Lingua Sinica

, 3:2

Winds and tigers: metaphor choice in China’s anti-corruption discourse

Open Access


This article examines metaphor choice in China’s official anti-corruption discourse. Drawing on corpus data, we analyze the metaphors used by the Chinese Communist Party and its flagship newspaper, the People’s Daily, to frame the anti-corruption campaign and influence public perception. It is found that both embodied experience and cultural models are recruited as the metaphoric vehicles or source domains for the strategic profiling of different aspects of corruption and anti-corruption actions as the target domain. Additionally, metaphor choice is systematically different in the Chinese and the English versions of the party newspaper, reflecting that metaphor use is sensitive to sociocultural context, especially to the knowledge base within an epistemic community.


China Anti-corruption campaign Metaphor choice Political discourse 

1 Background

During the transition from a planned economy to a market economy in the last three decades, China has experienced what many scholars call an “economic miracle.” At the same time, Chinese society is faced with “an extraordinary and serious epidemic of corruption” (Meng 2014: 33). There seems to be a consensus among China scholars that the reforms that brought about liberalization and commercialization, and fueled the economic boom, also drove the surge of corruption by providing fertile soil for its rampant growth (Gong 2002, 2006; Guo 2008). Wedeman observes a “coevolution” of economic growth and worsening corruption (Wedeman 2012: 10). He attributes the party’s motivation to curb corruption to the perceived existential threat it poses to the communist regime. Meng also points out that corruption in China “particularly damages the ideology of the party government” (Meng 2014: 15). Indeed, corruption and its consequences for governance, especially for the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party (hereafter CCP), have been concerns for Chinese leaders for over two decades.

In recent years, the sense of urgency in curbing corruption has been intensified by the increasing ability of ordinary citizens to expose corrupt officials through social media. With the rapid growth of the Internet as an emerging public sphere, Chinese citizens have found a platform where they can circulate information and share opinion on social events, voice discontentment about corruption and social injustice, and engage in activism in a way that was never before imaginable (Yang 2009; Scotton 2010; Qian and Bandurski 2011).

In November 2012, Xi Jinping took office as the new General Secretary of the CCP, and in March 2013, he became the President of the PRC. Xi quickly gained public support, mainly through an unprecedented high-pressure anti-corruption drive. According to information published on the party website, from November 2012 to March 2015, scores of high-profile officials in the central government, the People’s Liberation Army, numerous provincial governments, as well as major state-owned companies were investigated, disciplined, and in some cases, indicted1. The toppling of highly placed party, army, and corporate leaders distinguishes Xi’s strident efforts to stem corruption from previous anti-corruption campaigns (Wedeman 2013b; Liendo and McElveen 2013).

Xi started addressing corruption in official speeches as soon as he took office as the CCP General Secretary in November 2012, at the conclusion of the high-profile corruption trial of Bo Xilai. He warned the members of the Politburo that serious corruption would doom the party and the government. Xi’s speeches set the tone for the party discourse on corruption during the subsequent anti-corruption campaign, which was officially launched in spring 2013 when Xi became the President. April 19, 2013 marked the watershed moment of the campaign, when major online media outlets simultaneously launched special “hotline” webpages to solicit from the public information or “tips” on corrupt officials. A strident anti-corruption campaign ensued, accompanied by forceful rhetoric implemented with official documents issued by the Party Central office, especially speeches by President Xi and Secretary Wang Qishan of the CCP Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI).

The CCP anti-corruption campaign has garnered intensive attention from China scholars interested in its economic and political ramifications (see, for example, Gong 2015; Wedeman 2013a; Lin 2015; Congressional-Executive Commission on China 2013). However, little attention has been paid to the discursive aspect of the campaign in terms of how the CCP uses language to communicate and frame its anti-corruption agenda and influence public perception. Yet, no political institution or movement can exist without the art of communication, which is instrumental to the symbolic representation of authority, the exercise of power, the construction of knowledge and discourse, the evocation of emotion, and the manipulation of public opinion (Foucault 1980). In a first attempt to fill this gap, this study examines metaphor choice in the CCP discourse about the anti-corruption campaign. It provides a data-driven analysis of metaphors repeatedly used in the campaign, by the CCP and its flagship newspaper, the Peoples Daily (hereafter PD), and compares the metaphors in the Chinese and English editions of the PD to throw light on metaphor choice across the boundaries of linguistic, cultural, and epistemic communities.

