Chinese President Xi Jinping broke with tradition last year by being elected to a third term as President, indicating a further move towards authoritarianism. At this turning point, we look back at China’s changes over the years by collecting reports from foreign media mentioning China in the past decade, analyzing what important events foreign media focuses on, and how their attitudes towards China have changed.
For example, in the early stages of the “Belt and Road” policy, foreign media had a positive attitude, but as related scandals emerged, their coverage of the “Belt and Road” became more negative.
When Chinese President Xi Jinping first took office, there were expectations that China would move towards more open policies, but as time went on, Xi’s authoritarianism became increasingly obvious. In areas such as economy, diplomacy, and human rights, China has become more strict in its control. Therefore, using historical data from foreign media reports, we attempt to present the trajectory of these changes, and become a good reference for observing the “Xi Jinping era”.
We reference the list of global media from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, and use Crowdtangle to collect reports from that media that mention “China” on Facebook, collecting nearly 40,000 foreign media reports. We use “sentiment analysis” to observe the attitude changes of foreign media when mentioning China, and compare what issues different countries focus on and which countries are more supportive of China at specific points in time.
At the same time, we also collect news from Chinese official media, People’s Daily, as a contrast, and selecting specific keywords, for example, poverty alleviation, anti-corruption, etc. We present the differences in the focus of foreign media and Chinese official media through word clouds.
Context about the project:
Data journalism often requires text analysis, which is one of the biggest difficulties we face. Even when using the same keywords, different reports can have completely different contexts. For example, when mentioning covid-19, Western countries often criticize China for deliberately hiding the outbreak and for having inappropriate preventive policies, but some countries agree with China’s approach and even appreciate China’s provision of vaccine aid.
Therefore, we put a lot of effort into manually analyzing these reports, not only to see the changes in attitudes towards China by different countries, but also to present the differences in the perspective of foreign media and Chinese official media on specific issues.
What can other journalists learn from this project?
We present a complete picture of the trajectory of foreign media’s attitude towards China in the past ten years. Not only positive or negative, but we further analyze which specific events led to significant changes in these countries. We also speculate which countries China is courting and which countries China is against, becoming a good reference for observing the “Xi Jinping era”.