned Newspapers


Market-owned Newspapers (N=81)

Mean SD Mean SD Mean Difference P-Value

Economic Consequence

0.676 0.470 0.309 0.465 0.367 0.000**

Human Interest 0.088 0.285 0.259 0.441 -0.171 0.002**

Conflict 0.412 0.495 0.481 0.503 -0.069 0.346

Attribution of Responsibility

0.108 0.312 0.160 0.369 -0.052 0.295

Leadership 0.608 0.491 0.444 0.500 0.164 0.028*


*p<0.05, **p<0.01

However, although market-orient newspapers use more conflict frames (m=0.481, sd=0.503) than party-owned newspapers (m=0.108, sd=0.312), p-value (p=0.346) indicates the difference is not statistically significant, so H3e is rejected. Therefore, H3b and H3d are supported by results.

In the EU-related news articles, there are differences in the use of economic consequences frame, human interest frame and leadership frame between party-owned and market-oriented newspapers: party newspapers use more leadership frames, while market-oriented newspapers use more economic consequences frames and attribution of responsibility frames.

In summary, there are differences in the use of general news frames between EU-related and


US-related news stories: US news stories use more conflict frames and more attribution of responsibility frames compared to EU news stories. In the US-related coverage, party-owned newspapers adopt more attribution of responsibility frames than market-oriented newspapers. In the EU-related news, party newspapers use more economic consequences frames and more leadership frames, while market-oriented newspapers adopt more human interest frames.


This research sought to investigate how Chinese party-owned and market-oriented newspapers frame EU-related and US-related news stories differently from January 1stto October 31st , 2020. The study revealed a significant difference in the use of conflict frames and attribution of responsibility frames between EU-related coverage and US-related news. While reporting US news, Chinese newspapers used more conflict and attribution of responsibility frames. Social context, media hierarchy, journalism education and other social actors influence media routines (Yang, 2012). All Chinese news media follow guidelines and regulations of the party, and reflect attitudes of the government particularly when it comes to nationally sensitive topics (Kuang & Wei, 2018). In 2020, the China-US relations were sensitive: while top officials of China and the EU held several high-level events for the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations and signed two economic cooperation agreements, the Sino-US relations were at the lowest point in a trade dispute last year. This social context appeared to influence how Chinese newspapers report US-related issues that conflict frames were more frequently seen in comparison with EU-related stories. As previous studies showed that Chinese media frequently employs the leadership frame to promote a positive image of the government (Kuang & Wei,


2018; Luther & Zhou, 2005; Yang, 2012), this research initially assumed leadership frames may be more visible in covering related American issues considering that the image of a powerful leadership facing the “enemy” of the trade war could be the focus of the Chinese media. However, the findings revealed that leadership frames were used more commonly in EU-related issues, which differs from expectation. This also highlights one of the research’s limitations: unlike four other general frames that have been extensively examined in research on western news coverage, the leadership frame was identified as a unique new general frame in the Chinese news media that received little attention. More future studies on the use of the leadership frame in Chinese media are expected.

Furthermore, regarding US-related news, this study found a significant difference in the use of attribution of responsibility frame between party newspapers and market-oriented newspapers.

The responsibility frame refers to when one party attributes the cause of the issue to others. When China-US relations were tense in the past, mutual condemnation was frequently seen in news coverage from both countries (Shambaugh, 2003). From China’s perspective, the US should be held accountable for the ongoing trade dispute (Nathan, 2019). Based on that, the China-US relations have reached rock bottom, and the China-US issue has also become a sensitive and controversial issue in China. When it comes to national sensitive issues, Chinese partisan news media represent the government’s position and are usually more cautious, whereas market-oriented media have little freedom to report and must adhere to official opinions and narratives if they want to report (Kuang&Wei, 2018). During the ten-month period of last year, attribution of responsibility frames were more commonly used in relevant US news in


party-owned newspapers than in market-oriented newspapers, reflecting the propaganda nature of party media and demonstrating that market-oriented media do not have a large say in sensitive topics. Additionally, trade disputes and conflicts causes were widely discussed in Chinese news outlets. Although there is no significant difference in conflict frames, it is noticeable that conflict frames were used in more than half of US-related articles in both types of newspapers, 74.4 percent in the party newspapers and 60.6 percent in the market-oriented newspapers. This research discovered that conflict frames were used frequently in both types of newspapers while covering relevant US issues. It is common to see conflict frames used frequently in market-driven news media (Huang, 2016; Kuang & Wei, 2018; Yang, 2012). Nonetheless, the prevalence of conflict frames in US-related news in party-owned newspapers suggests that China’s relations with other countries impact how Chinese media covers relevant international issues (Chang &

Pieke, 2018; Ha et al., 2020; Lai & Zhang, 2013; Shambaugh, 2003; Zhang, 2010).

With regards to the EU-related stories, there are significant differences in the use of economic consequences frames, human interest frames and leadership frames between party-owned newspapers and market-oriented newspapers. First, party newspapers adopt more economic consequences frames than market-oriented newspapers. Previous research has shown that economic frames dominated in relevant EU news coverage (Barcevičius et al., 2015;

Lai&Zhang, 2013; Zhang, 2010), and that EU’s economical issues were more visible in party-owned newspapers such as People’s Daily (Barcevičius et al., 2015; Zhang, 2010). During the research period, China-EU relations were deepening through economic and trade cooperation.

In 2020, China successfully signed a bilateral trade agreement and a geographical indications


protection agreement with the EU. The party newspapers’ frequent economic consequences frames reflected China’s emphasis and determination on economic cooperation with the EU.

