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To analyse any documentary is to make a close study of the verbal and visual language together with multi-modes (e.g. sound effects) employed and the interaction between them. As Lotman (1976) argues, the object becomes ‘the meanings of the images reproduced on the screen’ and then the images on the screen are ‘augmented’ and ‘explained’ by the oral texts. In addition, visual images could even be affiliated with ‘additional (or) often totally unexpected meanings’ by the oral text (Lotman, 1976: 41; Berger, 2010: 19). The language employed in The Chinese Are Coming is characteristic of the genre, and will repay careful analysis.

Visual language: image analysis

The visual image is the first object of interest, as every image on the screen is a sign, and such a sign carries information (Lotman, 1976). In the documentary series The Chinese Are Coming, there are mainly six different images of China:

  • 1) The exploiter of natural resources leading to the destruction of the natural environment and its effects on the lives of local people.
  • 2) The wild animal killer leading to the illegal trade in wild animals.
  • 3) The human rights violator who not only supports a notorious government with a poor record on human rights but also exploits both Chinese and local workers by means of low wages and poor working conditions.
  • 4) The unfair competitor and trader who exports cheap products by devaluing the RMB currency or cheats by selling counterfeit goods. These practices lead to fierce competition and the closing of local companies and also the unemployment of local workers.
  • 5) The mouthpiece of the Communist Party through setting up Confucius Institutes globally.
  • 6) The military threat that raises concerns to the West and challenges Western supremacy in the world.

No matter how different the above images are, they seem to have one feature in common throughout the documentary series: the ‘threat’ of China (as reflected in Figure 3.1). Although the title of the documentary series is The Chinese Are Coming, the underlying message seems to suggest that they (the Chinese) are coming as a threat to the world.

Within the documentary series, this theme of China as a threat is woven all the way through, from Africa to Latin America (Brazil as the representative) and North America (United States of America as the representative), which are illustrated in Figure 3.2.

‘China threat’ and six images of China

Figure 3.1 ‘China threat’ and six images of China

‘China threat’ around the globe

Figure 3.2 ‘China threat’ around the globe

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