Digital visual communication platforms vital to share Chinese civilization

Source:Chinese Social Sciences Today 2023-04-20

Chinese civilization defines the Chinese nation with its unique symbolism. Staying firmly rooted in Chinese culture, we should accelerate the development of China’s discourse and narrative systems to extend the reach and appeal of Chinese civilization. In today’s era, digital communication has become a new form of cultural exchange and holds the key to reactivating the vitality and influence of Chinese civilization. Vision is discursive. We need to reimagine the visual image world dominated by Western culture, and enhance the cultural penetration of Chinese digital image products, to fully engage Chinese civilization’s communication power and influence.

Attention economy

Images are symbols of culture. Over 5,000 years of Chinese civilization, China has formed an aesthetic system with unique Asian charm. The Chinese civilization has inherited and carried forward the spirit of benevolence, people-centeredness, honesty, justice, harmony, and a rich tradition of seeking common ground. Pictorial expressions have a long history in the spread of Chinese civilization and cross-cultural communication. In the 14th century, Chinese paintings, porcelain, and silk were popular among upper class Europeans. Images of an auspicious dragon or phoenix, blue and white porcelain, and other symbols with distinctly Chinese features were well-received by Westerners, making art an important medium through which China was understood. Chinese landscape paintings, figure painting, free sketch painting, and other paintings with unique ‘oriental’ aesthetic style and techniques have had a profound influence on the art of painting in Asia and Europe.

At the same time, images displaying “Chinese aesthetics” convey through metaphor the philosophy of Yin and Yang, the spiritual unity of Heaven and man, and the concept of detachment, to realize a cross-cultural mutual learning through art and the pluralistic integration of civilizations in international communication. 

With media iteration, visual communication moves from two-dimensional images to three-dimensional space, from static vision to a dynamic image, and from real-life settings to a digital virtual reality. As digital vision dominates, we are entering a global digital communication arena shaped by emojis, short videos, and livestreaming. Therefore, from the perspective of diachronic and synchronic functions, digital visual communication is an effective way to enhance the communicative power of Chinese civilization. Digital visual images can break the cultural barriers that exist in language and construct a multi-language system, so that everyone has equal access. When compared with communication via text, digital formats are more concise, concrete, and intuitive, which can improve cross-cultural communication and transform it from “hard communication” to a “softer” approach. Taking advantage of cloud computing, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and other new technological advancements, the deep integration of digital technology’s vision with Chinese civilization can better engage global audiences to learn about Chinese civilization through a communication path from “visual products” to “immersive experiences” and on to “cultural perception.”

Today, the “eyeball economy” or “attention economy” is drawn to “content value,” which requires integrative innovation to combine digital visual technology with Chinese civilization. Chinese civilization is naturally communicable on the world stage, as it is already well-known through the history of material culture, spiritual culture, institutional culture, art culture, and many other fields. That said, in the wave of new media visual communication, we should strengthen cultural confidence, continuously follow the spirit of traditional Chinese images, improve the capacity to extract cultural genes, and share common human emotions and values embedded in Chinese civilization. Moreover, we should make good use of digital visual technology to revitalize cultural relics and heritage, integrate more modern and international elements, and adapt Chinese civilization to contemporary culture and world civilization. 

Communication network

In the digital media age, visual communication transcends text, combining the verbal system with the non-verbal symbol system, so that Chinese civilization’s rich spiritual connotation acquires modern forms of expression and integrates historical tradition with modern civilization. The digital visual communication network for Chinese civilization will be a global communication network composed of digital mediums, digital media outlets, and digital content, with visual communication as the core means of expression. Digital media, such as VR, AR, and the metaverse, along with supporting technologies like 5G, big data, and cloud computing, have become new driving forces for the innovative transmission of Chinese civilization. A growing number of UGC, PUGC, and AIGC creators have become the key players who tell the story of Chinese civilization. Today, digital content products centered on Chinese civilization fill cyberspace.

The production of digital media content about the Chinese civilization condenses the essence of Chinese civilization into digital visual cultural products adaptable to global contexts and spreads these products effectively. In the process of digital visualization, three principles should be followed. 

