Gender Representations in the Chinese Spring Festival Eve Gala Mini-dramas

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2019

25 Pages, Grade: 2


Table of Contents


1 Introduction

2 Methodology
2.1 Research Methods
2.2 Data Collection
2.3 Concepts of Variables, Coding Procedure, and Analytical Tools

3 Results

4 Discussions
4.1 Numerical Representations
4.2 Age groups and settings
4.3 Occupational roles and roles related to families

5 Conclusion




This research analyzed 185 mini-dramas (Xiao Pin) in Chinese Spring Festival Eve galas (CSFEG) from the first gala in 1983 to the latest gala in 2015. These galas are held by Chinese Central Television (CCTV) and are celebrations of the Spring Festival which is the most important festival in China. Generally, these galas consist of singing, dancing, magic shows, mini-dramas (Xiao Pin), and cross-talks (Xiang Sheng). Findings in this study were based on chi-square tests and showed that female images in mini-dramas were underrepresented and stereotyped. On the one hand, gender stereotypes in mini-dramas were associated with traditional gender roles. For example, male predominance was found in occupational roles (78.2% vs. 55.6%), while females were more often represented in roles related to family (52.3% vs. 30.6%). On the other hand, gender stereotypes were related to official propaganda by limiting characters in several settings and subthemes. As a whole, such stereotyped gender roles do not reflect policies that the Chinese government implemented to promote gender equality. This study makes a unique contribution by using quantitative methods to measure gender images in mini-drams. By comparing findings with previous studies, possible reasons for gender stereotypes are discussed.

Keywords: Chinese, Gender stereotypes, Representation, Content analysis, Mini-dramas

1 Introduction

Marking the first day of a year in agriculture calendar, Spring Festival is the most important traditional festival in China (Zhang, 2013; Zhao, 1998). Family members generally get together in the eve of the lunar New Year. As one of the celebrations, the Central Chinese Television (CCTV) held the first gala in the Spring Festival Eve’s evening in 1983. With the widespread access to television, these galas have huge amounts of viewers, although the number of viewers has fallen in recent years. For example, in 2002, more than half of the Chinese population watched the gala (Zhang, 2013), while in 2015, audience fell to about 0.69 billion (Liu & Wang, 2015). Watching the gala has become a shared family activity in China. Such galas also have great influence on Chinese society, for their preparations get wide media coverage and shape the public expectations (Zhao, 1998). Every gala creates words and sentences which will be popular among people and will be frequently mentioned in daily life (Jia, 2013). For example, in the 2013 gala, mini-drama Today’s Happiness 2 created catchwords by saying “what beat you is not the naiveté but no shoes” (in Chinese, pronunciation of innocence is the same as no shoes) (Jia, 2013).

Generally, the Chinese Spring Festival Eve galas (CSFEG), which last for about four hours, consist of singing, dancing, magic shows, and narrative programs. Narrative programs is a collective name for cross-talks and mini-dramas. Cross-talks are comic dialogues between two persons using Beijing dialect (Zhao, 1998). Mini-dramas are short plays that use a simple and amusing storyline, and have several characters (Zhao, 1998). While cross-talks just use language to perform and most roles are taken by males (Wang, 2013), mini-dramas utilize language and settings to perform and female roles are included. These programs are popular because they not only show stories but indicate characteristics of mass culture via roles they portray (Jia, 2013). Besides, they are indicators of changes and reveal new trends in people’s mindset towards social life (Jia, 2013). Checking gender representations in mini-dramas will give us insights about people’s perceptions of gender relations in Chinese society.

Previous studies of Mini-dramas

As television has great influence in constructing gender identity (Song & Zhu, 2008), efforts to understand gender images in media become an important topic. Compared to other media, such as advertisements, films, and video, less literature is dedicated to analyze gender images in mini-dramas.

