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Situating TCM within discourse studies

According to the constructionism view, discourse is “language in action” (Blommaert, 2005: 3) and hence socially constructs the “knowledges of some aspect of reality” (van Leeuwen, 2005: 94). This view of discourse has been well established and long practiced in different fields such as linguistics, sociology, anthropology and philosophy. It is particularly fundamental for discourse analysis (Rapley, 2007), since it brings into mutual reference and understanding the relationship among language, people and the world.

Bax (2011) provides a detailed account of how discourse analysis takes the constructionism view one step forward by assuming that language plays a crucial role in the process of constructing reality. From this perspective, the world around us is actually constructed by the language we use. The examples Bax gives are the cases of place and gender constructions. In the latter case, he cites from the Daily Mail a report about how a supposedly significant and serious-minded image is transformed into a temperamental stereotype of women. Phillips and Hardy (2002) explain the key terms in discourse analysis: text, discourse and social reality. In their view, discourse is an interrelated set of texts, and the practices of their production, dissemination and reception jointly bring an object into being. In this process, social reality is created and made real through discourses, and social interactions cannot be fully understood without reference to the discourses that give them meaning.

The constructionism view of discourse places language in a dialectical relationship with social reality. On the one hand, discourse symbolizes and reflects reality, revealing the social nature of human activities; on the other hand, discourse constructs these activities by executing, reinforcing, transforming and reforming the existent social norms (Fairclough, 1992). According to Potter (1996: 98),

reality enters into human practices by way of the categories and descriptions that are part of those practices. The world is not ready categorized by God or nature in ways that we are all forced to accept. It is constituted in one way or another as people talk it, write it and argue it.

Linguistically, the reason why discourse constructs social reality is that language consists of a system of semiotic resources, and using language is an active process of making choices from the systems and sub-systems (Halliday, 1978). So, in a certain situation, a particular communicative purpose will, either consciously or unconsciously, motivate a language user to prime and choose certain lexical items and grammatical systems over others. The result of this active choice is the construction of a humanized world.

Drawing on the theories of linguistics, the constructionism view of discourse attempts to find out the systematic working mechanisms behind the phenomena of the non-linguistic fields such as sociology, anthropology and culture studies, by referring them to the particular ways of language use.

With regards to this study, since culture is “practical and socially organized activity” and “is embedded in everyday reality” (Chaudhary, 2004: 35), discourse analysis provides a gateway to understanding the various types of cultural phenomena that are associated with TCM. This helps frame the subject of research within the constructionism view of discourse.

Locating the media reports on TCM within the scope of discourse construction means investigating the language choices by the media in their construction of the cultural values of TCM. To date, researching TCM from a discourse perspective is still a relatively new topic. Among the limited literature of TCM discourse studies, two typical directions are often taken. The first is concerned with the decoding and interpretation of the ancient TCM works. For instance, Unschuld (2003) investigates two ancient Chinese classics (Yellow Emperor's Canon of Medicine: Plain Conversation) and (Yellow Emperor’s Canon of Medicine: Spiritual Pivot) with an attempt to penetrate the ancient Chinese texts and interpret the profound meaning of the TCM language within the contemporary contexts. The second direction focuses on the language style of the TCM texts and its relationship with the social conditions. For instance, Wu and Lu (2007) examine the historical changes in the stylistic features of the TCM discourses. Their findings show that the traditional Chinese style used in TCM discourses in history has been transformed into its modern state with the process of China’s modernization in terms of economy, politics, etc. In this case, the language itself has also met with the challenge of westernization.

The studies reviewed above show that research on TCM discourse is more focused on the issues of medical practice, since the language examined is mostly confined to the medical genre, whether it is the interpretation of the classic works or the diachronic evolution of the TCM language. So far, there is a dearth of cross-disciplinary research in terms of the cultural properties out of which TCM has developed its modern state. This forms the rationale of the present study.

The type of discourse investigated in this study falls into the general genre of media discourse. This brings us to a context in which two different subjects are mixed and interact with each other: media and medicine, creating what is termed as a hybrid register (Matthiessen & Teruya, 2016). Media discourse refers to the “interactions that take place through a broadcast platform, whether spoken or written, in which the discourse is oriented to a non-present reader, listener or viewer” (O’Keeffe, 2011). These might be written such as newspaper, spoken such as radio, or multimodal such as TV and social media. The importance of media discourse in reality construction lies in its representation of a seemingly natural society in which one is located (Frosh & Wolfsfeld, 2007). Since the interactions through media involve different parties communicating with discourse, the process of media production, distribution and reception is often accompanied by the discursive construction of the social and cultural properties such as ideology, identity, gender and power relations. For instance, Fairclough (1995: 2) notes that by manipulating the language choices, the media gain the power to shape the governments and parties, to transform the suffering into the entertainment, and to influence knowledge, beliefs, values, social relations and social identities. In realizing these functions, media “provide inhabitable discourses that form the substance of culture and experience” (Spitulnik, 2000: 149).

Among the various types of media source, national media play an important role in disseminating the culture and shaping the experience of the public since they are “the elite media of the country and it is possible that they do a more responsible job than regional and local newspapers, magazines, radio and television” (Weiss & Singer, 1988: 69). This is particularly true in the case of China, since starting from the late 1970s, the Chinese news media have been playing the role of the major stock of social knowledge for the general public in China to make sense of the changing world (Chang et al., 1994). In terms of the cultural values of TCM, the reports on the Chinese national media create a vantage point for understanding the current conceptualization of TCM as a historical relic of China. This in return helps comprehend the image of TCM as well as China that the Chinese national media aim to construct for the Chinese public and the world.

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