The Politics of Pity Under Authoritarianism: How Government-Controlled Media Regulates Audiences' Mediated Experiences of Distant Suffering

Zhe Xu, Mengrong Zhang


The Western-centric and often highly normative field of studies on distant suffering centers on the mediation of human vulnerability as a cause for action in contexts of need and risk. This article makes a significant and necessary contribution to the ongoing process of “de-Westernization” within this field by undertaking an empirical investigation into the mediation of distant suffering through Chinese authoritarian television. Employing a mixed-method approach that incorporates multimodal analysis, critical discourse analysis, and audience reception study, the findings indicate that, although Chinese authoritarian television coverage offers audiences relatively intense mediated experiences of humanized distant suffering, it is heavily influenced by cultural and political orientations. Consequently, it falls short in fostering cosmopolitan dispositions that would enhance audience receptiveness and reflexivity, instead reinforcing national discourse and identity politics. This study possesses the potential to broaden the epistemological and ontological horizons of distant suffering studies in a multipolar world.


audiences, authoritarianism, cosmopolitan dispositions, de-Westernization, distant suffering, mediation, refugee crisis

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