A major problem to judge women’s images in mini-dramas is the irrelevance between concepts/methods and conclusions. Stereotypes represent ideas and beliefs towards a social group, and such ideas and beliefs are simplified and lag behind social changes (Pu, 2001). In gender studies, stereotypes are associated with traditional gender roles. In traditional China, as Pearson (1995) pointed out, women have lower status than men in family, economy, education, culture, and political system. For instance, Song and Zhu (2008) claimed that women’s images in mini-dramas reflected social reality and developments, and women become more independent. One of the evidence is the mini-drama Mr. Lao Le (Xiao Jiu Lao Le) was performed in the 1990’s gala. In this mini-drama, the husband was fear of his wife and the wife made decisions for the family. This kind of wife was called tough woman. However, Yuan and Zheng (2008) concluded that tough women were stereotypes and reflect traditional culture. Obviously, tough women in several cases did not belong to traditional gender roles, so the study did not verify. If tough women can represent independence of women, the next question will be can this kind of women represent the trend in mini-dramas? How about male characters in mini-dramas? To answer these questions, this study will use quantitative context analysis which is suitable for “studying messages containing information about sex and gender roles (Neuendorf, 2011, p.276)”.

Another problem is the small body of literature does not provide insights into the complexity of women’s images, for they are associated with the authorities (Dai et al., 2002). Zhao (1998) claimed that CSFEG’s mission is to educate the public with ideology packaged through entertainment, and the best form to do this is mini-dramas. Chairman Mao claimed that women can do what men do (Dai et al., 2002). In Maoist, women were portrayed as genderless mothers, peasants and workers. After economic reforms in 1980s, market economy required large numbers of workers. More and more women entered the labor force and have different roles in work and family. Women were described as strong women that referred to women who succeeded in careers but pay less attention to the family (Yuxin & Ho, 2006). However, previous studies lacked of discussion in which explored women’s images in different periods. By analyzing strong women in selective mini-dramas, Kong (2006) praised women’s improvement in social status and attributed it to the progress of society. The changes of women’s images cannot be simply put as the progress of society.

Gender Relations in Contemporary Chinese Society

The traditional value system in China was largely shaped by Confucianism. Confucius believed that society should be organized by hierarchy, including gender relations. Women were dependent for the family and men should be “a dutiful son, a loyal official, and even a benevolent ruler (Chen, 2002, p.46)”. A “good” wife should put the whole family’s interests as first priority rather than their own interests (Lee Cooke & Xiao, 2014), while men are head of the household (Leung, 2003). Such a value system, essentially, is masculine (Leung, 2003). When Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rose power in 1949, the Party planned to shift the society to communist society via radical changes. In order to get support from the public, many aspects of traditional social life, such as family organization, women’s roles, personal values, were remained (Chen, 2002). Meanwhile, women obtained their rights to equal income, the rights to get married and divorced, rights to give birth, rights to raise children, and rights to have an abortion, and so on. Women’s status was higher than before. Chairman Mao said that women in China “hold up half of the sky” and nearly all young women were employed outside the home (Cheng, 1997). However, the CCP evaluated women by using male standards and emphasizing masculinization of women (Leung, 2003). Women in this period were genderless masculinized and were still responsible for “carrying out the noble functions of mother and wife in the family (Leung, 2003, p. 366)”.

A set of reforms began in 1978. Through the “Four Modernisations,” the “Open Door Policy,” and the turn to socialist market economy, these reforms generated changes to nearly all aspects of life in China (Leung, 2003). To fulfill the market economy’s need for workers, women’s participation of labor force seriously increased. However, the traditional perception of women’s roles remained little challenged (Cooke, 2005). In this traditional perception, family commitment is more important than self-development and career advancement (Cooke, 2005). Women who paid much attention to work and less attention to the family would be called as “strong women”. Strong women were against requirements of traditional culture. Besides the increase of labor participation, women still faced discriminations from “hiring, rewards, promotion and pressure to withdraw them from the labor force (Leung, 2003, p. 367)”. Due to modernization and globalization, gender differences were back to the society, as Brownell and Wasserstrom (2002) pointed out, women had freedom of personal expression, such as hair style. Considering globalization and western cultural values could be a threat to Chinese national identity (Shao et al., 2014), the government revived the Confucian values that emphasized traditions, cultural and family rituals (Leung, 2003). Both gender images and gender stereotypes became diverse.

I have two main purposes for this paper. First, I quantify the portrayals of gender roles in mini-dramas in CSFEG from 1983 to 2015. So far, no studies have quantified all of the roles in them. Second, I explore gender images by exploring stereotypes. Based on the definition of stereotypes, official propaganda simplified women’s image to those that are genderless but that contribute to stereotypes. I will check whether gender roles are related to traditional culture and to official propaganda.


