Date of Award

4-30-2018

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Baotong Gu

Second Advisor

Dr. George Pullman

Third Advisor

Dr. Elizabeth Lopez

Abstract

It has long been asserted that a major difference between Chinese rhetoric and Western rhetoric lies in the preference for rhetorical strategies. The Chinese are believed to prefer indirect approaches in communication whereas the Americans tend to be more direct. This perception has been widely discussed and accepted by scholars and practitioners of inter-cultural communication. However, as globalization and technology are bringing about substantial changes to our communication experience, it is necessary to reexamine the “indirect myth” of Chinese rhetoric in a contemporary context characterized by the ubiquitous use of social media.

In this dissertation, I strive to answer two major research questions about the use of rhetorical strategies on social media. The two questions are as follows:

1) Generally speaking, does a preference for directness or indirectness exist in Weibo postings? If not, are the two strategies equally prevalent on Weibo?

2) What direct strategies are most preferred by Chinese Weibo users?

I employ a content analysis based on quantitative data and rhetorical analysis. I collected 25,316 pieces of authentic Weibo postings and had coders categorize the postings according to a coding scheme of nine rhetorical strategies with each strategy divided into directness and indirectness.

The research findings show that Weibo users have an overall preference for directness although users with academic backgrounds tend to use indirect strategies more often. “To argue or to comment” is the most frequently used rhetorical strategy, and direct comment or argument with opinion proceeding evidence is the most used direct strategy. I argue that the anonymity and word limit are two major factors affecting users’ preferences for direct rhetorical strategies. I also argue that the low level of user participation indicated by the overly simplistic and lopsided preference of directness mean that Weibo is primarily disseminating information but has not fully evolved to a public sphere.

Available for download on Thursday, April 23, 2020

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