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Chinese Stereotypes Reflected in Movies Report

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Updated: Jun 8th, 2019


Perceptions of alien cultures are normally formed through a series of impressions from varied sources. Some may be newspaper articles written about people from that land; others may be books on the same while others are television programs or movies about that culture.

Every contact that an individual has with any of these avenues can either contribute to a deeper and true understanding of the alien culture or it may lead to a prejudicial and mistaken image or perception of the group. This research will focus on the Chinese as the alien culture and western audiences as the reference group formulating these images. Movies will be the communication medium that gets this information out.

An analysis of Chinese stereotypes reflected in movies – Background of the research

China has had a tumultuous history over the past five decades. It underwent a cultural revolution in which its leaders tried to eliminate foreign (especially western) elements of culture in their land. This has the result of isolating China and Chinese culture from the rest of the world (Spence, 2010). Its people were inaccessible and many people did not understand them subsequently.

Much has changed in China since the 1970s because the Chinese have travelled around the world and the world has gone to China. Nonetheless, these interactions do not guarantee accurate and well grounded understandings of the Chinese people.

Some westerners still choose to look at them based on their past political, social and cultural misgivings and these perceptions get conveyed through communications and media. Alternatively, others may see them for what they are but may choose to focus on the negatives inherent in their culture and this leads to formation of stereotypes (Terraciano et. al, 2005).

Further still, most westerners may not have the time to visit China and may therefore rely on television and movies for information on its culture (Sheridian, 2006). What audiences see on the cinemas or across their screens will eventually determine their treatment of the Chinese people if they come into contact with them. Indeed, it has been asserted that several movie roles containing Chinese actors have some commonalities.

It is critical to examine whether these roles are tolerant or prejudicial and whether they lead to a better understanding of the Chinese people or a distorted image of them (Cogan, 2005). Societies can either get along with another or be more alienated from each other depending on their perceptions. It is therefore critical to look at how these perceptions are created.

Purposes of carrying out the research

The main research objective will be to: “Analyse Chinese stereotypes in movies”

The specific objectives will include:

  1. To identify the various stereotypical depictions of the Chinese in movies
  2. To determine the relationship between Chinese stereotype roles in movies and their real life roles
  3. To assess whether Chinese stereotypes in movies harm or contribute to an understanding between China and the western world

The specific objectives in this case focus on unravelling the nature of stereotypes of the Chinese with particular emphasis on movies as the source of the stereotypes; this particularly refers to specific objective one. The objectives also focus on comparing these stereotypes with actual social roles.

In other words, the research will be focusing on placing the stereotypes in context and showing whether there is a gap between the actual and the perceived. This will demonstrate whether these stereotypes actually are a misunderstanding of the Chinese people or not.

The comparison lies in specific objective two. Lastly the research aims at relating these stereotypes to cultural tolerance by examining whether the stereotypes are promoting an understanding between westerners and the Chinese or whether they are actually alienating them from one another as seen through specific objective three.

Research questions

In the focus group, the following questions will be asked: “What are the common stereotypes on Chinese intellect in movies? What are the common stereotypes on the kind of lives they lead? What are the stereotypes of the Chinese on their attitudes towards food? What are the stereotypes on their values systems?

What are the stereotypes on their attitudes to work? What are the stereotypes on their personalities? What are the stereotypes on gender roles? How do these Chinese stereotypes in movies help or hinder an understanding of the Chinese?”

In the questionnaires, participants will be required to answer these questions by selecting a response between 1 and 5. The questionnaire will require Chinese and non Chinese participants to respond the research questions below: “Do you agree that the Chinese tend to conform to authority? Do you agree that the Chinese are passionate about food? Do you agree that gender relations in China are unfair?

Do you agree that the Chinese live dull and boring lives? Do you agree that the Chinese are hardworking? Do you agree that the Chinese fear confrontation? Do you agree that manners are very important to the Chinese?”

Responses to these questions by the Chinese participants will constitute the x variable (which represent actual Chinese roles in real life) while responses to the same question by non Chinese participants will constitute the y variable which will be the Chinese stereotypes reflected in movies.

Possible ethical challenges in the research

Since this will be a research involving human subjects, then a range of ethical issues need to be covered by the latter group. First of all, informed consent will be an important part of this process because the information under analysis will not be public information.

The research participants will be specifically picked and they need to be aware that the information they provide will be part of a research publication which will be available to the public (Sharf, 2006). Participants in this research will be told what the research entails and their express permission will be sought.

The contributors to the research will also have some privacy concerns which need to be incorporated during the research process. In other words, some may feel like some questions are too intrusive or relate to their personal lives. In the actual research, precedence will be given to questions that only relate to the research objectives. Very little attention will be given to unnecessary or intrusive questions.

