Analysis of Chinese Public Service Advertisements Based on Narratology



Ke-Jing Wen, Won-ho Choi


Dept. of Visual Contents, Division of Digital Contents

Graduate School of Dongseo University

Busan, South Korea,






Advertising is the cultural product of modern consumerism society, and plays the role of social texts. However, the current research on public service advertisements based on narratology is not enough. This paper combines the relationship among Chinese public service advertisements, narratology and advertisements. From the perspective of the classical narratology theory, the writer analyzes how to interpret Chinese public service advertisements. The writer selected the cases of Chinese public service advertisements at various stages, and analyzed the successful factors of Chinese public service advertisements. Through research, it can be used in the production and exchange of public service advertisements in China.


Keywords- Chinese public service advertisement; Post-classical Narration; narrative advertisement


1. Introduction


As a form of advertising, public service advertisements has been developed in China for more than 30 years. Since the broadcast of the TV public service Water Conservation (节约用水) in 1986, the number and quality of public service advertisements in China have been significantly improved. The various interdisciplinary research on public service advertisements has also been continuously enriched. The study began in 1991, Du Yanling (杜延龄), Social Function of Public Service Advertising(公益广告社会功能之刍议) was published in the year. After 2000, the production and broadcasting of public service advertisements have become more active, but the analysis of public service advertisements from the perspective of narratology was still insufficient compared with other fields. The research on this content can provide reference for the research of public service advertisement production from the aspects of linguistic narrative elements and narrative elements besides languages. At the same time, through the theory of narratology, it can provide a new perspective and breakthrough for the production and dissemination of public service advertisements in China.

This thesis uses post-classical Narration theory, starting from how to develop the narrative of Chinese public service advertisements and what kind of narrative method is used, etc., and explores the successful factors of Chinese public service advertisements through cases analysis. I hope it can be used in the production and dissemination of public service advertisements in China.


2. Chinese Public Service Advertising


Public service advertisements are non-commercial advertisements created for the public interest of the society[1]. Unlike general commodity advertisements, they are produced for the purpose of social progress or welfare policies. China refers to PSA (Public Service Advertising) as a public service advertisement. During the period, there were various names such as public service advertisements and public business advertisements. Like other commercial advertisements, public service advertisements have various medias such as newspapers, radio, television, and prints. There are also slogans, images, poems, stories, interviews, interviews and other forms of expressions.

In 1978, China Central Television broadcasted a public service advertisement similar to the current public service advertisements. In January 1979, Ding Yunpeng(丁允朋) stated in Corporate for Advertising(为广告正名). The knowledge and convenience should be provided to the public through advertising. This has had a very positive impact on the regeneration of the Chinese advertising industry [2].

The development of China's public service advertisements has gone through three stages [3]. From 1986 to 1995, it was the initial stage of the formation of public service advertisements in China. At this stage, television became the central channel for the dissemination of public service advertisements. In 1986, Guiyang(贵阳) TV Station in China and Guiyang City saved Water Office co-produced the public service advertisement Water Conservation(节约用水). "This public service advertisement symbolizes the birth of modern public service advertisements in China. [4]" In October 1987, China Central Television broadcasted the special public service advertisement Growth and Report for the first time in prime time. The program produced and broadcasted many public service advertisements that are consistent with social reality, with diverse themes and good communication effects. According to statistics. From 1987 to 1995, the number of public service advertisements broadcast in Growth and Report has reached 844. The concept of public service advertisement has gone deep into the body and mind of the public.

From 1996 to 2007, Chinese public service advertisements were in a stable development period. After the broadcast of Growth and Report, TV stations and broadcasting bureaus in other regions were positively affected by major TV stations, such as Beijing Evening News(北京晚报) and Guangzhou Daily(广州日报). The newspaper also participated in the production of public service advertisements. During this period, the government and relevant departments intervened to strengthen the management of the public service advertising industry. The number of companies participating in TV public service advertising activities has also increased. It has provided support for the development of public service advertisements.

Since 2008, Chinese public service advertisements have entered a stage of rapid development. The business organization of the government and related departments is also constantly improving. More enterprises participate in the public service advertising industry. The China TV Public Service Advertising Competition was held during this period. Public service advertising has been inserted into news programs. Chinese public service advertising industry has entered a planned, organized and diversified stage of rapid development under the leadership of the government.


3. Chinese public service advertisement based on narratology


As a cultural product and social text of modern consumerism, advertising naturally enters the research scope of narrative theory. In other words, narrative provides a new perspective for the study of public service advertising. However, many existing researches use narratological theory to study advertising. Public service advertisements are the research object. That is to say, post-classical Narration theory is very insufficient for the development of public service advertisements. Therefore, this article is a classic narrative. Based on the theory of post-classical Narration, it will analyze the public service advertisements in China.

