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Analysis of American perspective (Time)

Macro-rules

Table 2A.1 in the Appendix shows the prevailing topics of the 20 headlines about China in the year 2010, which draw on Van Dijk’s macro-rules to yield the semantic macro-structure - specifically the overall meaning of the headlines. It demonstrates that 19 topics (95%) of the 20 headlines are derived from the use of the ‘generalisation’ macro-rule, followed by one (5%) from ‘zero rule’.

The top three prevailing topics are found to be issues related to international trade and currency (six headlines: A4C, A5C, A6C, A7C, A12C, and A15C), China’s growth modeI (five headlines: A2C, АЗС, A9C, A10C, and A19C) and growth model (three headlines: A13C, A16C, and A18C). For purposes of simplicity, China’s growth model and growth model are merged into one single overarching generic topic, growth model, which thus becomes the most frequent topic (eight headlines) across the 20 sampled articles in Time. Albeit at a low frequency, the other less prominent topics that also surfaced include China's military power (two headlines: A11C and A20C), workers’ rights (one headline: A8C), human rights (one headline: A14C), and US-China bilateral relations (one headline: A 1C). It should be highlighted, however, that it is difficult to determine the topic of one particular headline when reading it in isolation from the lead text, and the headline has thus been left unaltered; in other words, the ‘zero rule’ macro-rule was applied. The headline concerned is:

1. A vicious circle A17C

This can be attributed to the nature of the headline in A17C, expressed in the form of a strong collocation in which the link between the words ‘vicious’ and ‘circle’ is quite fixed and restricted. Readers, however, will understand the intended message since the idiom conjures up an image of an unpleasant situation or problem that has the effect of creating new problems that lead back to the original situation.

Inclusion and exclusion

Now that the prevailing topics of the 20 headlines have been identified, this section applies Van Leeuwen’s socio-semantic categories to the representation of the main social actors across the headlines of Time. The first category examines how the main social actors are included and excluded in the 20 headlines. In brief, social actors are included whenever they are mentioned in the headlines, and they are excluded when they are not indicated in relation to the action from the headlines. Since the articles primarily concern China, the social actors are thus grouped into Chinese and non-Chinese actors. Given that there are many non-Chinese actors involved, they are further split into different actors to give a more accurate representation of the key social actors. Eight non-Chinese actors are identified, and they are the US, the UK, India, the West, Africa, South Korea, North Korea, and Asia. Table 2.1 shows the frequency distribution for the inclusion and exclusion of the social actors (Chinese and non-Chinese) in the 20 headlines, and draws a distinction between the agent and non-agent social actors. This clarifies the

Table 2.1 Inclusion/exclusion of agent actors in frequency and percentage (Time)

Re presen tational categories

Agent social actors

Chinese

Non-Chinese

China

US

UK

India

West

Africa

S. Korea

N. Korea

Asia

Inclusion

No.

15

2

0

1

0

0

0

0

1

%

75

10

0

5

0

0

0

0

5

Exclusion

No.

4

3

0

1

0

0

0

0

0

%

20

15

0

5

0

0

0

0

0

Total

95

25

0

10

0

0

0

0

5

role of agency and non-agency in the inclusion and exclusion of the actors across the sampled headlines through frequency distributions.

As Table 2.1 shows, the agency of the Chinese social actors is included in the corpus more frequently than it is excluded; being included as an agent actor at a frequency of 75%. Chinese social actors are also included at a nearly eightfold rate compared to the next largest agent social actors (the American), which is included at a frequency of 10%. The Asian and Indian participants are the other non-Chinese actors that are equally mentioned at a frequency of 5% each. The agency of the African, British, Western, South Korean, and North Korean actors, however, is represented at a frequency of 0%.

Regarding the exclusion of actors in the headlines, the Chinese actors are also excluded more frequently (20%) than the six non-Chinese actors. Likewise, the agency of the American actors is the most frequently excluded (15%) among the subgroup of non-Chinese actors, followed by India (5%). The exclusion of the agency of African, Asian, British, South Korean, North African, and Western actors is 0%. The following are some examples of the exclusion of Chinese and American actor agency:

  • 1. Are old wounds Asia’s fatal flaw? A13C
  • 2. Who would win a currency war? A15C
  • 3. A vicious circle A17C
  • 4. Is democracy necessary for economic success? A18C

Given that the agency of Chinese and American actors is included and excluded the most regularly across the 20 sampled headlines, it also means that they are attributed with representational categories more frequently than the other non-Chinese actors. In other words, their appearance in the headlines is more readily recognisable to the readers of the newsmagazine.

Table 2.2 shows that Time predominantly relies on the strategy of backgrounding the Chinese (20%), American (15%), and Indian (5%) social actors, thus delaying their appearance related to the actions mentioned in the headlines. This has the effect of reducing explicit references to the agency of an action, thus de-emphasising the social actors. However, they are still

Table 2.2 Exclusion of agent social actors (Time)

Representational category: exclusion

Agent social actors

Chinese

Non-Chinese

China

US

UK

India

West

Africa

5.

Korea

N.

Korea

Asia

1 Back

grounding

No.

4

3

0

1

0

0

0

0

0

%

20

15

0

5

0

0

0

0

0

2 Suppression

No.

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

%

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

subsequently referred to in the lead and main texts underneath the headlines concerned.