Drawing on conceptual metaphor theory (henceforth CMT), we examine the experiential basis, cultural relevance, and political functions of the CCP’s anti-corruption metaphors by focusing on the source domain concepts from both conceptual and cultural perspectives, and the strategic employment of metaphorical entailments associated with these concepts. Our analysis enriches the literature on the potential of metaphor as an instrument of cognitive and affective manipulation, a device of strategic discourse, and a tool in shaping public opinion. In addition, we analyze the metaphors used in the anti-corruption discourse in the English language version of the PD. By comparing and contrasting the source domains of the metaphors, we demonstrate the audience-specific employment of metaphor in communication, drawing implications for the role of cultural models and epistemic conventions in the metaphorical construction of social reality. Section 2 discusses the basic tenets of CMT and its role in understanding the conceptual foundation of political metaphors. Section 3 introduces the corpus data source and research methods. Section 4 presents results from analyzing the metaphor source domains that emerge from the corpus analysis of the Chinese edition of the PD, and compares these with those that are found in the English edition in terms of audience-oriented metaphor choice informed by culture-specific conceptual resources and epistemic conventions. Section 5 offers a discussion of the analysis and its theoretical implications. Section 6 concludes the study with a brief note on methodological implications.

2 Conceptual metaphor and political discourse

Contemporary research on political language offers ample evidence that metaphor is ubiquitous in political discourse where it plays a key role in defining issues, setting agendas, reflecting ideologies, and shaping public opinion (Chilton 1996, 2004; Lakoff 2001, 2004, 2008; Charteris-Black 2004, 2005; Lu and Ahrens 2008, inter alias). What is it about metaphor that makes it such a powerful political tool?

The Conceptual Metaphor Theory provides a crucial insight into the human mind that illuminates the ubiquity of metaphor in human language in general and in political discourse in particular (Lakoff and Johnson 1980, 1999; Gibbs 1994, 1999; Grady 1997; Feldman 2006). Essentially, metaphor structures our thought and helps us understand abstract and intangible matters by the use of familiar and accessible concepts of basic bodily experience as cognitive heuristics. Conceptual metaphors exhibit pervasive conventional mappings across conceptual domains. For example, across languages, time is conceptualized in terms of space as in “a look back” where “back” stands for the past, and social relationship is conceptualized in terms of physical distance, as in “a close friend” where closeness indicates intimacy. Lakoff and Johnson argue that metaphor is not just a linguistic phenomenon; it is a cognitive process without which some abstract thoughts are impossible. The intersection of metaphoric language and political discourse is one of many instantiations of embodied cognition. Politics presents a complex domain of human experience that is laden with serious consequences and yet too abstract for ordinary citizens to understand. Drawing on embodied experiences, metaphors serve to “link the individual and the political by providing a way of seeing relations, reifying abstractions, and framing complexity in manageable terms” (Thompson 1996: 185–186). In addition to simplifying and managing complex information, metaphors shape our perspective on politics through the particular lens of their source concepts by foregrounding and backgrounding various aspects of an issue (Edelman 1971; Fairclough 1992; Chilton 1996). The necessity of metaphor in political discourse is aptly captured in Thompson’s (1996) vivid simile—“Politics without metaphor is like a fish without water.”

But complex matters such as politics are often communicated with different metaphors in different cultural spaces where different source domains may be employed, and where the same source domains may not be equally salient (Boers 2003). Deignan (2003) and Littlemore (2003) point to the role of shared cultural knowledge, values, and stereotypes in metaphor interpretation. Quinn (1991) argues that the use of metaphor plays into preexisting cultural models to facilitate the communication of abstract ideas, and that the cognitive function of metaphor is mediated by culture-specific experiences.

However, the view of metaphor as systematic embodiment and the view of metaphor as being subject to culture-specific knowledge and preferences of conceptualization are not incompatible. Scholars working within the CMT framework recognize that cultural experiences shape metaphorical conceptualization and give rise to cross-linguistic variation in the choice of source domains (Yu 2003, 2008; Deignan 2003; Barcelona and Soriano 2004; Boers, Demecheleer and Eyckmans 2004; Kimmel 2004; Kövecses 2005). The recognition of cultural variation in metaphorical thinking counterbalances the argument for its cognitive universality. While noting the centrality of spatial experience as our most fundamental bodily experience, Lakoff and Johnson also contend, “every experience takes place within a vast background of cultural presuppositions” (Lakoff and Johnson 1980: 57). In other words, culture shapes the way we experience the world. Gibbs suggests that our embodied experience is shaped by “social and cultural constructions of experience,” according to which some aspects of our bodily experience are viewed as “more salient than others” (Gibbs 1999: 154–155). In other words, culture shapes the way we conceptualize the world by prioritizing some experiences over others. Thus, differences in cultural cognition necessarily give rise to differences in metaphorical conceptualization in different languages.