Also, other participants will require a certain level of anonymity especially because culturally related studies may be sensitive and controversial. To this end, all the subjects will be identified by a number rather than their names throughout the research process and in the research report as well.

Issues of responsibility from the part of the researcher will need to be considered as well. Sometimes, the researcher will have to mislead the participants in order to get what he or she is looking for but this should be kept at a minimum. The researcher will conduct the investigation in an honest way.

Numerous issues will have to be covered in terms of copyright infringement and authorship. Taking credit for another researcher’s work is not tolerated and will therefore not occur in this research. All the external information will be properly referenced. Also, issues of fabrication may crop up. Some researchers may decide to change data or may use personal biases if the research is qualitative.

The subject matter which is Chinese stereotypes in movies could expose some biases in western audiences and these cannot be neutralised or exaggerated through interventions made by the researcher so no such things will be done. It is not ethical to overstate the number of subjects and this will not occur in the subsequent publication (Hobbs & Wright, 2006).

Methodological outline

This research will use mixed research methods, i.e. a combination of qualitative and quantitative research. The quantitative aspect will involve the use of questionnaires and the qualitative aspect will entail a focus group. Because specific objective one is qualitative in nature i.e. the identification of Chinese stereotypes in movies then this will be done through the focus group.

Also, specific objective three which focuses on assessing whether the stereotypes leads to misunderstandings or understandings between western and Chinese cultures is also qualitative in nature because it involves providing an in depth look at a social phenomenon that it is context specific (Hesse-Biber & Leavy, 2006). The qualitative aspect will be through the use of focus groups.

On the other hand, specific objective three will require quantitative analysis because it attempts to make a generalisation about the issues of Chinese stereotypes as compared to their actual roles. Therefore, many cases of these comparisons will be looked at in order to draw out a pattern on their relationships. This part will be done through the use of questionnaires.

Mixed methods for the research were selected because of the advantages they would create in the paper. First of all, they provide room for triangulation. In any research, there is always the possibility of external influencers in the research. Mixed methods reduce the effects of these interferers on the results and therefore contribute towards consistent results.

Additionally, the mixed methods will introduce complementarities into the research. One method may not be that specific and may require another one in order to enrich it (Uwe, 2007).

In this particular research, the quantitative method which employs the use of questionnaires will not offer some additional and deeper issues concerning Chinese stereotype depictions in movies especially on the nature of the depictions themselves and the effects they have upon the two cultures. To this end, focus group analysis was introduced in order to bring in those different dimensions.

Also their open ended nature contributes more to these insights because it ensures that participants are not trapped by the narrow views of the researcher. Furthermore, mixed methods contribute towards a development process in the research. This is because one method can give partial results and then it may need another method to complete it.

In this regard, the focus group method will be a development of the quantitative questionnaires. All in all, the use of more than one method in research will ensure that the paper is rich and detailed. It will also entail the expansion of the study on interactions between Chinese and western cultures.

This research design will bring out better results owing to the fact that most of the strategy entails utilisation of mixed methods. Further still, it is likely that the scope and quality of this research will be much greater than it would have been if it depended on only one method.

The research aims at being more expansive on issues of cultural interactions; by increasing the level of accountability, the research report will be more critical and more reflexive (Neuman, 2007).

Proposed data analysis

Data analysis will need to be done in two phases owing to the fact that two methods were used in the research Focus group data analysis: as stated earlier, the research questions that were qualitative in nature included specific objective one and three which attempted to determine the nature of Chinese stereotypes and to assess the impact that the stereotypes have on understandings or misunderstandings between the two cultures.

These objectives will be analysed through a step by step procedure. First, the transcripts recording all the focus group sessions will be obtained and so will observation notes as well the audio tapes. It should be noted that these various ways of recording were employed in order to capture every single piece of information conveyed by the contributors (Litoseliti, 2005).

The data will need to be organised first. Here, the responses will be arranged in a manner that falls in line with the research questions. In other words, all the key points that the research will unravel will be categorised through the specified research objectives.

Key points will be determined by having a look at the things that the participants wanted to talk about mostly. They will then be coded into certain variables such as gender relations, Chinese value systems, reverence for authority and diligence.

After categorising the key points, the research will then review that information in order to confirm some of the stated objectives. For example, it will look at some of the issues that were assumed to be certain but then challenged in the focus group. It will also look at some of the issues that had been suspected but were confirmed or even challenged by members of the focus group.

New data that had not been thought of certainly will also be reviewed. All the data will be codified under agreed upon codes. Since it may sometimes be difficult to decide this by oneself, it will be essential to look for external parties to help in this codifying process (Silverman, 2005). Neutral individuals can contribute towards better results because they are not blocked by previous conceptions of the same.