As mentioned above, previous studies in mini-dramas did not quantified the roles. To quantify and judge gender roles, I have to borrow variables from studies of advertising and create variables to reflect other features of mini-dramas. Compared to other forms of media, mini-dramas are similar to advertisements for three reasons. First, mini-dramas include visual scenes and sounds, but print media and radio programs do not contain these features. Second, mini-dramas always last for 5 to 15 minutes which are much shorter than TV shows and films. And each mini-drama has not connections in content. Third, common features between mini-dramas and television advertising are stories, scenes, roles, and dialogue or monologues. However, based on mini-dramas’ definition, several variables in advertising will not be included: product categories, voiceovers, central figures, and dress. Unlike sexual dresses in advertising, women in mini-dramas do not dress seductively.

In the following review, we will outline the way certain variables measured stereotypes and whether they fit mini-dramas. The selecting criteria is research which has been published in journals in the most recent two decades and the study area is Asia. Studies of gender representations in television advertising emerged in the 1970s in the United States, while research in Asian was introduced in the 1990s (Prieler & Centeno, 2013). One reason for the selection is Asian countries share some common ideas, such as the notion that family is the essential support for individuals (Logan et al., 1998). Chinese scholars’ extent studies of TV advertising have provided valuable knowledge, such as people’s attitudes towards anti-smoking TV ads (Xu et al., 2015), but a more extensive and critical view of the interaction between TV advertising and gender is still very few. Another reason is studies in recent 20 years will not lag behind social trends too far. Several aspects in previous advertising studies will be compared, involving channel equivalence (national vs. regional channel), sample equivalence (sample size, recoding time), content categories (varying categories and definitions), and units of analysis (television advertisements vs. characters) (Prieler & Centeno, 2013; Furnham & Mak, 1999). For Chinese literature on mini-dramas, I will compare the sample, characters, conclusions, reasons, and measures proposed by authors.

Most of the previous studies about gender and advertising focused on two aspects of gender stereotyping: the frequency and the nature of portrayals (Das, 2011). Frequencies of portrayals were quantified as the number of male roles and female roles. However, this led to mixed results with some studies finding male-dominance while others revealed female-dominance or no difference. Statistical analysis verified female-dominance in numbers in Philippines (Prieler & Centeno, 2013), Singapore (Lee, 2004), and South Korea (Kim & Lowry, 2005). In contrast, male-predominance was found in India (Das, 2011), and no gender difference was found in studies related to Japan, Taiwan, and Malaysia (Bresnahan et al., 2001). Because it may be possible that less frequent presence of females may suggest limited roles for them in mini-dramas, this study will check gender dominance as a whole. The following the first hypothesis:

H1: More males than females appear in mini-dramas in Spring Festival Eve Galas

A few advertising studies contained the variable of age, which contributes to some differences in the nature of gender portrayals (Das, 2011). The age difference can also account for stereotypes, although this difference is not a direct contribution. In Chinese advertising, for example, even though both young women and men were predominant (n=144 vs n=132) in advertising, women had fewer occupational roles than males (n=9 vs n=34) (Cheng, 1997). Such a contradiction helped to verify gender stereotypes in advertising. For this reason, I decided to quantify gender roles by age in mini-dramas. The hypothesis is below:

H2: More women than men will be portrayed as younger in mini-dramas.

However, age groups in themselves are not sufficient to indicate the nature of gender stereotypes. In the former studies, settings are the place where stereotyped gender images exist (Prieler & Centeno, 2013). Similar to commercial ads, mini-dramas have settings. Home setting is the most common setting in which more females than males were found in all of the literature. For example, in the Indian television advertising, more females than males were in home settings exclusively. Such representations were recognized as part of the stereotypes associated with women. To assess gender differences in commercial ads, another variable is workplace. In the study of Philippine advertising which contained 254 unduplicated ads, more males (17.9%) than females (7.9%) were found in workplaces outside the household (Prieler & Centeno, 2013). Prieler and Centeno (2013) claimed that that result did not show equality in the Philippines. Another setting which reflects gender predominance is outdoors, where more males than females were found in Japan and Malaysia (Bresnahan et al., 2001). Outdoor settings are also associated with gender differences. Because outdoor settings may reflect Chinese traditional culture, in which labor divisions are associated with female roles at home and males outside the home, I consider an outdoor setting as one of the variables in my analysis. I list hypotheses related to settings:

H3a: More women than men are set in the home in mini-dramas.

