Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2017

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Mass Communications

First Advisor

Berkowitz, Dan

First Committee Member

Ekdale, Brian

Second Committee Member

Dalrymple, Kajsa

Third Committee Member

Havens, Tim

Fourth Committee Member

Tang, Wenfang


This study explores cultural productions in one television genre in Chinese mainstream media: dispute resolution shows. By applying the theoretical frameworks of Hall’s encoding and decoding and Habermas’ public spheres, this study mainly answers two research questions: 1) how does mainstream production convey politically-preferred cultural and social values to viewers; and 2) how do audience members exercise their citizenship in decoding televised social values and cultural norms? In a specific examination of Oriental Pearl Live Newsroom, mixed-methods are adopted, including unsupervised learning of the Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA), content analysis, thematic analysis, focus groups, and interviews.

In the findings, the interviewees admitted that they propagated social and cultural values in accordance with the mainstream political ideology of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in order to maintain social stability and state order. However, my interviewees also suggested that they had an ambition and willingness to promote a civil society in China, which requires a counterbalanced power from the audience’s side. The results of the audience analysis generally indicated that they challenged the power of legitimate authorities, including the nation-state, the elite class, and the media. This study identified five online public spheres: 1) Government is the core; 2) Request for rule of law; 3) Media is a paradox; 4) The elite class is not the boss; 5) The grass is always greener (adoration of foreign countries).

In general, this study supports conceptualizing audience members as citizens. It demonstrates how audience members deconstruct the dominant interpretations of social values and their attempts to elaborate less-favorable voices in Transitional Chinese society. This conceptualization suggests the importance of audience members in creating diverse public spheres and promoting a civil society.


Audience studies, Civil society, Media citizenship, Public spheres, Reality television, Social media


xi, 142 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 131-142).


Copyright © 2017 Yafei Zhang