The CMT approach distinguishes itself from earlier approaches to metaphor not just in its assertion of the cognitive role and cultural background of metaphor. It also provides an interactionist theory of truth by refuting objectivism, which has implications for metaphoric discourse about politics. From this theoretical viewpoint, metaphor defies traditional truth-value analysis. As Lakoff and Johnson argue, “Truth is always relative to a conceptual system that is defined in large part by metaphor.” (Lakoff and Johnson 1980: 159) Truth in the experientialist framework depends not so much on the inherent properties of things as on the interactional properties arising from our daily experience of perception and categorization. In this line of inquiry, it is less important to explore the truth-value of metaphoric language than to explore what metaphor accomplishes in communication. Lakoff and Johnson argue that metaphor can “define reality” by way of “a coherent network of entailments that highlight some features of reality and hide others.” (p.157)

This subjectivist view of metaphor entailments indicates the pragmatic potentials of metaphor and is in line with earlier research on metaphor as a cognitive heuristic, a framing device, as well as a conveyer of emotion and stance in politics (Bronowski 1972; Brown 1976; Landau 1961; Edelman 1971, 1977; Miller 1979). However, approaching metaphor from a cognitive semantic perspective, CMT is primarily concerned with metaphorical conceptualization in isolation from real-world usage in discourse. As Andersson (1992) and Cienki (2008) observe, CMT is concerned with metaphor as part of the system of linguistic knowledge or competence rather than the way metaphor is used in communication. Moreover, its research method is limited to introspection. These limitations of CMT can be remedied with a greater focus on the use of metaphor as a discursive means serving sociopolitical ends, and by employing usage data, which will be undertaken in this study.

3 Data and methods

Our analysis of corruption metaphors draws on three sets of online data, the bulk of which was obtained between April 2013 and March 2014. First, we constructed a corpus of 21 official documents with a thematic focus on corruption, including presidential speeches and party statements delivered between November 2012 and March 2014. These documents construct strategic ways of framing the issues, party viewpoint, and key policies, thereby setting the tone for the official discourse on corruption especially in the central party newspaper. These documents were obtained from two governmental sources. One is the official party website where a special webpage entitled “Study and Implement the spirit of General Secretary Xi’s Speeches” is dedicated to the documentation and examination of the seminal speeches2. Another is the anti-corruption page of the same website, entitled “A Timeline of Anti-corruption Events since the 18th NCCPC,” featuring reports on critical anti-corruption events and official anti-corruption documents3. We refer to this corpus as the tone-setting corpus (TSC). We used TSC for an initial explorative qualitative analysis of the key source domains employed by the CCP leaders particularly those by Xi Jinping. The thematic focus of these documents ensured that the metaphor sources being identified pertain to corruption as the intended target domain, avoiding many of the methodological problems discussed by Cienki (2008). In our manual search for the source domain concepts, the unit of analysis was between the word and the clausal level, with many idiomatic phrasal units in between. Following Lu and Ahrens (2008), we took domain incongruity as the primary criterion for selection. We examined the literal sense of an expression, and the semantic and pragmatic congruity between the literal meaning and the context in which it occurs. Incongruity was taken as indication of the figurative nature of an expression. For example, the expression of duliu “poisonous tumor” in 腐败是社会毒瘤 fubai shi shehui duliu “corruption is a poisonous tumor in society” was counted as a metaphor because of the incongruity of its literal sense in the given context, specifically in the collocation with shehui “society.” We extracted all the metaphoric expressions used in the 21 documents. We then analyzed and classified these metaphors into cognitive frames as source domains. The classification was based on Fillmore’s conception of cognitive frames within Frame Semantics (Fillmore 1985). A cognitive frame is a conceptual domain with a set of interrelated concepts that structure the way we understand an event or experience by profiling different aspects of that event or experience. For example, concepts such as symptom, remedy, medicine, surgery, and patient are mutually associable elements within the cognitive frame of DISEASE, each of which highlights a particular aspect of the frame and can independently activate the whole frame along with its associated concepts4. A cognitive frame is formed on the basis of perception in context and categorization by prototype and is culture-specific.

