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Representation of Chinese minority ethnicity in the contemporary context: constructing fictional characters in a Chinese Zhuang folktale adaptation

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posted on 11.10.2021, 07:31 by Xiyuan Tan
This research is a practice-based project looking into the representation of an ethnic minority group China through sequential imagery. It involves the evaluation of illustrated images of Chinese ethnic minority people, and addresses the issues of stereotypical imagery, inaccurate depictions and the overuse of traditional attire/artefacts as ethnicity signifier. Since there is a total of 55 officially classified ethnic groups in China and each of them are unique, this research only investigates one of the most well-known ethnic group – the Zhuang, which is the ethnic group with the largest population in China. The project explores the role of fictional characters in ethnicity representation, in the context of a sequential art-based folktale adaptation, to answer the following research question: How can contemporary Zhuang people be represented through characters in sequential art, with the aim of promoting ethnic culture and reducing stereotypes?
The thesis starts with a review of existing works of representation of the Zhuang and Chinese ethnic minorities in general, with the aim of forming a deeper, broader understanding of current representational issues. The review includes both personal evaluations and opinions retrieved from interviewing the Zhuang. Based on these findings, a fieldwork was conducted to collect ethnography information of the Zhuang, with the purpose of responding to problems discovered in the existing work reviewing stage. The fieldwork applies participant observation as the main approach, using the creative practice of reportage drawing as a method of recording observations and collecting raw visual data for the later-stage work in the studio. A full comic book of a Zhuang ethnic folktale adaptation was made as the final creative piece output, which was developed using data obtained in the previous stages. The comic book particularly focusses on the depiction of the fictional Zhuang characters, which carries the purpose of accurately representing their ethnicity from a contemporary perspective. An online questionnaire containing excerpts of the comic book was sent to potential audiences, consisting of around 50% Zhuang participants, to retrieve critical feedback of the comic. The results of the questionnaire have proved that most target audiences could successfully identify the ethnicities of the comic characters, even though they were illustrated in an unconventional way as compared to existing works of Zhuang ethnic group representation (i.e., from a contemporary perspective and not wearing traditional costumes). Their answers to the Likert-type evaluation questions also prove that this format of representation is helpful for promoting Zhuang cultures and reducing stereotypes on the ethnic group.
As a practice-based research, the outcomes of the creative practices are vital parts of this project. This not only includes the final comic book, but also creative pieces generated during the whole process, such as the fieldwork reportage drawings and the comic character design concepts. While the comic book directly displays how the comic characters represent contemporary Zhuang culture, the fieldwork on-location drawings and concept sketches of character design development exemplify how the characters in the comic came into being, especially how the previously neglected ethnic features were noticed and accentuated. Most importantly, these previously neglected ethnic features are essential for a contemporary-perspective representation of the Zhuang ethnic group. Therefore, all these creative outcomes respond to the central research question and form the core of this research.



  • Design and Creative Arts


  • Creative Arts


Loughborough University

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© Xiyuan Tan

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A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.




Andrew Selby ; Paul Wells

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