H3b: More men than women are in the workplace in mini-dramas.

H3c: More men than women are in outdoor settings in mini-dramas.

Occupational roles are important indicators for the nature and type of portrayals. The existing literature states that occupations influence gender stereotypes. For example, in Korean advertising, gender stereotypes existed and male-dominance was found in workers (27.1% vs. 13.4%). In China, raising women’s participation in job markets is perhaps the biggest achievement that the government has made in improving women’s position. Based on Marxism, China identified the essential reason for gender inequality to lie in low economic position (Zhang, 2009). Exploring job status in mini-dramas contributes not only to gender stereotypes, but to gender equality. Studies of commercial also supported this variable. In Indian advertising, more men (23.9%) than women (7%) were employed (Das, 2011). In a study of Chinese commercials in 1996, similar results were found, but no women were shown in “high-level business/ professional” positions, compared to 47.1 percent of men (Cheng, 1997). My hypotheses are below:

H4a: Women are less likely to have jobs than men in mini-dramas.

H4b: More women are in unidentified job status than men in mini-dramas.

H4c: More men than women have high-level occupations in mini-dramas.

Besides occupational roles, roles in a family are another important indicator for the nature and types of portrayals. In advertising, females can be depicted as parents, spouses, girlfriends, dependent roles, and relationship roles (Das, 2011). Female-predominance in those roles can be found in India (Das, 2011), Korea (Kim and Lowry, 2005), China (Cheng, 1997), and Hong Kong (Furnham et al., 2000). For example, in Korean advertising, more women than men were portrayed as parents (12.1% vs 3.2%) and homemakers (12.3% vs 0.4%), while more men than women were portrayed as workers (27.1% vs 13.4%) and interviewers (27.3% vs 11.5%) (Kim & Lowry, 2005). Such differences suggested that women had lower status than men, and males were still dominant in society (Kim & Lowry, 2005). Checking gender roles in a family is also important in mini-dramas, for it is an indicator of gender stereotypes. Dai et al. (2002) were critical that women in contemporary China were portrayed as genderless but endlessly devoted mothers. I use roles in a family to contain all roles that show a position in families, such as husbands (fathers), wives (mothers), and grandmothers. The hypothesis is below:

H5: More women than men have roles in families in mini-dramas.

As shown in the table 1, the last category is subthemes, which shows the way mini-dramas cater to the themes of the gala. Zhao (1998) claimed that mini-dramas have to impart official propaganda to audience through entertainments. Analysis of this category makes it possible to understand the characters of Chinese women. When describing stereotypes of Chinese women, Dai et al. (2002) argue that gender differences are weak but political and class difference are emphasized. In Chinese literature on mini-dramas, Zhang (2013) proposed four types of subthemes: positive living attitudes (Biao Xian Ji Ji Xiang Shang de Sheng Huo Tai Du), changes in living conditions (Biao Xian Sheng Huo Zhuang Kuang Gai Shan), satirizing some social phenomena (Feng Ci Mou Zhong She Hui Xian Xiang), and admiring moral values (Ge Song Mou Zhong Pin De Huo Zhe Jing Shen). I propose the hypothesis below:

H6: gender differences appear in subthemes in mini-dramas.

2 Methodology

2.1 Research Methods

In gender studies, quantitative content analysis is a basic research tool in comparing and studying messages produced by females and males (Neuendorf ,2011). Research has explored domestic and international content in media ranging from films, television, videos games, magazines, television shows, to children’s books and textbooks for teenagers (Neuendorf, 2011). To compare gender behaviors and attributes in mini-dramas, I need to conduct a quantitative content analysis. I will use chi-square to test gender differences and use crosstabs to explore how variables are related, such as women’s occupational roles and women’s roles related to families. By doing so, I am assured of quality data for analysis where, based on my research goals, each mini-drama is quantified according to gender, age groups, settings, occupations, roles related to families, and subthemes. My use of content analysis to quantify and explore gender roles is the first step in understanding gender representations in mini-dramas, hopefully contributing to increasing interest in studying the Chinese Spring Festival Eve galas.

2.2 Data Collection

The process of collecting mini-dramas in CSFEG contains two stages. First, I searched the program lists from 1983 to 2015, and selected mini-dramas. Second, I located mini-dramas from both Chinese and international video websites, including CCTV (the official website), Youtube, Youku, Tudou, Iqiyi, and Tencent. In totally, my study analyzes 185 CSFEG mini-dramas.

