Promotional university institutional discourse:
a case analysis related to Chinese content
ABSRACT: In this work I investigate how promotional genre is generated in professional and public service orders of discourse, with particular reference to university institutions in contemporary China. Based on the theories of Critical Discourse Analysis, I carry out a linguistic analysis of welcome message respectively from the president of Tsinghua University and of Zhejiang University, and argue that self-promotion, the main characteristics of promotional university institutional discourse, is becoming a critical factor in the setting up of institutional identity.
KEY WORDS: marketization, promotional genre, institutional identity,
Norman Fairclough once wrote an article Critical Discourse Analysis
and the Marketization of Public Discourse: the Universities, exploring
the marketization of discursive practices in contemporary British universities, by which he means “ the restructuring of the order of
discourses on the model of more central market organization” and that
“ the genre of consumer advertising has been colonizing professional and
public service orders of discourse”. Actually such social phenomena exist
in China, too. In what follows I will take up the discussion of promotional university institutional discourse where institutional identity is constructed in Chinese content. To carry out my analysis, I have chosen two pieces of welcome message respectively from the presidents of two prestigious universities—Tsinghua University and Zhejiang University as
a case study. Both of them are planning to build themselves into world-class universities, so it is not difficult to find out promotional elements in their discursive practices and the relation between self-promotion and self-identity. In the sample texts I analyzed two categories of linguistic elements: genre and modality. In the following sections, each of them will be presented, as well as some general conclusions.
I. Interdiscursively complex mixture of promotional genres
According to Gee, interdiscursivity is a matter of how a discourse type is constituted though a combination of elements of orders of discourse. In the sample texts, we can find commodity advertising genre and prestige advertising genre in their interdiscursive mix. The former genre is realized textually for instance in personalization of the reader and the institution. The welcome message from the president of Zhejiang University (Sample 1) has more personalized style than that from Tsinghua University (Sample 2). In Sample I, there is the personalization
of the reader (Dear friend, you) and of the institution (we, our). Nonetheless, Sample II has much fewer “you”s and “we”s, possibly due
to the speaker‟s intention of stressing the prestigious quality of the institution in a formal and serious manner. In addition to personalization, the two universities see their potential students as “customers” and
encourage them to join. In Wernick‟s words, the generalization of
promotion has a communicative function—discourse as a vehicle for
“selling” goods, services, organizations, ideas and people—across orders
of discourse. The following lines will provide an illustration. - It also welcomes students from different countries to study here by offering a large selection of degree and non-degree programs ranging over 11 branches of learning…
- To get a full experience of our picturesque surrounding and favorable academic atmosphere, you must visit our university…welcome to Zhejiang University. (Sample 1)
- Tsinghua University has, over the years, become a destination yearned for by the best applicants from all over the country and has filled the hearts of Tsinghua instructors with pride as they train the most talented students from all over China.
- I hope the University will continue to enjoy your solid support.
Apart from general commodity advertising elements, there are elements from the genre of prestige advertising, including many self-promotional claims that emphasize a prestigious and favorable status among Chinese educational institutions. For example,
- Zhejiang University is an ideal place for teaching, learning and research.
- Throughout its 104-year history, Zhejiang University has continued to build on the strong foundation of excellence in teaching, research and service to the nation's economic development and social progress.
- A university becomes prestigious as a result of its long tradition of excellent management, its ability to attract and train outstanding students, and its prospects for development.
- The university should be a source of new ideas and new technologies, a center of information, and an engine for economic growth.
In these promotional discourses, there are many formal-sounding nominalizations such as management, establishment, preparations, expansion, advance, achievements, contributions, cooperation, excellence, progress. The vocabulary accords with the institutional identity set up. (We will discuss institutional identity in detail later.) The genre of prestige advertising is textually realized. The two educational institutions
have managed to demonstrate themselves as prestigious, top-rate and prosperous. As is mentioned earlier, the two types of advertising are interdiscursively mixed together, which aims at “ in the context of a
competitive market where the capacity of a university to attract good applicants is seen as one indicator of its success and a factor which can affect how well it is funded”(Fairclough, 1993) “selling” the university to
potential applicants: the best applicants from all over the country, the most talented students from all over China. (Sample 2)
Concerning the relation of self and other, Mark R. Gover points out that in isolation, personal attributes are meaningless…we "have" a self or "acquire" an identity only in relation to, in dialogue with, a chorus of others. An identity, to be socially viable, must thus be constructed with the materials of preexisting meaning systems. In my opinion, to investigate modality can help to indicate the institution‟ position toward
itself, toward the reader and toward its educational counterparts. By modality, Halliday refers to the area of meaning that lies between yes and no—the intermediate ground between negative and positive polarity. (1985:335) I will look at the model verbs and adverbs used in sample texts. Through this analysis, I argue that the two institutions to some extent use modality to construct self-promotional discourses, stressing
excellence in teaching, research and service to the country‟s development,
and at the same time to set up prestigious and would-be world-class institutional identity.
