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Verbal language: textual analysis

In the above part, The Chinese Are Coming has been analysed and investigated mainly through the angle of the visual language such as the images and shots. However, when people want to read the image, there are many ways of reading it. It can be either denotative or have a connotative meaning to it, and the meaning of an image can be ambiguous and open to many different interpretations. In order to better read an image and understand its ‘preferred meaning’, the captions underneath images or textual material superimposed on them play a major role in determining how people interpret images (Hall, 1997). Documentaries are characterised by both images and oral texts, and the verbal language forms an integral part of any documentary. Therefore, to analyse a documentary is to analyse both the verbal language and the visual images. To better understand the documentary series The Chinese Are Coming, it is necessary to interpret not only the image but also the written language connected to it.

Specifically, in this part, I intend to conduct a textual analysis at three different levels. First, I will start to analyse the language at rhetoric level. It will then be narrowed down into more specific categories from the sentence level to the vocabulary level. In each of these categories, there will be different subtitles to help break down the analysis into more detail. The purpose of doing this is to give a thorough analysis by digging deeper and to unpack the different levels as much as possible.

Language analysis at rhetoric level

Through employing repetition as a language technique, the filmmakers or directors can easily influence viewers by echoing or imprinting in their minds. Thus, the filmmakers’ intentions and viewpoints can be successfully conveyed without being noticed. In this documentary series, The Chinese Are Coming, the technique of employing repetition is quite obvious and found all the way through. For example, when the filmmakers try to create or emphasise China’s ‘exploiter’ image, many repetitions are employed. At the same time, such repetition is normally continuous without much pause or break between the repetitions. Take the following quote from the documentary as an example:

  • 00:03:20,880 —> The Chinese crews were uploading a Chinese ship laden
  • 00:03:27,170 with goods from China ... The oil brings China and

their workers flooding here ... Tens of thousands of Chinese works are working here ... carried out by Chinese companies, mostly with Chinese workers.

Here, the words 'China' or ‘Chinese' are purposely woven and repeated and all in short sentences. It is noticeable that each time these repetitions are linked with words like ‘the oil’. Another example appears at the beginning of the documentary series, within just twelve minutes the word ‘oil’ has been repeated twenty times, and all are within sentences related with either Chinese workers or goods from China. By employing the repetition technique, a picture has been created: Africa has been swamped by thousands of Chinese workers. Chinese ships, Chinese companies and goods ‘made in China’ are found everywhere. At the same time, an image of China in African countries as an exploiter has also been successfully depicted and represented, just as the documentary title says: The Chinese Are Coming.

Though in some parts of the documentary, the image of China helping Africa to build the railway is presented, yet this message or verbal language is usually followed by the word ‘oil’ or words like ‘one-side favour’ or ‘trying to get construction contracts’. Even as the image of ‘benefactor’ is mentioned vaguely, it is soon washed away by its exploiter image descriptions through the technique of repetition. Here, the preferred meaning regarding the image of China in Africa is more or less to emphasise how China has already shifted its power and seized natural resources such as oil from Africa. Though local Africans may think it advantageous to them, yet the filmmakers’ ‘preferred meaning’ or perception of the Chinese image in Africa takes precedence.

Another repetition example is drawn from the beginning of Episode One, when the presenter outlines the aim of the documentary. He mentions that apart from finding out about China’s roles in Africa and other regions, he would investigate the ‘unstoppable’ global rise of China and find how China’s growth is ‘shifting’ global power. To explain this power shift from the West to the East (mainly China), there are two words, ‘unstoppable’ and ‘shifting’, used first before the repetition of the word ‘British’ is employed. The first word ‘unstoppable’ is used to reveal a mixed feeling when facing the rise of China, wishing to stop it, but being unable to do so. The choice of the other word ‘shifting’ by the presenter also reflects this mixed feeling that global power used to belong to the West, but now is being unwillingly ‘shifted’ to the East; here it refers principally to China. To emphasise such mixed feelings, the word ‘British’ is repeated in several oral texts. The first comes from the very beginning of Episode One:

  • 00:10:09,280 —* Look at this incredible carriage that the railway company
  • 00:10:34,500 have laid on for us. Part of the original rolling stock,

British rolling stock. Because this railway was built by the British,... to build this incredible construction, all the way up, to the valuable copper belts in the centre of Africa.

And now the Chinese are helping to reconstruct it.

Here, it can be seen that the memory still lingers on the glory of the powerful British Empire in the past, but now that the Chinese are in ascendancy this has changed the balance of power. Another repetition of the word ‘British’ appears in the same Episode (Episode One). When the presenter travels on the train in Africa, he comments that ‘(this is an) incredible railway, British, British railway ... to build this incredible construction, all the way up’. Here, the word ‘British’ is repeated twice in one sentence, which tends to bring out the presenter’s feelings of nostalgia for the prime time of Britain as the Great Empire, which is now replaced by China.

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