There are two methods Time uses to realise less radical exclusion or backgrounding: the use of (i) adjectives and (ii) interrogative pronouns. In the growth model topic (A13C and A18C), for instance, the use of the adjectives ‘old wounds’, ‘fatal flaw’ and ‘necessary for’ without identifying the culprit(s) renders it difficult for the reader to determine the identity and the actor(s) responsible for Asia’s ‘old wounds’ (A 13C) and for the consequences that may befall economic growth in the absence of democracy (A18C). Nevertheless, the choice of the adjectives depicts an image of an unsustainable growth model doomed to failure if political reforms are not undertaken to address current government and past mistakes.

Another method used to realise backgrounding is through the interrogative pronoun ‘who’ (A15C), which functions as a grammatical subject bypassing the need for explicit references to the agents. Although the headline (A15C) addresses a question that seeks to find the beneficiary in issues related to international trade and currency, the interrogative pronoun puts the focus onto itself and also brings to mind an opportunistic relationship in which a group of trading partners is benefiting from the conflict over currencies at the expense of others. In this case, it could be the Chinese or any of the non-Chinese participants, or even the international community at large, who would win the currency war should it happen.

Compared to the Chinese, the agency of the American actor is backgrounded, evidenced by its frequency of 15%. The following are some examples of the backgrounded American actor:

  • 1. Pressing China on the yuan won’t work A6C
  • 2. Who would win a currency war? A15C
  • 3. A vicious circle A17C

The American agency is backgrounded through the use of the gerund of the verb ‘press’ at the beginning of the clause (A6C), thus functioning as a grammatical subject and eliminating the need to identify the agency of the social actor. This semantic strategy has the effect of targeting the message directly at the reader, rendering them more sympathetic to the action of the backgrounded American actor against that of the Chinese. In a similar vein, just solely on the headline the interrogative pronoun ‘who’ (A15C) puts the social actor in the background since it makes no reference to the agency of the action. It could also be used rhetorically to mean ‘who would win? No one would win’. Now that the process of inclusion and exclusion of agent social actors has been examined, Table 2.3 shows the frequency distribution of the key non-agent social actors.

In Table 2.3, the American non-agent actor is included (10%) twice as often as the Chinese and North Korean non-agent actors (5% each). This pattern points to a higher incidence of the American actor being the recipient of an activity in the headlines. The following are some examples of the included American non-agent actors:

  • 1. China takes aim at the US on currency conflict A4C
  • 2. How China is like 19th century America A19C

The headline inclusion rate for the other non-agent actors (such as Africa, Asia, India, and South Korea, the West, and the UK) is 0%. In the process of exclusion, while Table 2.3 shows that the Chinese agent actor is excluded the most frequently, it also shows a pattern in which the Chinese non-agent actor, along with North Korea and Asia, is excluded at a rate of 0%, while the American, British, Indian, African, South Korean, and Western non-agent actors are excluded at rates of 20%, 5%, 10%, 5%, 5%, and 10%, respectively. In other words, the exclusion representational category reveals the formation of two groups: one comprising China and North Korea, and another Africa, India, South Korea, the West, the UK, and the US.

Table 2.4 shows that Time has the tendency to background American, African, British, Indian, South Korean, and Western non-agent actors, thus

Table2.3 Inclusion/exclusion of non-agent actors in frequency and percentage (Time)

Represen rational categories

Non-agent social actors

Chinese

Non-Chinese

China

US

UK

India

West

Africa

5. Korea

N. Korea

Asia

Inclusion

No.

1

2

0

0

0

0

0

1

0

%

5

10

0

0

0

0

0

5

0

Exclusion

No.

0

4

1

2

2

1

1

0

0

%

0

20

5

10

10

5

5

0

0

Total

5

30

5

10

10

5

5

5

0

Trade conflict in Western newsmagazines 39 Table 2.4 Exclusion of non-agent social actors {Time)

Representational category: exclusion

Non-agent social actors

Chinese

Non-Chinese

China

US

UK

India

West

Africa

S. Korea

N. Korea

Asia

1 Backgrounding

No.

0

4

1

2

2

1

1

0

0

%

0

20

5

10

10

5

5

0

0

2 Suppression

No.

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

%

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

reducing explicit references to the non-agents in association with the activity mentioned in the headlines. Their traces, however, can still be found in the headlines. The following are some examples of the exclusion of American actor non-agency in topics related to China’s military might (A 11C and A20C):

  • 1. On North Korea and more, China flexes its muscles A11C
  • 2. Fear of China’s missiles (and money) is overblown A20C

As A11C and A20C show, Time uses the mass noun ‘North Korea’ and the nominalisation ‘fear’ to background the non-agency of the American actor through prepositional and post-modifying phrases, such as ‘on’ and ‘of’, respectively. The focus thus shifts to the agent’s action, which has caused burden and even harm to the backgrounded non-agents. Both headlines depict China’s military prowess without clear reference to the non-agents, rendering it difficult for the reader to determine the target of China’s demonstration of military power. Furthermore, the obfuscation of the patient has the effect of directing the message at the readers, putting them in the shoes of the patient undergoing the action.

The following are further examples of the exclusion of non-agency in the topics international trade and currency (A12C) and growth model (A18C):

  • 1. The real victims of China’s yuan policy A12C
  • 2. Is democracy necessary for economic success? A18C
 
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