The data was divided into two sections: the first includes examples of how the institutions positioned themselves in relation to the truth and likelihood of their propositions. Many expressed absolute certainty as in
- A first-class university should give priority to scientific research,
continuously achieving major scientific and technological advances and training students to be creative in their work.
- It is precisely for these reasons that Tsinghua University has, over the years, become a destination yearned for by the best applicants from all over the country…
- Tsinghua University must develop into a comprehensive
Such absolute claims suggest that the universities are confident of their quality teaching, and an important role they can play in the country. The second section of modality includes illustrations of how the institution establishes social obligations and grants permissions to the reader, and therefore hides relations of power between institution and reader.
- I believe that, as you read each page, you will come to understand
why many people throughout the world feel that Zhejiang University is an ideal place for teaching, learning and research.
- To get a full experience of our picturesque surrounding and favorable academic atmosphere, you must visit our university.
- With the integration of the economy, science and technology, the university should become base for training top-quality innovative people, conducting high-level research and undertaking major scientific research projects for the State…
In daily life when we communicate one another, we often in face-to-face discourse where “ producers design their contributions for
the particular people they are interacting with—they adapt the language
they use, and keep adapting throughout an encounter in the light of various sorts of „feedback‟ they get from co-participants.” (Fairclough,
2001) However, it is of written language that involves participants who are separated in place and time. The welcome message I have chosen is from website, and I think they have the same function as the other media discourse does, including television, radio, film as well as newspapers. According to Fairclough, the nature of the power relations enacted in mass-media discourse is often not clear, involving hidden power between producers and interpreters (consumers). Because it is not possible for
producers to know who is in the audience, they must in mind produce with some interpreters—an ideal subject and actual viewers or listeners or readers have to negotiate a relationship with it. Then, who is the ideal subject in the welcome message the presidents are interacting with? In sample 1, it is obviously mentioned: a university president or a
representative from a research institute seeking for high-level academic exchange and cooperation; an international investor thinking about investment in a vigorously developing educational institution; a research or business representative interested in the incubation and industrialization of research achievements; a high-school or college graduate looking for undergraduate or graduate studies in different fields of learning; a foreign citizen who wants to know more about the Chinese language and culture; or a visitor just wanting to learn more about Zhejiang University.
In sample 2, an ideal subject is very obscure, for only “you” can be
found, whom the president is talking with. What are the power relations in such promotional discourse? Generally speaking, “producers exercise
power over consumers because they have sole producing rights and can therefore determines what is included and excluded, how events are represented, and even the subject positions of their audiences”.
(Fairclough, 2001) In each of the sample texts, the introduction of several paragraphs about its university is included in a genre of prestige
promotion while the disadvantages it must have are excluded. In this sense, the institution is the power-holder. Nonetheless, the welcome message belongs to promotional discourse and unavoidably it addresses readership as consumers or clients. As is known, when someone is selling to a consumer, the consumer is positioned as having authority. It is in contradiction with the traditional authority of the university over applicants, mainly because “ the genre of consumer advertising has been
colonizing professional and public service orders of discourse”.
(Fairclough, 1993) To a certain extent the colonization of higher education discourse by business advertising discourse reflects the marketization of discursive practices in contemporary Chinese universities.
After having analyzed promotional elements in the discursive practices of the two universities, now let us discuss the relations between self-promotion and self-identity. Both of the two educational institutions regard themselves as an ideal place for teaching, learning and research. They are trying to set up a prestigious identity by using many self-promotional claims. In Sample 2, Tsinghua University mentions its motto, which has inspired the teaching staff and students for generations—“Self-discipline and Social Commitment”. In fact, the
motto shows its identity. Moreover, the two institutions of higher learning
are planning to build themselves into world-class universities. In order to prove they have the constructing capability, they must demonstrate their excellence in cultivating “top-quality, versatile and creative people”. So it
is natural as well as necessary for them to adopt promotional and prestigious discourse. We have acknowledged that discourses produce and are produced by social practices and social structures. In the practice of constructing institutional identity, the discourses of commodity advertising and prestige advertising are produced. And they
simultaneously produce institutional identity. Therefore, I argue that self-promotion, the main characteristics of promotional university institutional discourse, is becoming a critical factor in the setting up of institutional identity.