Tradition, modernity, and Chinese masculinity: The multimodal construction of ideal manhood in a reality dating show

Dezheng (William) Feng and Mandy Hoi Man Yu

Abstract

This article examines the multimodal construction of ideal manhood in male participants’ self-introduction videos in a Chinese reality dating show. A framework is developed to model identity as evaluative attributes and to explicate how they are constructed through linguistic and visual resources. Analysis of 91 videos shows two versions of idealized Chinese masculinity, namely, modern masculinity (mainly embodied by participants who have won a date), and traditional masculinity (mainly embodied by participants who have not won a date). Modern masculinity highlights career-oriented qualities, socio-economic status, and luxurious lifestyles, while traditional masculinity highlights family values, skills in Chinese cultural heritage, and class mobility. The findings provide new understandings of the complexity of Chinese masculinity in the dating show context, which reflects the influence of capitalist globalization on the one hand, and the government’s attempt to govern public conduct and morality on the other.

Keywords:
Publication history
Table of contents

Chinese society has been in a state of flux in recent decades, changing from an isolated country to the present relatively modernized (and in many aspects Westernized) one after forty years of reform and opening up. Such transformation has had significant impact on Chinese masculinity. As Louie (2015, 5) observes, “Chinese masculinity ideals have undergone more fundamental changes in the last 30 years than at any other time in the last 3,000”. In his seminal research on Chinese masculinity, Louie (2002) conceptualizes Chinese masculinity in terms of the wen/wu dyad, which refers to two forms of masculine ideals in Chinese history. Wen, which literally means scholarship in letters or literature, refers to qualities associated with the scholastic learning of men. Wu, which literally means martial arts, refers to “physical strength and military prowess”, as well as “the wisdom to know when and when not to deploy it” (ibid, 14). Wen was central in this dyad, as throughout most of Chinese history, government officials were selected based on scholarship in classic literature (especially writings of Confucius), and being an official was virtually the only form of career success for a man in an agricultural society. Louie (2015) argues that the paradigm also applies to contemporary Chinese masculinity, but its nature has changed with the increasing globalization of China. The emphasis on economic development in the 20th century under the influence of the Western world, particularly since the reform and opening up in 1978, “has changed the notion of wen itself to include business management skills and monetary power” (Louie 2015, 1). Wen has evolved to include not just talent in literature, but also the new offshoot of talent in business. The latter aspect has become dominant in today’s commercialized Chinese society as career success for men is increasingly being defined by monetary power, similar to the discourse of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ in the West (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005, 850; Song and Hird 2014, 12).

Full-text access is restricted to subscribers. Log in to obtain additional credentials. For subscription information see Subscription & Price. Direct PDF access to this article can be purchased through our e-platform.