One is empathetic narration, which strengthens the way common human emotions are rendered. The purpose of telling the story of Chinese civilization well is to share meaning and build relationships by communicating empathy. Empathy emphasizes the bidirectional communication process, where the transmitters take into account the recipients’ feelings when encoding visual information, and the recipient should also be able to understand the transmitters’ thoughts by decoding visual information. Therefore, in the process of creating digital visual culture products, we should consciously consider others’ perspectives, focus on the common problems facing all human beings, and refine common emotional elements, so that media content carries the tradition of our country and is in accord with global traditions.

The second principle is to use multi-modal discourse production to digitize the results of the national research project that traced the origins of Chinese civilization. Since China launched the research project in 2002, great progress has been made. Now, it is urgent to spread the origin, connotation, and achievements of Chinese civilization to the international community through digital visual means. In the process of discourse construction, the thought processes of overseas users should be studied and analyzed and coordinated visual, audio, and textual forms should be arranged, to transform the abstract and obscure civilizational value into vivid visualized language symbols. 

At the same time, multi-modal discourse is realized through metaphorical representation mechanisms. Metaphor maps concrete and familiar source domains onto abstract and unfamiliar target domains. For friends from all over the world, in order to understand the target domain of Chinese civilization, it is necessary to find and establish a specific and familiar source domain, which conforms to the global cognitive system, to make story-telling of the abstract Chinese civilization, vivid and globally comprehensible.

Third, interactivity and sociability should be viewed as important digital audio-visual elements to deepen the meaning conveyed by symbols. The adoption of digital interactive communication devices and innovative technological means can help convey the “past and present life” of precious cultural relics and heritage, using an interactive form. In the meantime, accurate dissemination based on big data mobilizes the internet’s sociability, increasing understanding and even recognition of Chinese civilization’s visual expression content among international audiences from the sensory level to the psychological level. 

Multi-layered cultural dialogue

The meaning of digital visual communication comes from an interaction between digital images and audiences. In discourse, vision plays a metaphorical role of empowerment. From the information field to the information ecology and then to the civilization ecosystem, a new form of cultural exchange — multi-layered cultural dialogue — is on the rise.

In global exchange, with digital visual communication as the core, nodal and universal direct communication relations have been established among people, which has broadened the depth and breadth of communication and provided a media platform for deepening exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations. Only by catering to digital forms of communication can the Chinese civilization realize global mobility and everlasting growth. This multi-layered dialogue among civilizations, based on digital communication, has three important characteristics. 

One characteristic is the space where reality and the virtual world blend. Real space forms the strongest relationship, which can be regarded as the relationship status established between nodes with strong homogeneity that relies on emotional maintenance and resource sharing. For example, through the Belt and Road Initiative a strong social network system has been established, featuring mutual political trust, economic integration, and cultural inclusiveness with hundreds of countries along the route.

Digital civilizational communication in virtual space could, in contrast, be understood as a weak relationship between nodes with strong heterogeneity. Any transmitted digital visual image is a social relationship that can be translated into personal emotions. We use the weak relationship and information transmission to construct a discourse system suitable for overseas audiences and promote the construction of a community of shared future in cyberspace. In other words, the new form of communication is a combination of words and deeds, and also an integration of strong and weak relations. 

Second, communication of Chinese civilization has been expanded from a central hub to a decentralized circle, so it is necessary to extend penetration of social network communication. In other words, it is necessary to respect the communication logic of digital technology and establish network communication led by the government, with the participation of NGOs and the global general public. In this regard, the communication capacities of multiple subjects, especially the influence of “folk influencers,” should be highlighted to share the credible, lovable, and respectable image of China with the most authentic folk narration and video recordings.

Third, the communication between different civilizations based on the appeal of digital visual images is not only a viewing behavior, but also a spiritual communication method with a rich cultural heritage, which promotes cultural integration and realizes equal dialogue and harmonious coexistence among different civilizations. 

In short, the process of spreading Chinese civilization is a dynamic transformation from attracting attention to enhancing influence. Digital visual competition can attract global viewers. However, to transform this attention from fleeting and weak relationships into a strong influential relationship calls for a digital platform for communication and dialogue, to realize multi-layered cultural exchange. In the new digital communication format, Chinese civilization’s communication power could be improved to build a more sustainable relationship.


Ma Li is an associate professor from the School of Journalism and Communication at Huaqiao University.

Editor:Yu Hui

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