2.3 Concepts of Variables, Coding Procedure, and Analytical Tools

Two general principles were included in the coding procedure. First, the study focuses on gender behaviors of adults who are older than 18 years old, so children in mini-dramas were not coded. Judging the age of roles was based on appearance. Second, two kinds of people were not coded: assistants or dancers who have no lines; champions in Olympic Games and football players who also have less than 3 sentences.

I used a four-stage coding procedure because there was no funding to hire coders. First, I used two days to develop the code book based on previous studies. The code book includes general structure of database, variables, and the value for each category. Second, I watched mini-dramas online, and coded in Excel. This stage lasted for more than 80 hours. I wrote down categories that were not included in the codebook, and revised the code book. In this stage, I found some special mini-dramas which contained operas, cross-talks, and dancing. I coded them because about 80% of their content included mini-dramas. In other words, I analyzed gender roles based on appearances and lines. However, I deleted two mini-dramas which were played by animals, because I was not able to determine how gender behaviors of adults were represented. Another mini-drama that I had to delete is Mutual Cooperation (Duo Duo Guan Zhao), for I did not find it from all websites. Third, I watched the mini-dramas again for 50 hours, because searching mini-dramas used less time. The purpose of this stage was to make verify the former coding. Concepts related to each variable and category can be found in Table 1. Fourth, I transformed the data from Excel to SPSS, and checked frequencies for every gender-paired variable to make sure I did not omit any roles or variables.

Table 1

I determined the relevance between variables and categories via the SPSS Statistics, which is a software program to do statistical analysis for quantitative data. I used the SPSS to check frequencies, create cross-tabs, and conduct Chi-square tests. Choosing the SPSS is because I studied it in the course of Methodology and it is used by many researchers.

3 Results

In the 185 mini-dramas in Chinese Spring Festival Eve galas included a count of 669 roles in total, results are presented based on chi-square analysis and crosstabs. I also use adjusted standardized residuals (ASRs) for categories that may contribute to gender differences. For categories are significantly contribute to results and percentages of male and female are very close, I test their relevance separately.

Table 2

Of the total 669 characters, 36% of the roles were female (n=241) and 64% (n=428) were male (X2 =28.109, df =1, ρ= .000). Thus, hypothesis 1 that CSFEG mini-dramas will feature more males than females was supported. However, if the category of unidentified job status was out of the occupational variable, no significant differences were found (X2 =.168, df =1, ρ= .682). These results show that unidentified job status plays an important role in the predominance of males, while removal of other categories did not influence results.

For age groups (Table 2), no statistic differences between female roles and male roles were found (X2 =4.912, df =2, ρ= .086; Cramer’s V= .086). However, women have highest percentage in the age groups of 20s (37%), while men have highest percentage in the age group of 30s (37.6%). As a result, the hypothesis 2a that more women than men were portrayed as younger was not completely supported.

As for the setting (table 2), no gender differences were found (X2 =8.991, df =4, ρ= .061; Cramer’s V= .116). With respect to the adjusted standardized residuals (ASRs), the home setting was dominated by females (30.1% vs. 39%; ASR=±2.3). Gender difference in the home setting was tested separately, and it turned out that significantly gender difference exist (X2 =5.451, df =1, ρ= .020; Cramer’s V= .090). In the outdoor setting, however, females have the slightly higher percentage than males (26.1% vs. 24.5). In the workplace, slight difference between males and females was found (14.5% vs. 9.5%). As a result, the hypothesis 3a was support, but hypotheses 3b and 3c were not supported.

In the variable of occupations (Table 2), more male roles than females had jobs (X2 =50.060, df =7, ρ= .000; Cramer’s V= .274). Specifically, more females than males had unidentified job status (41.9% vs. 21.5%; ASR=±5.6). As a result, hypotheses 4a and 4b that males are dominant in job market were supported. Male also dominate in roles portraying non-physical workers (X2 = 8.278, df =1, ρ= .004; Cramer’s V= .111) and civil servants (X2 = .965, df =1, ρ= .002; Cramer’s V= .002). So hypotheses 4c and 4d were supported.