After examining the academic theories of various narratology, Zhu Kezhen(祝克懿) divided the definition of narratology into four aspects from the perspective of cognitive linguistics, namely, the language action process, the language result, a means or method used in the language action process, a cognitive framework or schema[5].

China Central Television is the only state-level television station in China and a state-run television station representing China. According to the three stages of development of Chinese public service advertisements, this paper has selected three most authoritative public service advertisements broadcasted by China Central Television Station, which are familiar to the people, as examples.

In 1991, China Central Television broadcasted a public service advertisement on the theme of ‘Discovering Unnecessary Expenditure.’ Every time a child in a department store sees a toy, the child’s mother buys the toy for her child. One day, the child throws away the toy, and the child’s mother shows a surprising expression. In the public service advertisement, the story itself is a process of language action, and the result of the language is what the public knows after seeing the public service advertisement. Theme: Reducing unnecessary spending.

In 2002, Chinese famous mineral water company, Nongfu Spring(农夫山泉), passed a public service advertisementa Drop of Water, a penny, and every time a bottle of mineral water was sold, it will donate a penny to the poor areas. In this public service advertisement, there is no traditional ‘problem-solving’ model, even no dialogue. But post-classical narratology theory includes senders, information, recipients and ‘post-language results’, so the public service advertisement is also a narrative process. As a sender, the production company sends out information to the public, attracts the attention of the public through out-of-school children in poverty-stricken areas, and takes considerable action to help such children. The information content is a scene of desperate children in poverty-stricken areas who are eager to learn and ‘a drop of water’. The advertising word of ‘a penny.’ The recipient of the information is the public. The result of the language is that the heart of the public is moved by the advertisement and participates in ‘helping out-of-school children in poverty-stricken areas.’

Table 1. Cases Analysis Objects.


Development Stage






The initial stage

The public service advertisement broadcast in the TV program Growth and Report


unnecessary expenses.



Stable development period

A Drop of Water, A Penny

Raise funds for out-of-school children in poverty-stricken areas."



From 2008

Rapid development stage

Apocalypse of the Eggs

The importance of child safety seats



In 2013, China Central Television broadcasted the public service advertisement Apocalypse of the Eggs(鸡蛋启示录). The little girl who observed the eggs on the car seat was the protagonist. Every time the girl saw the eggs hopping and jumping with the movement of the car, laughed. While the car brakes suddenly, the egg falls behind, but the girl is safe in the child safety seat. Although there are certain storylines in the public service advertisement, there are basically no contradictions and confliction, and the satisfaction rate reminds the audience of the necessary appeal of the child safety seat. It also has the characteristics of abstraction and warning.

It can be seen from the examples that with the different stages of development, the narrative techniques of public service advertisements in China are gradually growing. Later, the classic narrative theory explores public service advertisements, which will provide a powerful reference for the expression of public service advertisements.

The successful factors of public service advertisements are mainly reflected in the following aspects. The first is the abnormal narrative structure, even if there is no story of the benefactor, the supporter, the beneficiary, etc. It can also deepen the impression of public service advertisements in the hearts of the public by moving forward in turn. For example, in the moment when the egg is broken, the public is warned. At the same time, the message ‘Children's car seat is very important’ will be received. Secondly, other narrative elements except language. For example, the laughter of the girl, the brakes of the car, the egg broken sound. These factors can also help the audience understand the narrative of public service advertisements. Finally, the social environment plays a very important role in the success of public service advertisements. In 2013, China's economy has achieved great development. With the popularity of private cars, the hidden danger of children riding in cars have become a problem that cannot be ignored. The public service advertisements have revealed safety hazards to the public and popularized child safety seats. The importance of the chair has been widely praised by the masses once it is broadcast. The media is also the most authoritative China Central Television station in China. It is easy for the public to accept and the possibility of adoption will increase.


4. Conclusion


A new attempt to explore Chinese public service advertisements with the theory of narratology. It is also a very necessary exploration in the development of public service advertisements. In fact, the process of public viewing the public service advertisements is also a process of interpreting public service advertisement concepts and ideas. In this process, the expression of the theme of public service advertisements, the public's information acceptance, and the communication effects are not negligible. Therefore, the research on public service advertisement through the theory of narratology can provide a new perspective and breakthrough for the production and dissemination of public service advertisements in China.





[1]   Gao Ping, Preliminary Exploration of Public Service Advertising, China Business Press, 1999, p. 11.

[2]   Ding Yunpeng, stated in Corporate for Advertising, Shanghai Wenhui Daily, 1979.

[3]   Liu Linqing, and He Qunpo, Introduction to Public Service Advertising, Communication University of China Press, 2014, pp. 29-51.

[4]   Chen Huixing, China TV Public Service Advertising for 30 years, Media Watch, August 2008.

[5]   Zhu Kezhen, The Modern Significance of the Concept of 'narratives', Journal of Fudan University (Social Science Edition), April 2007.