Gender bias in Chinese news reporting

Society & Culture

Despite rising public awareness of unfair portrayal of women in Chinese news articles, gender stereotyping and bias still remain significant problems for Chinese journalists to overcome in their reporting, according to a new study published by Zhejiang University this month.

gender bias chinese journalism

Despite rising public awareness of unfair portrayal of women in Chinese news articles, gender stereotyping and bias still remain significant problems for Chinese journalists to overcome in their reporting, according to a new study published by Zhejiang University this month.

The analysis (in Chinese), conducted by a team of researchers at the school’s journalism and communication department, is essentially designed to answer two questions:

  • When journalists overly emphasize a woman’s gender in a news article about her work, is it mostly because her profession is generally perceived to be a man’s job?
  • When it comes to news articles that put subjects in an unflattering light, are journalists more likely to stress the person’s gender if she’s a woman?

With an aim to find out “how reporters are influenced by societal gender bias when making journalistic decisions,” the authors of the study analyzed 132,490 articles published by 62 Chinese news publications in the past five years. By focusing on 106 common jobs, the researchers discovered that Chinese journalists are prone to put an unnecessary emphasis on a woman’s gender when she works in sectors like forensic investigation, aviation, and law enforcement, which are all traditionally male-dominated fields in China.

Additionally, almost 16% of the articles where a woman’s gender was mentioned or emphasized are negative, whereas in rare cases where a man’s gender is stressed, about 10% of them are about men being bad actors.

Stereotypes: bad drivers and quirky professors

The study also provides a few examples to illustrate the tendency. It points out that in 2016, there were over 1,300 news articles that associated “female drivers” with bad driving, compared with only 38 articles for men. While the myth that women are more dangerous behind the wheel than men has come under increasing scrutiny in China since 2016, women are still disproportionately painted as “reckless and irresponsible” in news articles about drivers.

Another intriguing finding from the study is that when female professors appear in the news, the articles are rarely about their academic achievements. In 34 articles regarding female professors examined in the study, nearly 90% of them have no mention of the women’s academic interests or fields of study. Rather, the articles are mostly about lowbrow topics, such as a female professor shaving her head in class and another one wearing an adult diaper when giving a lecture.

To conclude the research report, the authors wrote: “Women make up a main segment of the society. The imbalances and differences found in this study will further reinforce gender stereotypes and bias about women, which is detrimental to the development of our society. To correct this problem in news reporting, we need not only more journalistic rules, but also a better society in promoting gender equality.”

For anyone who’s been following the topic of gender bias in Chinese news reporting closely, the study’s findings are hardly surprising. Recently, a string of Chinese news services faced a backlash because of their sexist coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, where only men were featured in articles praising frontline workers who were combating the pandemic.