Table 2 shows that gender differences were found in the category of roles related to families (X2 =309.293, df =8, ρ= .000; Cramer’s V= .680). As a result, the hypothesis 5 that more females than males have roles in family was supported.

In the variable of subthemes (Table 2), no statistical difference between female characters and role characters in subthemes in mini-dramas was found (X2 =4.724, df =4, ρ= .317; Cramer’s V= .084); as a result, the hypothesis 4a was not supported.

Table 3

Because more males than females had occupational roles and more females than males had roles related to families, I checked the relationship between these two categories (Table 3). For 101 females who had unidentified job status, 74 of them had relationships with family. This may suggest there is a separation between women’s occupational roles and their roles related to families.

4 Discussions

Song and Zhu (2008) claimed that gender stereotypes widely exist in media, and television reinforces women’s roles in characteristics and roles related to families. Based on the test results, traditional gender stereotypes were found in the following: male-predominance in occupational roles, while female-predominance in roles related to families. On the contrary, I did not find gender differences in age groups, settings, and in subthemes, but these results may suggest political characteristics in gender images. This section will discuss the possible reasons stereotyped women in mini-dramas.

4.1 Numerical Representations

One gender-related factor that may suggest stereotypes is numerical representations, as the limited number may limit the chance of females or males to be portrayed in multiple roles. Male-predominance (64% vs. 36%) in mini-dramas was found, in contrast with the general population rate in which, according to the data from National Bureau of Statistics of the People’s Republic of China, the proportion of women to men is 1:1.05. Male-predominance can be found in the Indian study, in which male roles in ads represented 356 (56.8%) out of 627 coded characters. However, other studies found female-predominance or no gender differences in numerical representation. For example, roles in advertising were dominated by females in the Philippines (Prieler & Centeno, 2013). Numerical representations are not enough to decide whether gender representations are positive or negative (Prieler & Centeno, 2013). Under-representation, however, may be associated with limited roles for females.

One problem that under-representation may reflect is the gender gap, although the government has promoted gender equality from policies. According to the Global Gender Gap Index 2014, Chinese women scored lower than men in a number of aspects, including labor market participation (women: 70, men: 84), literacy rate (women: 93, men: 97), and in parliament (women: 23, men: 77). Female under-representation in mini-dramas illustrate the existing gender gap. Thus, the conclusion in previous studies of mini-dramas which concluded that masculinity disappeared (Kong, 2006) is not supported by the findings of this study.

4.2 Age groups and settings

Age preference in advertising can be an indicator that suggests gender stereotypes, but in this study no gender differences were found for each gender group. Young women were not significantly over-represented and old women were not under-represented. Two reasons may account for the results. Firstly, because the themes of CSFEG focus on solidarity and happiness in the family and the society, mini-dramas need to show harmonious pictures to reflect them. Unlike western countries, some Chinese families are joint families. So grandparents, parents, and kids are living together. Second, in China, respecting old people is a moral requirement. Mueller (1987) claimed that people admire and respect the elderly in traditional Eastern culture (as cited in Cheng, 1997).

One indicator that can provide insight into the ways in which gender is portrayed in mini-dramas is the setting. In this study no gender differences were found in settings, and there is no evidence to support male-dominance in home settings, workplaces, and outdoor settings. These results are different than in previous advertisement studies in which female-dominance was found in the home setting, and male-dominance was found in the workplace. For example, in Philippines advertising, more females than males were in the home setting (45.9% vs 24.5%), while more males than females were in the workplace setting (17.9% vs 7.4%) (Prieler & Centeno, 2013).

Although setting always produces highly stereotypical results and gender division (Prieler & Centeno, 2013), the absence of gender differences in the setting variable does not suggest that there are no stereotypes in mini-dramas. In contrast, it means that gender roles were limited to several settings for the requirements of official propaganda. First, Zhang (2013) claimed that the basic principle of the Spring Festival Eve Gala is to reflect reunion of family and harmony of family. The home setting is the best place to promote this goal. Second, they also serve the purpose of showing economic achievements. One aspect of gender equality in official propaganda is equal opportunity to be hired and equal pay in jobs (Dai et al., 2002). With Opening and Reforming policy, market forces have been introduced into Chinese society and the economy has developed rapidly since the 1980s. The working setting in mini-dramas is to emphasize economic achievements. Thus, by showing gender roles in limited settings, mini-dramas create stereotypes, which combine elements of political propaganda.