Second, in party-owned newspapers, leadership frames are more commonly seen in EU-related news stories. In terms of frame usage, the leadership frame was strategically employed by party media of China to promote a positive image of the government (Kuang & Wei, 2018; Yang, 2012).

According to party-owned newspapers, the achievements of China-EU economic collaboration, which benefit billions of Chinese people, are largely dependent on the Chinese government’s strong and effective leadership. Third, compared to party-owned newspapers, market-oriented newspapers covered EU-related issues with more human interest frames. The result revealed that the impact of diplomatic accomplishments and policies on people’s daily lives was more frequently seen in market-oriented newspapers. The human interest frame emphasizes individual experiences or aspects of life that are influenced by a particular issue, which is usually eye-catching and easily resonates with readers (Huang, 2016; Yang, 2012). Market-oriented media benefit from the widespread use of the human interest frame in capturing readers’ attention.

Overall, the analysis also reflected the propaganda nature of party-owned newspapers and the reader-driven characteristics of market-oriented media.

There are limitations of this research. First, due to time constraints, only news coverage from two party newspapers and two market-oriented newspapers over a ten-month period were included. Future studies could expand the sample size to include more Chinese newspapers and extend the time frame, as a larger sample size can produce more accurate results and increase the research’s validity. Future research could include two more influential Chinese newspapers, the


Global Times and China Daily. Moreover, given Trump and Biden’s differing diplomatic policy toward China, a comparison study between 2020 and 2021 will be useful in the future. Secondly, newspapers have received a lot of attention in current studies. Future research could look into coverage from other forms of media, such as television news and online news. Even within the same news outlets, the style of articles posted on websites or social media platforms and published in the newspapers may different, because in the digital age, news marketing is also competitive and fierce, and online news may be more timely and eye-catching to attract young viewers in China. Moreover, most studies considered the Chinese news media system as a single entity. In fact, the Chinese media ecosystem is quite diverse. For example, there are various specialized newspapers under the category of party-owned newspapers, such as business newspapers or science newspapers. Future studies could also concentrate on specific situations in various types of Chinese media. Besides that, most studies barely touched on the reasons for each frame’s selection. In the future, scholars could conduct in-depth interviews with journalists from various types of media in order to learn the precise factors that influenced their choices. Last but not least, more studies into Chinese news media conducted by scholars in the future are expected.

News framing analysis, particularly generic frame analysis on western media, has been well-developed in the communication field. It still needs to be explored and verified whether it is appropriate for communication studies in other regions. There are many other unique phenomena in the media systems of other countries that have yet to be discovered.



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Appendix A:

The outlet of the newspaper and the type of news story (EU or US news reports) are al so coded.

* Multiple frames: a news story may include one or more frames. For example, in government officials’ statements, the evaluation of the political leaders and the conflict/ dispute with another country could also be mentioned. Hence, this story uses the leadership frame and conflict frame.

1. Conflict:

Does the story include disputes or disagreements between governments, relevant parties, social groups, or individuals?

Does the story reveal that one side reproach another side?

*Notes: For example, during the China-US trade war, China could condemn the American government in an article published in party-owned newspapers./ China’s news media may focus on the EU’ s disagreements with the UK. The article can be seen as using a conflict frame by mentioning such disagreement/disputes between China and the US/EU, or the EU/US and other countries, or internal EU member states.

2. Economic Consequences:

Does the story emphasize the financial achievements or losses of the issue/event?

Does the story give a clue about the cost/expense of the issue/event?

Does the story show the economic impact of the event on the country’s economy?

*Notes: For example, there are several agreements signed at the China-EU Summit, and the economic impact of these deals may be mentioned in the coverage. / Economic loss caused by the


trade war is also likely to be discussed in the article.

3. Human Interest:

Does the story introduce an individual story or case of the issue?

Does the story present personal lives or experiences affected by the issue?

Does the story include any personal statement or visual information that could elicit emotional responses?

*Notes: For example, residents’ experiences of dealing with the pandemic in the EU countries or black Americans’ lives during the BLM protest could be presented in Chinese newspapers. They are using the human interest frame. On some occasions, Chinese journalists also adopt popular Chinese internet catchy words to describe a phenomenon to stimulate readers’ feelings, which is considered as the usage of the human interest frame.

4. Attribution of Responsibility:

Does the story attribute the responsibility of the issue/problem to any government, social groups or individual?

Does the story indicate that the government, social group or individual is responsible for the solution to the issue/problem?

5. Leadership:

Does the story include the events, measures, actions, or statements of a Chinese, EU, or US government official, political figure, or agency?

Does the story focus on the discussion and evaluation of the political leadership?

*Notes: Prior literature shows that leadership frame is identified in Chinese news coverage.


There is a unique type of Chinese coverage focusing on significant events such as leaders’

national visits and speeches/ statements given by top-level leaders or evaluating the governing ability. While reporting international news, Chinese journalists may also use the same way to report what European or American political leaders said or publish the official statements of European or American institutions, this type of news report is seen as the one using the leadership frame. For example, the report on the President of the EU Commission’s visit to Turkey or the evaluation of the EU’ s performance on the pandemic controlling.

Intercoder reliability (using Holsti’s formula): 34 articles in total The number of coding results in agreement

Reliability value

Conflict 31 0.91

Economic Consequences 32 0.94

Human Interest 33 0.97

Attribution of Responsibility 32 0.94

Leadership 28 0.82

Mean Reliability: (0.91+ 0.94 + 0.97 + 0.94 + 0.82) / 5 = 0.916



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