Media Portrayal of the Chinese Cultural Norm of Filial Piety in a Chinese Magazine Targeted at the Older Population
by Yan Bing Zhang — University of Kansas
March 24, 2009 – 00:27
Filial piety (i.e., Xiao) is a Chinese traditional belief that older adults should be respected and supported. At the micro level, filial piety is a family-oriented norm that encompasses behaviors varying from obeying and respecting parents and grandparents to providing physical care and final (what’s final support?) support for them. At the macro level, filial piety has a broader meaning: older adults have, by virtue of their age, a higher social status than young people. Some analytical, filed, and empirical studies have indicated that as a result of the norm of filial piety, aging is seen as positive and older adults’ experiences and knowledge are valued. Ethno- linguistic vitality theory suggests that demographics, status and institutional support indicators index a group’s strength in a society. Mass media is among various important societal institutions that support group vitality. Group portrayals in the media provide insight into whether the group (e.g., the older group) is valued or devalued in society. The three pictures are chosen from a Chinese magazine targeted at the older population - Laotongzhi Zhiyou (Friend of Old Comrades).
With a current circulation of 450, 000, this magazine is a national monthly magazine in China whose target audience is retirees as well as organizations and governmental departments engaged in work related to the elderly. The first picture depicts an ideal grandchild and grandparent relationship in the Chinese context. Children at an early age are educated to be filial. In the picture, the grandson is handing a cup of tea to his grandfather (First scene: Gandpa, have a cup of tea). Grandpa, on the other hand smiles and responds “Do you want Grandpa to tell you a story? (Second scene: Do you want Grandpa to tell you a story). The grandson then says “ I will wash your feet for you” (Third Scene), to which the Grandpa replies, “What a great kid!!” replies the Grandpa. Altogether the three scenes portray a harmonious relationship between grandchild and grandparent in the Chinese cultural context – respect the old and love the young.
The second and third are advertisements taken from the same magazine. The central themes from the two magazine ads are filial piety – parents’ health is the children’s responsibility (second picture); older adults have status, experience and knowledge (third picture). In the second picture, the ad emphasizes that to be a filial child, you need to buy the oxygen maker for your parents (keep your parents at your heart all the time). In the third picture, an older doctor is used as a major character to promote a particular type of medicine. In both pictures, the advertisers are taking advantage of the norm of filial piety to promote their products. Before I comment further on these ads, I would love to hear from everyone of you about these images of aging and their potential influence on viewers.
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