In our data annotation, we counted as elements of the DISEASE frame those metaphors that involve medicine, tumor, surgery, symptom, treatment, and the Chinese concept of wind or draft as a trigger of disease. Following this method, we grouped all the metaphors identified in TSC into four general conceptual frames as source domains—DISEASE, VERMIN, WEED, and SLOVENRY. The two authors conducted coding of the data independently, and the value of Scott’s pi (Scott 1995) for inter-rater reliability was 0.84. Through further discussions, we resolved disagreements, which were primarily on culture-specific idiomatic elements, the classification of which requires invocation of culturally defined aspects of certain frames5.

Second, based on the results obtained from the initial manual annotation of the TSC, we conducted a quantitative study of the CCP newspaper, the PD, to determine the relative productivity of the key metaphors as schematic categories in the official party press. The number of different tokens belonging in a metaphor category indicates the productivity of that metaphor category. To measure this, we searched for corruption-related news articles by using the Google search-within-site function6. This method ensured the thematic relevance to corruption of the materials retrieved. We ran month-by-month searches within the 12-month period between April 2013 and March 2014, and for each month, we selected the four most relevant articles from the results. We thus obtained a total of 48 news articles on corruption, which make up our second corpus, here referred to as the CPD (Chinese Peoples Daily). We then manually examined CPD and identified all the metaphoric tokens, lexical and phrasal, related to each of the four general groups identified in the TSC analysis. For example, 治治病 zhizhi bing “undergo a medical treatment” and 刮骨疗毒 guagu liaodu “shave the bones and cure the poison” count as two different tokens of the DISEASE metaphor. The manual annotation also yielded tokens that were not found in the TSC but belong in the larger metaphor categories identified in that corpus. A Scott’s pi value of .89 was obtained for the inter-rater reliability of the two authors’ separate coding results.

It is known that token frequency has a strong influence on the memory representations and lexical strengths of words due to its “conserving effect.” (Bybee 2006: 10) Bybee contends that high-frequency tokens are more accessible and resistant to change because “repetition strengthens memory representations.” High-frequency tokens also tend to have a high degree of “autonomy,” which Bybee and Brewer characterize as “the extent to which a word is likely to be represented in the speakers’ lexicon as a whole and separate unit” (Bybee and Brewer 2006: 50). Because these cognitive effects of token frequency are highly relevant to how well the public registers, receives, remembers, and responds to individual anti-corruption metaphors, we wanted to identify the most entrenched metaphor token in each of the four categories7. Since CPD consists of 48 articles in total, it is not ideal for obtaining token frequency information that reflects the overall site-wide distributions of tokens in the target period. However, technical challenges associated with the use of the Web as corpus limited our ability to obtain site-wide token frequencies of the metaphors. To solve this problem, we used an alternative measure—total article entries (henceforth TAE) in which a given metaphor occurs. Although this figure indirectly informs of the entrenchment of a given metaphor token, it offers clear indication of how pervasive and entrenched a metaphor is in the party discourse. Guided by the working hypothesis that the higher the number of article entries that use a metaphor, the more entrenched that metaphor is, we ran keyword searches of the PD website for the metaphor tokens identified in the CPD, using the Google search-within-site-within-period function, to see the TAE that contain each token8. The metaphor token with the highest TAE in each metaphor category was identified as the most entrenched metaphor token (henceforth MEMT).

A third source of data is the English edition of the PD (hereafter EPD), which targets English-speaking readers in and outside of China. The contents of EPD are not translations of contents of the Chinese version but are original materials generated in English. Research on English language media in China suggests that this form of media plays a bridging role in China by maintaining “a good balance” of “party-line (elite and party functions to promote China’s national interest) and bottom-line (professional and language functions to exchange information and seek understanding and trust)” (Guo 2010a: 194). By examining corruption metaphors in EPD in contrast to its Chinese language counterpart, we seek to address the issue of the social and cultural contextualization of metaphor choice in the construction of political discourse.

Using similar data retrieval methods described above, we built a corpus of 48 news articles related to corruption, manually retrieved and annotated metaphor tokens in all the articles9. Some of the metaphors fall into existing metaphor source domains obtained from the TSC data. Others do not match the existing source categories. For these, we established new source domains based on the same principle of domain incongruity and Frame Semantics. Specifically, conventional expressions including war, battle, combat, victory, and fight form the domain of WAR. Overall, the EPD data fall into five categories—WAR, DISEASE, WEED, SLOVENRY, and VERMIN. We obtained type frequencies of the five metaphors to inform us of their relative productivity and identified the MET of each metaphor category as an index of the entrenchment and pervasiveness of particular metaphor tokens. The comparative data enabled us to discover audience-specific metaphor choice and to understand it in light of culture-specific experiences, and how these experiences can be used to frame political discourse across cultural spaces and epistemic communities.

