Independent knowledge system in Chinese journalism explored
Visitors at the Museum of the Communist Party of China, a site devoted to permanent and comprehensive exhibitions detailing the Party’s history in Beijing, on July 2 Photo: CFP
As Engels said, “Where history begins, the process of thought must also begin.” Knowledge is the condition of understanding something with familiarity gained through experience or association. Based on this logical premise, an organized structure and dynamic process composed of knowledge, including learning, conceptions, theories, and methods can be called a “knowledge system.”
In April 2022, General Secretary Xi Jinping remarked during his visit to Renmin University of China that “the priority of developing the philosophy and social sciences with Chinese characteristics is to establish an independent knowledge system.” Chinese culture, which spans thousands of years, offers fertile soil for the growth of China’s independent knowledge system. This knowledge production is the great practice of socialist modernization with Chinese characteristics, in the new era. In the context of mutual learning of world civilizations, from the foundation of China’s theoretical field, scholars must analyze China, analyze the world, analyze the people, and analyze the times.
Journalism, as a system of knowledge, not only follows the common rules of general knowledge systems, but also has distinctive features. It responds to the realistic demands of social development in the contemporary era, but also inevitably embodies its own internal logic. In the new stage of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, amid major changes unseen in a century, Chinese journalism urgently needs to take into account new problems which emerged in the process of social development and establish an academic system with Chinese characteristics, Chinese features, and Chinese style. The fundamental goal of Chinese journalism, as an independent knowledge system, should be able to answer the discipline’s “meta-question,” adhere to Marxism, and follow a people-centered news practice.
To construct an independent knowledge system for Chinese journalism, we should first identify the discipline’s “meta-question,” which has two sections. The inner section is the concept which journalism supplies, and the outer section is the capacity for interpretation. Concepts are the basic unit of knowledge and the foundation of all logical thinking. The process of cognitive evolution begins here.
Conceptual history divides basic concepts into two categories: “experience” and “expectation.” Experiences connect the past, while expectations point to the future. In essence, conceptual history sets out to interpret history through its basic concepts, and it understands such concepts historically. Therefore, concepts are a cognitive summary of an experience placed in the specific context of space and time, within a specific environment. In Chinese journalism, the “meta” concept is based on Chinese social and historical contexts, extracted from China’s practices and development needs, and can stand the test of reality.
However, in research of contemporary journalism it is not difficult to find theoretical or empirical examples of a large number of concepts which Chinese journalism borrowed from the West. This blind application of Western theories results in conceptual hybridization or concept ambiguity, which like a tree without roots or water without a source, cannot bear the fruit of truth.
The external section of the “meta-question” of Chinese journalism aims to meet the urgent needs of telling Chinese stories and spreading Chinese voices in the ever-changing world of public opinion and a dynamic news ecology. It goes without saying that publicity and ideological work is of great significance to the governance of China. As the theoretical basis of a Marxist view of journalism, public opinion is a universal, hidden force and is the actual embodiment and distinct expression of general relationships.
Since its founding, the CPC has always focused on publicity and ideological work. In 2015, General Secretary Xi said in his speech at the National Conference on Party Schools that the “publicity field can be roughly divided into red, black, and grey areas. The red area is the domain where we have the initiative and must keep it. The black area is where we find malicious views in opposition to the Party, so we must resolutely fight back and reduce their negative influence. The grey area is an intermediate zone that we must make an all-out effort to win over and turn into red.”
In the face of the complex and ever-changing international public opinion environment in today’s world, expanding international communication channels for China’s contemporary knowledge system and improving the capacity for clear interpretation of Chinese journalism theory in the international arena, are the two fundamental “meta-question” of Chinese journalism from an external perspective.
At the same time, the inner and outer sections of the “meta-question” should not be confined to China, but open to the world. Chinese modernization has created a new form of civilization and enriched the path of modernization for developing countries. China’s journalism knowledge system is embedded in the new form of civilization, so it is especially necessary to strengthen the construction of China’s capacity to communicate to international audiences, unite the community of public opinion, and dare to take a stance. This requires the academics in the field of journalism to construct an independent discipline system, academic system, and discourse system to refine Chinese theory. The news industry should also strengthen the effectiveness of mainstream media communications, spread Chinese ideas, and expand China’s international influence, to ultimately build a global community with a shared future.
At a grand gathering in Beijing to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth in 2018, General Secretary Xi said “Marxism is a scientific theory that reveals the rule of human society’s development in a creative manner. Stressing that practicality is a prominent characteristic of Marxism that makes it different from other theories. It is a theory of practices that directs the people to change the world. It is an open theory that is constantly developing and always stands at the frontier of the times.”
