Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2010

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Communication Studies

First Advisor

Peters, John Durham

First Committee Member

Hingstman, David

Second Committee Member

McLeod, Kembrew

Third Committee Member

Polumbaum, Judy

Fourth Committee Member

Wittenberg, David


Situated at the intersection of global media studies and environmental communication, this dissertation is a comparative study of environmental advertising in the U.S. and China. I employ a combination of semiotic, psychoanalytic, and historical methods to read Chinese and American environmental advertisements in order to interpret the structures of desires that motivate (or fail to motivate) green consumption in these two cultures. As the world's two largest consumer economies, China and the U.S. are both key contributors to the exhaustion of global resources and the pollution of the world environment and, thus, are crucial in deciding the future of the global environmental movement. I look into green consumerism, a popular cultural phenomenon in both the U.S. and China, and examine its efficacy in motivating public participation in environmental affairs. In particular, I select advertisements as unique artifacts of the consumer culture and read them as symptoms to interpret the structures of desires that underlie two strands of dominant green discourse. Named by Raymond Williams as the "magic industry," advertising is often denounced as an omnipotent machine that manufactures mass desire and dictates collective behavior. I, however, explore the cultural and historical differences that perturb the effectiveness of advertising and generate possibilities for local resistance during the global spread of green consumerism. My analysis shows that while most American green ads use images of harmony to appease a deep apocalyptic fear aroused by radical environmental rhetoric, the Chinese culture lacks the apocalyptic tradition and only responds to green ads that appeal to national pride and the desire to emulate the West. Moreover, heavily influenced by Confucianism, Taoism, and Maoism, the Chinese view the relations between humans and nature, individual and collective, subject and authority differently from the Americans. These views shape the ways the Chinese perceive and react to environmental dangers and lead to a significant disjunction in the understanding of "green" between China and the U.S. By acknowledging these cultural, ideological, and historical differences, this dissertation investigates the international struggles for hegemony underlying the green consumerist movement and explores the conditions under which global environmental alliance can be established.


Advertising, China, Environmentalism, Psychoanalysis, Rhetoric, United States


vii, 256 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 237-256).


Copyright 2010 Xinghua Li

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Communication Commons