4 Results

The TSC data yielded metaphors that fall into four general conceptual categories. They are as follows:
  1. (1)


  2. (2)


  3. (3)


  4. (4)



As previously noted, CMT views metaphor as the systematic structuring of an abstract experience in terms of one that is concrete and physical. The above four source domains pertain to fundamental human experiences central to survival, each of which partially structures the experience of HARM in terms of physical threat to survival. The experience of DISEASE is one of life and death10. The prevention and treatment of disease are essential to health and survival in all human societies. DISEASE structures the experience of HARM from a somatic and medical perspective. The concept of VERMIN designates “mutually inclusive categories open to any animal that is perceived to be annoying, disruptive, or unwanted” by humans, as defined in the words of Holm (2012: 76)11. This concept crystalizes the constant human struggle to manage threats in the environment in order to protect health, habitats, crops, livestock, and game. Because VERMIN refers to animals “which must be destroyed, lest they destroy us,” to use the words of Dion and Rockman (1996: 9), it signifies elements harmful and threatening to human survival and well-being. In this paper, we take the concept of VERMIN as the closest equivalent to the Chinese concept of 害 hai “harm,” which is a well-established source domain for social ills and threats in Chinese12. The idea of WEED is as old as the origin of agriculture because weed control is essential to crop yield and food supply (Harlan 1975). While VERMIN and WEED structure the experience of HARM from the environmental and ecological perspective, they differ in focus. As for the concept of SLOVENRY, how it constitutes a metaphor source domain may not be immediately obvious, as it pertains to expectations of hygiene behavior. However, as Curtis (2007: 660) convincingly argues, there is “a link between dirt, disgust, hygiene and disease,” a link that “predates history, that predates science and culture, that even predates Homo sapiens.” Far from a social construction or a result of scientific enlightenment, hygiene behavior including grooming is an ancient animal behavior serving biological adaptiveness and survival. Thus, SLOVENRY in the sense of negligence of neatness and cleanliness structures the experience of HARM by focusing on behavior. To the extent that the four source domains partially structure the superordinate domain of HARM with varying experiential foci, these source domains are conceptually coherent.

The subsequent CPD analysis determined the type frequencies of these metaphors in the 48 articles, supplemented by additional types identified in the site-wide searches. The total type frequencies are shown in Table 1 (high-frequency metaphors are bolded).
Table 1

Type frequencies of four conceptual metaphors of corruption in CPD






Type frequency





From Table 1, we can see that DISEASE and VERMIN are relatively more productive than WEED and SLOVENRY. Below are examples of each metaphor category13.


a. 猛药去疴



eliminate disease with aggressive medicine

b. 刮骨疗毒



shave the bones and cure the poison

c. 对症下药



prescribe the right remedy for an illness

d. 天生的腐败免疫力



innate immunity against corruption


a. 老虎苍蝇一起打



strike tigers and flies together

b. 硕鼠



giant rat

c. 重拳猛击



aggressively strike with a heavy fist

d. 绝不手软



show absolutely no soft hand


a. 铲除腐败滋生蔓延的土壤



eradicate the fertile soil for the growth and spread of corruption

b. 根除腐败



root out corruption

c. 铲除腐败温床


eradicate corruption hotbed


a. 照镜子



inspect oneself in the mirror

b. 正衣冠



straighten ones garment and headwear

c. 洗澡



take a bath

d. 亮丑



air ones dirty laundry

e. 抹黑



smear with dirt

Table 2 shows the MEMT in each category as indicated by the total article entries or TAE on the PD website. The respective MEMTs of DISEASE and VERMIN are culturally idiosyncratic metaphors. In what follows, we will elucidate these metaphors by shedding light on the cultural background of these metaphors.
Table 2

The most entrenched metaphor tokens of the four conceptual metaphors in CPD








Si feng

“Four winds”






“Grow and spread”


Liang chou

“Expose ugliness”






4.1 Corruption is disease

The metaphor CORRUPTION IS DISEASE presupposes two more general conceptual metaphors: (i) the body politic metaphor, AN INSTITUTION IS A HUMAN BODY; and (ii) the medical metaphor, A SOCIAL PROBLEM IS A DISEASE. That is, the state or the party as a political institution is conceptualized as a human body subject to infections and malfunctions. As can be seen in example (5), the discourse about anti-corruption actions is interpolated with language about the timely treatment of disease.

