Quality & Quantity 32: 47–62, 1998.
© 1998 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
A Structural Analysis of the Changing Image of
China in the New York Times from 1949
Department of Communication Studies, East Stroudsburg University, East Stroudsburg, PA 18301,
Abstract. This research paper has explored the image of China portrayed in the New York Times
from 1949 through 1988. The study has shown that the image of China has changed in accordance
with the changes in the U.S. foreign policy toward China over the past forty years. The changes were
discussed in the historical context of Sino-U.S. relations. In addition, this paper has explored some
methodological issues relating to Q-analysis. This methodology, different from Q-sort technique, is
proven particularly powerful in this study for describing semantical structures in a cluster of news
Key words: national image, media image, Sino-U.S. relations, Q-analysis, semantical structure,
prominence of news stories, social construction of reality.
1. Theoretical Background
Past studies of national images in mass communication research have focused on:
(1) how an object-nation is presented in a mass medium (e.g., Gaddy & Tan-
jong, 1986; McNelly & Izcaray, 1986; Merrill, 1962; Oliphant, 1964; and Pratt,
1980); and (2) how individuals perceive an object-nation (e.g., Buchanan & Cantril,
1953; Coelho, 1958; Commager, 1974; Oxnam, 1977; Scott, 1965). The theoretical
proposition for research in this realm is that what individuals know and believe
about their social world determines how they react to this world. In other words,
the image that exists in people’s mind or presented in the mass media is related to
people’s actions in a society.
In the context of international relations, studies of national images surged in
two important historical eras (Lee, 1982). The ﬁrst surge was during the Cold War
era of the 1950’s and the 1960’s; social scientists studied how people’s perceptions
of nations contributed to the build-up of tensions between the East and West (e.g.,
Buchanan & Cantril, 1953; Isaacs, 1958; Merrill, 1962; Jervis, 1970). The second
surge was during the 1980’s; communication scholars studied the image of Third
World countries in the Western mass media in order to alter the unfairness existing