References

Baker, Paul
2003 “No Effeminates Please: A Corpus-Based Analysis of Masculinity via Personal Adverts in Gay News/Times 1973–2000.” The Sociological Review 51 (1): 243–260. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Baker, Paul, and Erez Levon
2016 “ ‘That’s What I Call a Man’: Representations of Racialised and Classed Masculinities in the UK Print Media.” Gender and Language 10 (1): 106–139. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Baudinette, Thomas
2017 “Constructing Identities on a Japanese Gay Dating Site: Hunkiness, Cuteness and the Desire for Heteronormative Masculinity.” Journal of Language and Sexuality 6 (2): 232–261. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Brady, Anne-Marie
2009 “Mass Persuasion as a Means of Legitimation and China’s Popular Authoritarianism.” The American Behavioral Scientist 53 (3): 434–457. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Butler, Judith
1990Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
Caldas-Coulthard, Carmen Rosa
2008 “Body Branded: Multimodal Identities in Tourism Advertising.” Journal of Language and Politics 7 (3): 451–470. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Chen, Siyu
2017 “Disciplining Desiring Subjects through the Remodeling of Masculinity: A Case Study of a Chinese Reality Dating Show.” Modern China 43 (1): 95–120. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Connell, Robert William
1995Masculinities (first edition). Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
2005Masculinities (second edition). Los Angeles: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Connell, Robert William, and James W. Messerschmidt
2005 “Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept.” Gender & Society, 19 (6): 829–859. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Connell, Robert William, and Julian Wood
2005 “Globalization and Business Masculinities.” Men and Masculinities, 7 (4): 347–464. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Coupland, Justine
1996 “Dating Advertisements: Discourses of the Commodified Self.” Discourse & Society 7 (2): 187–207. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
2000 “Past the ‘Perfect Kind of Age’? Styling Selves and Relationships in over-50 Dating Advertisements.” Journal of Communication 50 (3): 9–30. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Deery, June
2015Reality TV. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
Eriksson, Göran
2018 “Critical Discourse Analysis of Reality Television.” In The Routledge Handbook of Critical Discourse Studies, ed. by John Flowerdew, and John E. Richardson, 597–611. Oxon: Routledge.Google Scholar
Feng, Dezheng (William)
2016 “Promoting Moral Values through Entertainment: A Social Semiotic Analysis of 2014 Spring Festival Gala on China Central Television.” Critical Arts 29 (1): 87–101. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
2019 “Analysing Multimodal Chinese Discourse: Integrating Social Semiotic and Conceptual Metaphor Theories.” In Routledge Handbook of Chinese Discourse Analysis, ed. by Chris Shei, 65–81. London: Routledge. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Foucault, Michel
1991 “Governmentality.” In The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality, ed. by Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon, and Peter Miller, 53–72. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf.Google Scholar
Gong, Yuan
2016 “Online Discourse of Masculinities in Transnational Football Fandom: Chinese Arsenal Fans’ Talk around ‘Gaofushuai’ and ‘Diaosi’.” Discourse & Society 27 (1): 20–37. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Grewal, Inderpal, and Caren Kaplan
1994 “Introduction: Transnational Feminist Practices and Questions of Postmodernity.” In Scattered Hegemonies: Postmodernity and Transnational Feminist Practices, ed. by Inderpal Grewal, and Caren Kaplan, 1–36. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
Guo, Shaohua
2017 “When Dating Shows Encounter State Censors: A Case Study of If You Are the One .” Media, Culture & Society 39 (4): 487–503. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Hill, Annette
2015Reality TV. Oxon: Routledge.Google Scholar
Hilton-Morrow, Wendy, and Kathleen Battles
2015Sexual Identities and the Media: An Introduction. New York: Routledge. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Hiramoto, Mie
2012 “Don’t Think, Feel: Mediatization of Chinese Masculinities through Martial Arts Films.” Language & Communication 32 (4): 386–399. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
2017 “Powerfully Queered: Representations of Castrated Male Characters in Chinese Martial Arts Films.” Gender and Language 11 (4): 529–551. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Hird, Derek
2009White-Collar Men and Masculinities in Contemporary Urban China. Ph.D. thesis, University of Westminster, UK.
Itakura, Hiroko
2015 “Constructing Japanese Men’s Multidimensional Identities: A Case Study of Mixed-Gender Talk.” Pragmatics 25 (2): 179–203. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Jaworski, Adam, and Nikolas Coupland
2014 “Editors’ Introduction to Part Five.” In The Discourse Reader (3rd edition), ed. by Adam Jaworski, and Nikolas Coupland N, 407–414. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Jefferson, Tony
2002 “Subordinating Hegemonic Masculinity.” Theoretical Criminology 6 (1): 63–88. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Johnson, Sally, and Ulrike Hanna Meinhof
(eds) 1997Language and Masculinity. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
Jones, Rodney
2000 “ ‘Potato Seeking Rice’: Language, Culture, and Identity in Gay Personal Ads in Hong Kong.” International Journal of the Sociology of Language 143 (1): 33–62. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Kiesling, Scott F.
2002 “Playing the Straight Man: Displaying and Maintaining Male Heterosexuality in Discourse.” In Language and Sexuality: Contesting Meaning in Theory and Practice, ed. by Kathryn Campbell-Kibler, Robert J. Podesva, Sarah J. Roberts, and Andrew Wong, 249–266. Stanford: Center for the Study of Language and Information.Google Scholar
