Dimensions of National Image and Their Mutual Heterogeneity: A survey-based study of university students in China and South Korea


Background and theoretical approach

National Image is a complex construct. Among others, image dimensions are a cornerstone for national image studies. Questions include what factors and dimensions construct a national image, how national image is formed, and what is the dynamic mechanism of those factors, are basic inquiries into national image theory. The existing studies on national images have premised on two basic approaches, namely essentialism and constructivism. Building upon the constructivist approach, this study raises a construct of mutual heterogeneity of national image. Two aspects of the national image heterogeneity are identified, which are external heterogeneity and internal heterogeneity. External heterogeneity means that there is a significant difference in the constructing dimensions of national images in respective countries and the elements which compose these dimensions accordingly. Internal heterogeneity happens when people in the same country evaluate the other country concerning the same issue in a polarized way. Combining marketing, international relations, and communication perspectives to construct basic dimensions of national image, this study aims to demonstrate and test the legitimacy of the construct of mutual heterogeneity of national images and discuss it’s theoretical and practical implications.

Research questions

This study puts forward two-level research questions as follows:

RQ1-1: What are the dimensions of national image?

RQ1-2: What are the factors that construct the dimensions of national image?

RQ2-1:Is there a mutual heterogeneity in the national images when observing two associated pair countries?

RQ2-2:What are the attributes of heterogeneity of national images?

Data Collection and Analysis

China and South Korea as a pair of subject-object countries are chosen for this study. The survey was conducted between November 2017 and January 2018 among university students in China and South Korea. In total, there are 357 respondents from China of which 105 are male (30%), and 252 are female (70%) with an average age of 19.20 years old. In South Korea, there are 397 respondents, of which 141 are male (47.5%), and 156 are female (52.5%) with an average age of 20.83 years old.

This study adopted an exploratory factor analysis method to extract the factors that compose national images. Furthermore, in order to locate the priority of those factors, the stepwise regression analysis is employed. A 27-item scale to measure the dimensions of national images based on 5 Likert measurement and semantic differential method is used as well.


The study finds that there are some common dimensions between object-subject countries, but the order of priority reveals much more information than factors. Among various dimensions, culture is prominent both in terms of external and internal heterogeneity. Chinese and South Korean people released distinct opinions concerning cultural similarity, and the evaluation of the cultural power of the other country within the same country showed a significant inner discrepancy. This study empirically supports the construct of heterogeneity of national images, from both external and internal aspects. The evidence from this study implies that national image is, in nature, a cultural phenomenon instead of national power, media representation, and identity.