, Volume 45, Issue 2, pp 241–253 | Cite as

Evolution of China’s water issues as framed in Chinese mainstream newspaper

  • Yonglan Xiong
  • Yongping Wei
  • Zhiqiang Zhang
  • Jing Wei


There is an urgent need globally to trigger fundamental societal changes in water management away from existing unsustainable paradigms. This paper attempts to understand the evolution of newspaper coverage of water issues in China by analyzing water-related articles in a major national newspaper, the People’s Daily, over the period 1946–2012 using a content analysis approach. The major findings include the following: (1) water issues were in relatively prominent positions in the newspaper; (2) the reporting of water issues in China experienced three stages: 1946 to the middle of 1980s—flood and drought control and water for food production, the middle of 1980s to 1997—water for economic development, and 1998 to the present—water for the environmental sustainability and economic development; (3) the reporting of water issues in the People’s Daily clearly reflected China’s top-down water resources management system, and no “real” public opinions on water were reported during the study period; and (4) the People’s Daily is just a wind vane of Chinese mainstream values and policies on water. The findings supported the realist assumption that the societal value changes on water issues in China were triggered by a range of factors including biophysical pressure (floods and droughts), political campaign (the Cultural Revolution), macro-economic reform (Reform and Opening-up), water institutional arrangement (the Water Law), and water management reform (the No. 1 Central Document on water reform). While there are similarities and differences between this study and other studies, important implications for more sustainable water management are a need to strengthen academic specialists’ and NGO’s voices in the newspaper to create a better informed public, and to stimulate practices toward sustainable water use.


Water issue Media reporting Newspaper Content analysis approach China 



Thanks to the Scientific Data Sharing Platform for Lake and Watershed for providing the data of river basin boundary. This work was funded by the Natural Science Foundation of China (Project No. 91125007 and 41401623), Youth Innovation Promotion Association CAS (Project No: 2015381), the Australian Research Council (DP120102917 and FT130100274), and the Commonwealth of Australia under the Australia–China Science and Research Fund (Project No: ACSRF800).


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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yonglan Xiong
    • 1
    • 2
  • Yongping Wei
    • 3
    • 4
  • Zhiqiang Zhang
    • 2
  • Jing Wei
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.College of Geography and Environment ScienceNorthwest Normal UniversityLanzhouChina
  2. 2.Lanzhou Centre for Literature and Information of the Chinese Academy of SciencesLanzhouChina
  3. 3.Australia China Joint Research Centre on River Basin managementThe University of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia
  4. 4.The Department of Infrastructure EngineeringThe University of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia

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