Framing Sino-US Trade War: A Content Analysis of News from Chinese and American Media Organizations


This research project investigates how news organizations in China and the US frame the Sino-US Trade War which broke out in March 2018. While many existing studies have identified significant differences of news reporting across countries which vary in terms of media systems, few specifically explain how the media system dimensions of political parallelism, journalistic professionalism and state intervention introduced in Hallin and Mancini (2004) associate with the use of particular sources and the emergence of some particular news frames.

To answer these under-explored questions, the researcher conducted a quantitative content analysis of 642 sampled articles published between March 2018 and July 2019 by eight news organizations from China and the US (four Chinese and four American). The findings suggest that the Chinese news organizations, which show higher level of political parallelism, indeed use many more government sources than their American counterparts do. However, the American news organizations use the country’s president as major news source more often than the Chinese ones, indicating the strong presence of the vocal American president Donald Trump in the American media.

In terms of frame use, the Chinese news organizations adopt more responsibility and morality frames than the American outlets. They mainly use these frames to attribute the responsibilities of the bilateral trade conflicts to the US government, which reflects the stronger state intervention in news reporting of the Chinese media. The American news organizations, on the other hand, use more human interest and conflict frames and address a more variety of sources. These indicate the less state intervention and the more journalistic professionalism of them when comparing with the Chinese media. Contrary to the findings of existing literature, the American media use more leadership frame than their Chinese counterparts, which also reflect the strong presence of the vocal American president in the news media on the issue of the Sino-US Trade War.