4.3 Occupational roles and roles related to families

The occupational variable shows that more males than females have occupational roles, and male-predominance in non-physical workers and in civil servants. In China, non-physical workers are recognized as superior to physical workers, and civil servants are the most stable jobs which are very competing. In this study, civil servants are identified as high-level positions in occupations. The results in occupations were consistent with previous research in advertising, including India (Das, 2011), Korea (Kim & Lowry, 2005), Hong Kong (Furnham et al., 2000) and mainland China (Cheng, 1997). According to Cheng (1998), more males than females portrayed in ads were found in occupational roles (17.6% vs 5%), while females were dominated in the category of non-occupational roles (95% vs 82.4%). In high-level business/professional positions, 47.1% of men but no women were found (Cheng, 1997). Such representations verified that gender stereotypes existed within advertising, revealing that mainland China was still a male-dominant society (Cheng, 1997).

Contrary to occupational roles, female-predominance was found in roles related to families (52.3% vs 30.6%). Specifically, 28.6% of females were portrayed as wives in family settings, while 18% of males were husbands. Similar results can be found in previous advertising studies. For example, in Indian advertising, more females were portrayed within relationship roles or independent roles than males (76.2% vs 46.9%).

One reason for male-predominance in occupational roles and female-predominance in roles related to families may be the influences of traditional culture. Confucianism, which is recognized as a part of excellent Chinese traditional culture, has great influence on individuals and society (Chen & Lu, 2015). In Confucianism, the labor division in family should be in which the husband is responsible for making money and the wife is responsible for taking care of children and doing household work. Also, the man is presented as superior to women, so man has power in decision-making (Nan Zun Nv Bei) (Kong, 2006). Mini-dramas in CSFEG reinforced gender stereotypes by showing: male-predominance in roles as non-physical workers and civil servants; 28.6% females were wives, and 74 females had no clear job status but had roles related to families.

Reflections of traditional culture lead to check the achievements of gender equality. The Chinese government has showed positive attitudes in promoting gender equality, including the Outline Program for Development of Chinese Women (1995-2000) after 1995. Another institution that is supposed to protect women’s rights and solve women’s issues is the Women’s Federation (Dai et al., 2002). It is a quasi-official institution and has branches throughout China (Dai et al., 2002). Although mini-dramas have the mission to promote ideology, they actually serve to restrict the achievement of gender equality.

Because this study shows that gender differences in occupations and roles related to families can reinforce gender stereotypes, it does not support findings of some previous studies of mini-dramas. Kong (2006) concluded that females’ images were perfect, because women were able to demonstrate not only kindness like traditional women, but could also be shown as independent like contemporary women. Song and Zhu (2008) attributed the changes of women to the social developments in China over the past thirty years.

4.4 Subthemes in Mini-dramas

No gender differences were found in the category of subthemes in mini-dramas, but these subthemes themselves reflect gender stereotypes with Chinese characteristics. Themes in the Chinese Spring Festival Eve galas have become significant in representing Chinese social characteristics, for they combine family reunion with slogans which are proposed by the CCP (Zhang, 2013). For example, before 2007, China’s social developments and economic developments were largely reliant on reform and opening to the outside word (Zhang, 2013). Besides reunion of family members, themes in CSFEG focused on values of hard work and solidarity (Zhang, 2013). After 2007, when President Hu Jintao proposed harmonious society, themes changed to emphasize harmony (Zhang, 2013). The task of mini-dramas was to illustrate, via entertainment, these themes with social events which happened in the past year (Zhang, 2013). In English, Zhao (1998) described the function of those themes as educating the public with official propaganda. Unlike advertising, mini-dramas tend to reflect political background, a role which this study has verified.

Presenting gender identity through media in conjunction with political aims is not an innovation introduced through mini-dramas. From the foundation of PRC, to show positive attitudes toward gender equality, Chairman Mao claimed men and women were the same because of the new era, and women can do what men can do (Dai et al. 2002). Gender identity was described as workers, peasants, and soldiers who were willing to sacrifice themselves for the state. Without self-expression and self-exploration, women became genderless, and the only gender characteristic was as endlessly devoted and preserving (no sexual characteristics) mothers (Dai et al., 2002). While women were released from a set of traditional requirements, such as binding of the feet (Cheng, 1997), they still needed to remain loyal to the family and the nation.