Adhering to the guidance of Marxism is the fundamental difference between contemporary Chinese philosophy and social sciences from other forms of philosophy and social sciences. A Marxist view of journalism is a theoretical system from which classic Marxist writers’ view of news practices, the news industry, and its laws, making journalism an important part of Marxist theory. Our adherence to the Marxist view of journalism is the basic orientation and fundamental stance of constructing the independent knowledge system of contemporary Chinese journalism.
To establish an independent knowledge system, the key lies in the term “independent” and the core of this is to continuously promote the Sinicization of Marxism in the 21st century by combining the basic principles of Marxism with China’s reality and fine traditional Chinese culture.
First, this knowledge system should use Marxist theory to reveal the news achievements and public opinion victories achieved by the Party and the people over the long term. Such a system would rely on the basic principles of Marxism to analyze current news phenomena, take the basic viewpoints of Marxism to reframe the position of China’s news, use Marxism to explain the contemporary laws of news activities, and actively participate in the world of public opinion from the theoretical perspective of Marxism, to offer the Chinese solution in a pragmatic manner.
Second, it is necessary to accelerate the construction of Marxist journalism disciplines and academic knowledge systems with Chinese characteristics and the characteristics of the times. This knowledge system should not only contain news history, news theory, news methods, and news applications, but also establish a connection with other philosophy and social sciences disciplines such as: psychology, sociology, statistics, and even science and technology. The knowledge system should also maintain a relationship with the political, economic, and cultural fields that are constantly developing and advancing in China. In theory, we need to constantly expand new horizons, make new generalizations, and enhance the theoretical influence of the Marxist view of journalism.
A Marxist view of journalism builds on the basic theory of a materialistic historical view, takes root in news practices, and embodies the thought that the people are the true subject of social practices. Demonstrating the power of ideas, journalism plays a role in the great historical development process where the CPC leads the Chinese people to victory. Important social ideas originate from interpretations of social relations, which in turn reshape social relations. Therefore, only by upholding Marxism can contemporary Chinese journalism form a truly independent knowledge system.
People-centered news practice
Marxism, as a practical philosophy that changes the world, always focuses on the liberation and the realistic survival of human beings. The independent knowledge system of Chinese journalism is rooted in the historical and practical logic of the CPC uniting and leading the Chinese people to persevere in the pursuit of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. People-centeredness and serving the people are fundamental in the process of constructing an independent knowledge system for contemporary Chinese journalism, while practice is the ultimate purpose.
There are two approaches to creating people-centered news practice. One is to comprehensively and systematically reflect the continuous development of the Party and the people’s news cause, and to truly and objectively present the continuous progress of social life. The other approach seeks to construct a human-oriented, harmonious, and healthy modern news knowledge system using the rapid development of media technology and artificial intelligence. In the information age, journalism and society as a whole are undergoing comprehensive changes. Content production methods and communication modes for news are no longer one-way, as audiences are now able to participate in news production through technology, forming a two-way communication system.
From the perspective of epistemology, the establishment of cognitive structure is based on intuition, thinking, and experience. Intuition is a direct reflection of objective reality made by human subjective consciousness. Experience is the primary stage of understanding and represents a continuous accumulation of interpretations of the external world. In news activities, the audience often has an intuitive understanding and experiential perception. In order to form a scientific knowledge system where people actively participate, it is necessary to consider the people’s perspectives and meet the people’s new expectations and requirements for news content and communication modes in the information age.
In addition to establishing a news cognitive structure that the people can understand, a complete and comprehensive journalism knowledge system should also allow people to participate and interact, and more importantly, it should be able to encourage innovative thinking about the future of humanity.
Throughout history, knowledge systems for many disciplines transformed based on social development and civilizational change. China’s independent knowledge system is based on the CPC’s development process over the past 100 years and the independent development path of socialism with Chinese characteristics which has been adhered to for more than 40 years since reform and opening up. It will be a comprehensive theoretical innovation signifying the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation through Chinese modernization.
As an indispensable component of China’s knowledge system, Chinese journalism will follow the combination of the basic principles of Marxism with China’s reality and the fine traditional Chinese culture. Constructing an independent knowledge system for Chinese journalism upholds Marxism, clarifies the discipline’s “meta-question,” maintains a people-oriented news practice, while constantly updating scientific concepts, putting forward distinctive theories, and improving the disciplinary framework and methods.
Huang Xin is from the School of Journalism at Fudan University.