The analysis will then be verified by another external party so as to make sure that there is sufficient evidence to make the conclusions in the research report. If the external party will come to the same conclusion as the researcher then this means that the data was properly analysed.

The quantitative aspect of the research will be analysed through the Spearman’s rank correlation coefficient. The data has to be related to the research objective (Piantadosi et. al, 2007) which was to ‘To determine the relationship between Chinese stereotype roles in movies and their real life roles’.

The x variable in this case will be elements that reflect real life roles and the y variable will be the elements that symbolise stereotypes of the Chinese in movies. The ranks assigned to both will be one to five depending on whether participants agree or disagree with each element on the research. 1 will be for ‘strongly disagree’ while 5 will represent the other end of the scale which will be ‘strongly agree’.

The data analysis will commence by creation of two columns first. Column 1 will be labelled Xi – containing of all the elements that will depict Chinese roles as seen in real life and the next column will be labelled xi and this will be an indication of the rankings assigned to each variable. The third column will be labelled Yi and will contain all the elements that are associated with the stereotypes of the Chinese.

The fourth column will contain rankings for these stereotypes as well from 1 to 5 for strongly agree and strongly disagree respectively and will be called yi. It should be noted that some of the elements that will be form part of the Chinese stereotypes in movies include: ‘conformance to authority’, ‘strict gender roles’, ‘overly hardworking’, ‘dull and boring lives’ and ‘fear of confrontation’.

Participants will be required to state whether they strongly agree with these elements or somewhat disagree, somewhat agree or strongly disagree with these variables on Chinese culture. The fifth column will contain differences between columns xi and yi and will be known as di. Finally, the sixth column will contain a squared value of di. The spearman’s correlations coefficient (Ρ) will then be computed through the latter formula


√{∑i(xi-‾x) 2 (yi-‾x)2}

(Corder & Foremen, 2009)

Significance of the study and proposed result interpretation

This study will be statistically significant if the null hypothesis i.e. there is no relationship between Chinese stereotypes in movies and their actual roles in real life is negated and the Spearman’s correlation coefficient is not zero or has a negative value.

This will indicate that these stereotypes actually hold true and are an indication of how the Chinese really are. Conversely, the coefficient could have a positive value that affirms the null hypothesis. In this regard, the study will reveal that western cultures misinterpret the Chinese way of life by relying on stereotypical images of these people in their movies.

With regard to the focus group, the results on various depictions of Chinese stereotypes will be an eye opener because they will be critiquing a very common and often relied upon information source. These results will be demonstrating that audiences need not embrace some of the communications they receive on face value because a substantial number of them may contain distortions about other cultures (Aronson & Steele, 2005).

The second research objective under analysis through the focus group method will be highly significant. If it has been shown that stereotypes contribute towards a misunderstanding of Chinese culture then westerners will be aware of the source of these misunderstandings and may be prompted to act in order to counter those forces by reforming the film industry.

Alternatively, they may be urged to look for more accurate information about the Chinese culture and this will promote greater tolerance between the two groups.

On the other hand, if it has been found that there is really greater understanding of Chinese culture through these stereotypes, then it is likely that movies as a means of communication will continue to perpetuate the stereotypes and westerners will be a little less closer to the Chinese than they would have been if the stereotypes were found not to be true. Western media will come off as objective and highly reliable.


Generally, the study will contribute towards a deeper understanding of a non western culture through the film lens. In the end, cross cultural interactions will be better understood and perhaps will be smoothened due to this attention given through the research (Ewen & Ewen, 2006).


Cogan, T. (2005). Western Images of China: Recent travel accounts. Waseda studies in social sciences, 2(1), 24

Corder, G. & Foremen, D. (2009). Non parametric statistics for non statisticians. NY: Wiley

Spence, J. (2010). The Chan’s Great continent: China in western minds, London: Norton

Sharf, J. (2006). Ethics of doing naturalistic discourse research. London: Sage

Piantadosi, J., Bolan, J. & Howlett, P. (2007). Matching the grade correlation coefficient using a copula with maximum disorder. Industrial and management optimization, 3(2), 305-312

Uwe, F. (2007). The sage qualitative research kit. London: Sage

Hesse-Biber, S. & Leavy, P. (2006). The practice of qualitative research. London: Sage

Neuman, W. (2007). Basics of social research: quantitative and qualitative approaches. London: Allen and Bacon

Silverman, D. (2005). Doing qualitative research: a practical handbook. London: Sage

Litoseliti, L. (2005). Using focus groups in research. London: Continuum

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Terraciano, A., Adam, N. & Abdel Khalek, A. (2005). National character does not reflect mean personality trait levels in 49 cultures. Science, 310(57), 96

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