Subthemes in mini-dramas indicate Chinese characteristics in gender images: genderless but still classic, and loyal to the country. This is the characteristic that can be used to distinguish gender stereotypes in many other countries.

5 Conclusion

Overall, this study found that the Chinese Spring Festival Eve galas do include stereotypical descriptions of males and females which reflect traditional gender roles and official propaganda. To indicate the purpose and themes of galas, both men and women were limited into several settings and five subthemes. However, males were more likely to be found in occupational roles whereas, females were predominant in roles related to family. Women in mini-dramas tended to have lower status than men. Two findings suggest that mini-dramas reinforced traditional gender images. First, for women without clear job status, most of them had roles which were associated with family. Second, male-predominance was found in roles that involved high-level job positions, including civil servants.

The Chinese government claims gender equality has been achieved via the increase of women labor participation (Lee Cooke & Xiao, 2014), while such strong gender differentiation and stereotyping do not mirror this claim. A survey which was produced by a major Chinese news website named NetEase (Wang yi) revealed further problems. In the 2015 gala, the mini-drama The Joy Street (Xi Le Jie) attracted a lot of criticisms from scholars, and critics claimed that this mini-drama discriminated these women (Wang & Wang, 2015). The mini-drama laughed at “single, unmarried Chinese professional women (To, 2013, p.1)” by calling them Chinese leftover women (Sheng Nv) (Wang &Wang, 2015). So the NetEase’s survey was used to investigated netizens’ (Wang min) attitude towards the mini-drama, and it contained one question: “do you think that the mini-drama discriminated women by using Chinese leftover women?” However, more than two-thirds of participants who voted this question thought that it was not discrimination. By examining 402 undergraduates’ attitudes towards the Joy Street, Wang and Wang (2015) found that even college students did not think it is discrimination. Both results revealed that the public lack of awareness of gender equality (Wang & Wang, 2015). Although Chinese women gained rights to equal income, the rights to get married and divorced, rights to give birth, rights to raise children, and so on, traditional gender roles still prevail in the society. According to Confucianism, men are primarily outside the home, and women are primarily inside the home (Nan Zun Nv Bei). Probably the reason for this dilemma is that Chinese women were given to have those equal rights but they did not obtain them through struggles to achieve gender equality (Dai et al., 2002). Without revolutions by women to raise consciousness of gender equality individually, gender identity was designed by authorities (Dai et al., 2002).

Such images brought me to doubt gender equality in China, because, as Cheng (1997) pointed out, unless sociocultural environment support equality of gender, stereotypes will remain prevalent.

Future Research Directions

This research provides insights into gender representation in mini-dramas that are part of Chinese Spring Festival Eve galas. It has introduced some important indicators because no other studies have used quantitative content analysis to analyze gender roles in CSFEG. Thus, I suggest additional studies to assess other gender phenomena, such as gender dislocation. This analysis would allow for better insights that may reflect social changes and different gender norms (Gong, 2014).

In addition, this study has employed both statistic tests as well as other previous studies in order to understand gender representation. As a result, I recommend further research on qualitative content analysis in mini-dramas. By focusing on the content of, or lines within, gender roles, it may be possible to gain more insights into the way mini-dramas build gender representations.

Acknowledgements I thank Dr. Terry Wotherspoon and Dr. Harley Dickinson for commenting and proofreading on this article. I also thank Dr. Parvinder Hira-Friesen and my colleague Siyu Ru for suggestions in research methods.


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Table 1 Variables included in the study

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Table 2 Relationship between gender and miscellaneous variables

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

The significance levels for differences between sub-categories are based on chi-square tests using adjusted standardized residuals. If the value of a residual lies outside ± 1.96, then it is significant at ρ< .05; if outside ± 2.58, then ρ< .01; if outside ± 3.29, then ρ< .001

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

b For the category of other settings, because the percentage is less than 5% and influence the reliability of chi-square test, I did not report the results in this section.

Table 3 Relationship between female roles related to families and occupational roles

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Excerpt out of 25 pages


Gender Representations in the Chinese Spring Festival Eve Gala Mini-dramas
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gender, representations, chinese, spring, festival, gala, mini-dramas
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Yiyan Li (Author), 2019, Gender Representations in the Chinese Spring Festival Eve Gala Mini-dramas, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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