American TV series in China: how online viewing impacts perceptions of reality, cultural values and identity
Thesis DisciplineMedia and Communication
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
With the growth and popularity of the Internet in China, American TV series can bypass the strict Chinese broadcasting censorship of TV programs and be watched directly. These TV series, of course, are also an influential American cultural product, raising a number of concerns regarding their impact.
The Chinese government has been and still is concerned about the influence of American TV series on Chinese audiences, especially on the audiences’ cultural values. The loss of traditional Chinese cultural values, it is feared, could confuse and even change viewers’ morality, leading to uncertainty over right and wrong and the weakening of cultural identity. Most Chinese scholars who support the government’s perspective claim that watching American TV series could cause the erosion of Chinese culture. However, these scholars lack evidence regarding such alleged effects. Specifically, there is a void in the research related to how Chinese audiences perceive American cultural values through viewing American TV series and how their perceptions of American cultural values may impact their perceptions of Chinese culture. This is vital for understanding the impact of American TV series in China, as the online environment provides more freedom of access than TV content. This thesis, through four distinct research methods, analyzed online comments, surveyed people online, conducted a quasi-experiment, and interviewed Chinese audiences, to triangulate the impact of viewing American TV series on Chinese audiences’ cultural values. The thesis employed a theoretical framework by using three well-known theories from the communications literature: cultivation theory, the firewall model, and uses and gratifications theory.
The findings show that the societal and individual firewalls play an important role in hindering the impact of American TV series to a larger audience group in China. The firewalls limited the Chinese audience of American TV series to a specific group. However, this study’s findings also support the claims of cultivation effect in an online environment, although the audiences’ motives for viewing American TV series was a factor in determining any cultivation effects. In addition, this study found that the Chinese TV series and American TV series have different orientations in relation to reflecting cultural values, and, as such, the American TV series have a different effect than Chinese TV series on Chinese audiences. The study also explores the Chinese audiences’ understanding regarding American cultural values during viewing American TV series, which have defined the compatible and incompatible values in Chinese cultural context. This study contributes important insights on the impact of American TV series in China, and could be a reference for the Chinese government when considering their cultural policy in relation to foreign cultural products.