Scolding “Brothers” and Caring “Friends”: Discursive Construction of the Identity of Mediation Helpers in China

  • Youping XuEmail author


Despite the increasing popularity of the call for specialized and professionalized mediators worldwide, the importance of mediation helpers who are non-mediators but invited to assist the mediation in China can never be underestimated. Different from the western style of co-mediation that involves two or more mediators, China has the tradition to invite mediation helpers such as family members, neighbors, friends and working unit leaders, to help the mediator settle disputes for parties. Nowadays, in one innovative form of people’s mediation, TV mediation, warm-hearted people who are unfamiliar with the parties are also invited to be mediation helpers. This paper, based on the socio-cultural linguistic framework of identity proposed by Bucholtz and Hall (Discourse Stud 7(4–5):585–614, 2005), intends to analyze how “stranger” mediation helpers discursively construct their identities as scolding “brothers” and caring “friends” in China’s TV mediation. The data used in this paper consists of transcripts of 10 episodes of TV mediation programs on divorce disputes in China. Data analysis shows that unlike the mediator who is supposed to be neutral, mediation helpers often align/disalign themselves with parties, discursively construct such an identity as scolding “elder brothers” and caring “friends”, and achieve additional favorable effects that would otherwise be normally impossible by the neutral mediator. This paper concludes that due to the socio-cultural traditions in China, this seemingly peculiar phenomenon to the west is actually an innovation of mediation and is the very secret that makes mediation in China vigorous and effective.


Mediation helpers Identity Alignment Indexicality Dispute resolution 



This paper is part of the philosophy and social science research programs in Guangdong Province (GD14YWW03, 2016WTSCX029). I’m deeply indebted to the anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments. My sincere thanks also go to co-editors of this issue, Prof. Anne Wagner and Prof. Aleksandra Matulewska, for their valuable advice and kind support in the writing of this paper.


  1. 1.
    Bahm, Archie J. 1992. The heart of confucius: interpretations ofgenuine livingand great wisdom”. Fremont, CA: Jain Publishing.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Boulle, Laurence, and Miryana Nesic. 2001. Mediation: Principles, process, practice. Chatswood: LexisNexis Butterworths.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Boulle, Laurence, Michael T. Colatrella, and Anthony Picchioni. 2008. Mediation: Skills and techniques. Newark, NJ: LexisNexis/Matthew Bender.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Bucholtz, Mary, and Kira Hall. 2005. Identity and interaction: A sociocultural linguistic approach. Discourse Studies 7(4–5): 585–614.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Bucholtz, Mary, and Kira Hall. 2008. Finding identity: Theory and data. Multilingua 27(1/2): 151–163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Deng, Yiheng, Xu Kaibin, Fu Xiaoqiu, and Sang Ma. 2013. Mediating conflict on TV: Discourse analysis of gold medal mediation. China Media Research 9(4): 5–14.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Bois, Du, and W. John. 1991. Transcription design principles for spoken language research. Pragmatics 1(1): 71–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Ervin-Tripp, Susan. 1969. Sociolinguistics. In Advances in experimental psychology, vol. 4, ed. L. Berkowitz, 91–165. New York: Anchor.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Fei, Xiaotong. 1992. From the Soil: The Foundations of Chinese Society (trans: Wang, Zheng, and Hamilton, G.). Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Feng, Bo. 2011. Tiaojielei jiemu shoushi zhidao jiexi (analysis on rating trends for mediation programs). Rating China (7).Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Goffman, Erving. 1981. Forms of talk. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Hawes, Colin S., and Shuyu Kong. 2013. Primetime dispute resolution: Reality TV mediation shows in China’s “harmonious society”. Law & Society Review 47(4): 739–770.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Hedeen, Timothy. 2005. Coercion and self-determination in court-connected mediation: All mediations are voluntary, but some are more voluntary than others. Justice System Journal 26(3): 273–291.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Huang, Philip C.C. 2005. Divorce law practices and the origins, myths, and realities of judicial mediation in China. Modern China 31(2): 151–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Li, Chengtuan, and Yongping Ran. 2016. Self-professional identity construction through other-identity deconstruction in Chinese televised debating discourse. Journal of Pragmatics 94: 47–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Li, Jianguo. 2011. Jinpai tiaojie: tiaojie tongzhihua de shichang—Fang Jiangxi dianshitai fu taizhang, Jiangxi dianshitai weixing pindao zongjian Li Jianguo (Gold Medal Mediation: Mediating the Homogeneous Market—Interviewing Li Jianguo, Deputy Director of Jiangxi TV Station and Director of Satellite TV Channel of Jiangxi TV Station). China Advertising 5: 113–114.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Liu, Shaojie. 2006. Shuren shehui cunzai de helixing (on the reasonableness of the existence of the familiar society). People’s Tribune 10: 16–18.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Locher, MiriamA. 2008. Relational work, politeness, and identity construction. In Handbook of interpersonal communication, ed. Gerd Antos and Eija Ventola, 509–540. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Martin, James Robert, and Peter R.R. White. 2005. The language of evaluation: Appraisal in English. London: Palgrave/Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Matz, David. 1994. Mediator pressure and party autonomy: Are they consistent with each other? Negotiation Journal 10(4): 359–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    McGuire, William J. 1961. The effectiveness of supportive and refutational defenses in immunizing and restoring beliefs against persuasion. Sociometry 24: 184–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Nee, Victor. 1994. From the soil: The foundations of Chinese society (Xiangtu Zhongguo) (book review). Contemporary Sociology 23(5): 764–765.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Pan, Qingyun. 2013. Dangxia dianshi tiaojie jiemu zhong de falv quehan (legal defects in current TV mediation programs). Journal of Shanghai University of Political Science & Law (The Rule of Law Forum) 28(3): 141–142.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Sha, Ying. 2003. Shishu rujia falv sixiang zhong de Li (a study on Li in the legal thoughts of confucianism). Journal of South-central University for Nationalities (Philosophy and Social Science) 2: 25–27.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    van der Houwen, Fleur. 2015. If it doesn’t make sense, it’s not true: How Judge Judy creates coherent stories through common-sense reasoning according to the neoliberal agenda. Social Semiotics 25(3): 255–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    van Dijk, Teun A. 2009. Society and discourse: How social context influence text and talk. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Wall Jr., James A., Dong-Won Sohn, Natalie Cleeton, and Deng Jian Jin. 1995. Community and family mediation in the People’s Republic of China. International Journal of Conflict Management 6(1): 30–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Wall Jr., James A., and Michael E. Blum. 1991. Community mediation in the People’s Republic of China. Journal of Conflict Resolution 35(1): 3–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Xu, Youping. 2016. Burying attitudes in words: Linguistic realization of the shift of judges’ court conciliation style. Semiotica 209: 397–418.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Yang, Mayfair. 1989. The gift economy and state power in China. Comparative Studies in Society and History 31(1): 40–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Yang, Yuhong. 2013. Chaxugeju sixiang de xiandai quanshi (modern interpretation to the differential mode of association). Academics 2: 145–156.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Zhang, Jinfan. 1997. Zhongguo falv de chuantong yu jindai zhuanxing (traditions of Chinese law and its modern transformation). Beijing: Law Press.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Zhang, Yafei, and Li Chen. 2017. Exploration of factors leading to successful mediation: A regression analysis of reality TV mediation show episodes in China. International Journal of Conflict Management 28(1): 24–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Guangdong University of Foreign StudiesGuangzhouChina

Personalised recommendations