Master of Arts (MA)


Terri L. Cornwell

Primary Subject Area

Anthropology, Cultural; Literature, Asian


The Uses and Gratifications Theory states that audiences are active and they seek satisfactions when selecting media. This theory redirects the typical theoretical emphasis on media content to an emphasis on the active audience. The present study focuses on this theory by evaluating the gratifications Chinese audiences receive when watching American films. It discovers gratifications Chinese audiences seek in films, in general, and how their gratifications may be fulfilled by watching American films. The preference for American films among a majority of Chinese audiences would likely affect Chinese audiences’ understanding of the American culture. To be more precise, the study focuses on some misperceptions Chinese audiences have toward American culture. By studying these misperceptions, the researcher is able to determine the degree American films can mislead Chinese audiences’ perceptions about American culture.

The researcher conducted surveys and interviews with five volunteer focus groups in order to accomplish this study. All the participants were native Chinese who had visited and lived in the United States for at least one month. Three research hypotheses were created in order to set a direction for this study. The research hypotheses are: (1) Chinese audiences use American movies to entertain, to gain information, and to participate in social interaction; (2) American films help Chinese audiences construct their perception of American culture; and (3) Chinese audiences change their prior understanding of the interpersonal relationships in American society after they have personally experienced American culture.

After conducting the five focus group interviews, the researcher found that the three main reasons for Chinese audiences to use American films are to entertain themselves, to gain knowledge about the Western culture and the English language, and to relax. After watching American films, the three main negative perceptions Chinese audiences have toward the American culture relate to family issues, safety problems, and promiscuous behaviors. The researcher also finds that after visiting, studying, and/or living in the United States for at least a month, these participants changed their previous negative perceptions toward American culture. The findings reveal three main elements in American films that would attract most Chinese audiences to watch the films. The findings also have a warning purpose to American film producers. If there is continuous evidence that American films give negative influences to audiences in other countries, then there might be a possibility in the future that American film producers might take some measures to counter such influences by producing more agreeable film fare.