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Review of  Carrying a Torch

Reviewer: Richard W. Hallett
Book Title: Carrying a Torch
Book Author: Mei Yang
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Linguistic Theories
Text/Corpus Linguistics
Issue Number: 26.3789

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Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


In order ‘to analyse how and why the complexity, contradiction and conflicts in linguistic interpretations of Olympism are demonstrated by the media discourse between East and West’, Yang (2013:1, original emphasis) employs Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) to examine the British and Chinese coverage of the Beijing Olympic Torch Relay. In Chapter 1, ‘Olympism in media discourse’ (1-12), Yang states that the study presented in this book follows Baker’s (2006) approach to CDA using corpus linguistics. Near the end of the chapter she lists the five research questions that drive her study. These questions range from how CDA and corpus linguistics can inform understanding of media coverage and systematically document and account for discursive constructions to how differing ideologies are explicitly constructed by the China Daily, BBC News, and The Guardian. In Chapter 2, ‘Olympic torch relay and China and Britain in modern Olympic history’ (13-25), the author outlines the development of the modern Olympic Torch Relay from 1936 to 2008 and presents the theme of the 2008 relay, Journey of Harmony, as well as the slogan for the relay, Light the Passion, Share the Dream. She elaborates on the use of the theme and slogan in Chapter 3, ‘Olympism, liberalism and harmony’ (27-55). After noting that ideology is one of the bases of CDA, Yang states, “We cannot completely detach ideology from a given political setting (realpolitik)’ (31). Accordingly, she offers a short history of Olympism, including the seven principles in the Olympic Charter, and a discussion of liberalism and harmony, with a focus on the latter in the context of neo-Confucianism in contemporary China.

The author contextualizes her research in the next three chapters. In Chapter 4, ‘Media studies’ (57-63), Yang outlines research on media discourse. She criticizes traditional media studies, specifically noting, ‘a study of media content alone is not sufficient to understand the forces that produce that content’ (60). To begin to address the aforementioned insufficiency, she discusses the development of CDA as well as Wodak et al.’s (1990) development of the Discourse-Historical Approach (DHA) within CDA. In Chapter 5, ‘Corpus-based Critical Discourse Analysis’ (65-103), Yang outlines the development of CDA from Fairclough’s (1989) seminal work on language and power. She also presents critiques of and challenges to CDA and argues for the integration of corpus linguistics within a CDA approach. In Chapter 6, ‘Frequency and Concordance Analysis’ (105-126), she outlines the five steps to her Olympic Relay study, i.e. a frequency analysis, a concordance analysis, a comparative study, a diachronic study, a comparative historical study, and a socio-political study. She also discusses the three types of qualitative representation in her study: collocates, clusters, and concordance lines.

In the remaining three chapters of the book, Yang presents her findings. Following a discussion of the top fifty lexical items in the coverage of the Athens Olympic Torch Relay and the Beijing Olympic Torch Relay in Chapter 7, ‘Diachronic study’ (127-142), Yang notes the similarities of the themes of and attitudes toward the Athens Torch Relay among the China Daily, BBC News, and The Guardian. In Chapter 8, ‘Contrasting the socio-political contexts’ (143-153), however, she presents the differences between the Chinese and British coverage of the Beijing Torch Relay, noting, ‘The politicization of the Beijing Olympics was unavoidable, for China was not deemed to be democratic by the West’ (151). Finally, in Chapter 9, ‘Conclusion’ (155-171), Yang states that the 2008 Torch Relay was ‘the exact moment when East met West on the media stage’ (163). She concludes this chapter with statements about Olympism in general and poses a new research question, i.e. how Olympism can be made universal and plural at the same time.


Yang’s book is a nice addition to the linguistic studies of the Beijing Olympics (See also Fong 2009; Montgomery 2010; Yu 2011; Wang, Guo, and Shen 2011; Edwards 2013). Her greatest successes in this book are a well-articulated history of CDA (and DHA) and an insightful discussion of the Chinese concept of harmony, especially as it relates to the Western notion of (neo)liberalism. However, Yang’s writing in these sections sometimes appears unfocused and tautological. For example, she writes, ‘In short, both harmony and liberalism appeal to benevolent government (the Mandate of Heaven/government consent)… both promote harmony rather than disorder and both emphasize equality’ (53). The reader is left to wonder whether the author really means to state that harmony promotes harmony. Moreover, in an attempt to justify her research, Yang becomes hyperbolic in her claims, e.g. ‘The 2008 Torch Relay was the exact moment when East met West on the media stage: ideologically, harmony came face to face with liberalism’ (55). The same claim concerning the importance of the 2008 Torch Relay also appears in her conclusion. Overall, though, Yang is successful in addressing Bloomaert’s (2005:5-6) statement that there is no need to restrict CDA to ‘First-World societies’. Her work provides a thoughtful, thorough examination of a non-Western media event.


Baker, Paul. 2006. Using corpora in discourse analysis. London: Continuum.

Bloomaert, Jan. 2005. Discourse: A critical introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Edwards, Rachel. 2013. The role of fear and envy in the discursive construction of the Beijing Olympics in British broadsheets. Critical Discourse Studies 10:3, 275-297.

Fairclough, Norman. 1989. Language and power. London: Longman.

Fong, Emily Tsz Yan. 2009. English in China: Some thoughts after the Beijing Olympics: Institutional and learners’ discourse about English and the implications for China English. English Today 25:1, 44-49.

Montgomery, Martin. 2010. Rituals of personal experience in television news interviews. Discourse and Communication 4:2, 185-211.

Wang, Ning, Zhongshi Guo, and Fei Shen. 2011. Message, perception, and the Beijing Olympics: Impact of differential media exposure on perceived opinion diversity. Communication Research 38:3, 422-445.

Wodak, Ruth, Peter Nowak, Johanna Pelikan, Helmut Gruber, Rudolf de Cillia, and Richard Mitten. 1990. ‘Wir sind alle unschuldige Täter’. Diskurshistorische Studien zum Nachkriegsantisemitismus. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Yu, Ning. 2011. Beijing Olympics and Beijing opera: A multimodal metaphor in a CCTV Olympics commercial. Cognitive Linguistics 22:3, 595-628.
Richard W. Hallett is Professor of Linguistics at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. His research interests include world Englishes, second language acquisition, sociolinguistics, and the discourse of tourism. He is the co-author of ''Official Tourism Websites: A Discourse Analysis Perspective''.

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