Kline, Susan L., and Shuangyue Zhang
2009 “The Role of Relational Communication Characteristics and Filial Piety in Mate Preferences: Cross-cultural Comparisons of Chinese and US College Students.” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 40 (3): 325–353. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Koller, Veronika and Stella Bullo
2019 “ ‘Fight Like a Girl’: Tattoos as Identity Constructions for Women Living with Illness.” Multimodal Communication 8 (1): 1–14. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Kress, Gunther, and Theo van Leeuwen
2006Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design (2nd edition). London: Routledge. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Lakoff, Robin
1975Language and Woman’s Place. New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
Li, Luzhou
2015 “ If You Are the One: Dating Shows and Feminist Politics in Contemporary China.” International Journal of Cultural Studies 18 (5): 519–535. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Louie, Kam
2002Theorising Chinese Masculinity: Society and Gender in China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
2015Chinese Masculinities in a Globalizing World. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Lunt, Peter
2009Review of Discipline and Liberty: Television and Governance, by Gareth Palmer, and Better Living through Reality TV: Television and Post-Welfare Citizenship, by Laurie Ouellette and James Hay. Media, Culture & Society 31 (6): 1023–1027. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Luo, Wei
2017 “Television’s ‘Leftover’ Bachelors and Hegemonic Masculinity in Postsocialist China.” Women’s Studies in Communication 40 (2): 190–211. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Luo, Wei, and Zhen Sun
2015 “Are You the One? China’s TV Dating Shows and the Sheng Nü’s Predicament.” Feminist Media Studies 15 (2): 239–256. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Martin, James R.
2008 “Tenderness: Realisation and Instantiation in a Botswanan Town.” Odense Working Papers in Language and Communication 29: 30–58.Google Scholar
Martin, James R., and Peter R. White
2005The Language of Evaluation: Appraisal in English. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Matley, David
2020 “ ‘I Can’t Believe# Ziggy# Stardust Died”: Stance, Fan Identities and Multimodality in Reactions to the Death of David Bowie on Instagram.” Pragmatics 30 (2): 247–276. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Milani, Tommaso M.
2013 “Are ‘Queers’ Really ‘Queer’? Language, Identity and Same-Sex Desire in a South African Online Community.” Discourse and Society 24 (5): 615–633. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Morrow, Katherine
2014 “ Fei Cheng Wu Rao (非诚勿扰): Staging Global China through International Format Television and Overseas Special Episodes.” New Global Studies 8 (3): 259–277. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Neff van Aertselaer, JoAnne
1997 “ ‘Aceptarlo Con Hombria’: Representations of Masculinity in Spanish Political Discourse.” In Language and Masculinity, ed. by Sally Johnson, and Ulrike Hanna Meinhof, 159–172. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
Oostendorp, Marcelyn
2015 “The Multimodal Construction of the Identity of Politicians: Constructing Jacob Zuma through Prior Texts, Prior Discourses and Multiple Modes.” Critical Discourse Studies 12 (1): 39–56. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Ouellette, Laurie and James Hay
2008Better Living through Reality TV. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
Palmer, Gareth
2003Discipline and Liberty: Television and Governance. Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
2008Exposing Lifestyle Television: The Big Reveal. Oxon: Routledge.Google Scholar
Saito, Junko
2012 “Construction of Institutional Identities by Male Individuals in Subordinate Positions in the Japanese Workplace.” Pragmatics 22 (4): 697–719. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Shei, Chris
2013 “How ‘Real’ Is Reality Television in China? On the Success of a Chinese Dating Programme.” In Real Talk: Reality Television and Discourse Analysis in Action, ed. by Nuria Lorenzo-Dus, and Pilar Garcés-Conejos Blitvich, 43–65. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Smith, Angela
2019 “ ‘How the Hell Did This Get on TV?’: Naked Dating Shows as the Final Taboo on Mainstream TV.” European Journal of Cultural Studies 22 (5–6): 700–717. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Song, Geng
2010 “Chinese Masculinities Revisited: Male Images in Contemporary Television Drama Serials.” Modern China 36: 404–434. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Song, Geng, and Derek Hird
2014Men and Masculinities in Contemporary China. Leiden: Brill. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Su, Hang
2015Judgement and Adjective Complementation Patterns in Biographical Discourse: A Corpus Study. PhD thesis, The University of Birmingham, UK.
Sunderland, Jane, and Lia Litosseliti
2002 “Gender Identity and Discourse Analysis: Theoretical and Empirical Considerations.” In Gender Identity and Discourse Analysis, ed. by Lia Litosseliti, and Jane Sunderland, 1–39. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Tannen, Deborah
1990You Just Don’t Understand! Women and Men in Conversation. New York: William Morrow.Google Scholar
Xi, Jinping 习近平
2013 “习近平阐释中国梦 [Xi Jinping Interpreting the Chinese Dream]”. Available at: http://​www​.xinhuanet​.com​/politics​/mzfxzgm/ (accessed 28 August 2018).
Yang, Chao
2017Television and Dating in Contemporary China: Identities, Love and Intimacy. Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Zotzmann, Karin, and John P. O’Regan
2016 “Critical Discourse Analysis and Identity.” In The Routledge Handbook of Language and Identity, ed. by Siân Preece, 113–127. London: Routledge.Google Scholar