(5) 对腐败分子, 发现一个就要坚决查处一个。要抓早抓小, 有病就马上治, 发现问题就及时处理, 不能养痈遗患

dui__fubai__fenzi, faxian__yi-ge__jiu__yao__jianjue__chachu__yi-ge. yao__zhua__zao__zhua __xiao, you__bing__jiu__mashang__zhi, faxian__wenti__jiu__jishi__chuli, buneng__yang-yong-yi-huan

as-for__corrupt__molecule, discover__one-CLF__then__must__decisive__deal-with__one-CLF. must__capture__early__capture__small, have__illness__then__right-away__treat, discover__problem__then__timely__handle, cannot__grow__carbuncle__leave-behind__trouble

As for corrupt molecules, (we) decisively deal with one as soon as (we) discover one. (We) must act at an early stage, treat disease immediately, solve problems timely, (we) cannot leave carbuncles untreated only to deal with the aftermath14.

Here, we see a complex blending and exchange between somatic and political discourses, whereby corruption as the focus of the political discourse is represented as a medical concern—as disease to be cured and carbuncles to be treated, and corrupt officials are referred to as corrupt molecules or pathogenic elements. While the body politic metaphor has a central place in early modern European political theory (Harris 1998), and therefore not Chinese specific, the CCP’s somatic metaphor CORRUPTION IS DISEASE acquires a deeply Chinese twist in its high-frequency reference to 四风 sifeng “four winds.”

The concept of 风 feng “wind” or “draft” originates in the traditional cosmological theory of the human body and health in relation to nature, conventionally referred to as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which is indigenous to China15. The Emperors Inner Classic (Huangdi Neijing) regards the imbalance of natural forces such as wind, damp, and hot and cold in the microcosm of the human body as a central cause of ill-health. The factor 风 feng “wind” or “draft” in particular is considered the top trigger of a hundred diseases (Unschuld 2003). This concept is lexicalized in many Chinese terms referring to various medical conditions such as 中风 zhong-feng “stroke,” literally “hit by wind,” 风湿 feng-shi “rheumatic disease,” literally “wind damp,” 痛风 tong-feng “gout,” literally “pain from wind,” 白癜风 bai-dian-feng “vitiligo,” literally “white-spot wind.” In folk understanding of ill-health, the notion of 受风 shou-feng “exposure to wind” is often invoked as a trigger of illness. Thus, we can say that the notion of “four winds” is part of the Chinese cultural model of health and ill-health. It is specific to the community enculturated into traditional Chinese philosophy and medicine. The competent members of that community understand the denotations and connotations of the otherwise opaque concept by way of shared discourse and shared practice. Wenger (1998: 147) calls such a community an “epistemic community.” In the Chinese epistemic community, “wind” is metaphorically associated with adverse influence, and 四风 si-feng “four winds” specifically refers to four undesirable “work styles”—formalism, bureaucratism, hedonism, and extravagance as the causes of corruption. Consider (6) as an example16:

(6) 可见中了“四风” 就容易生病, 生病不治就 容易病入膏肓, 若想活命就得治治病”…

kejian__zhong-le__sifeng__jiu__rongyi__shengbing, shengbing__bu__zhi__jiu__rongyi bingrugaohuang, ruo__xiang__huoming__jiu__de__zhizhi__bing

therefore__catch-PFV__four-wind__then__easily__generate-disease, generate-disease__ not __ treat __ then __easily__become-mortally-ill, if__want__live__then__must__cure__disease

Therefore, one is prone to ill-health when exposed to the “four winds”; left untreated one is prone to mortal disease/illness. If one wants to live one has to “cure the disease”

This extended DISEASE metaphor talks about corruption without mentioning it directly. We understand the statement by mapping the concepts in the DISEASE metaphor onto the concepts in the target domain of CORRUPTION. The chain of reasoning of cause and effect is plain and simple: the four winds cause disease, which can be life-threatening if left untreated. The causal attribution is unequivocal and fully consistent with the shared cultural model of health and illness in which wind is a salient external cause of disease. In the context of the discourse about corruption, disease maps onto corruption, life-threatening diseases onto severe existential challenges resulting from extreme corruption, “four winds” onto the causes of corruption, medical treatment onto disciplinary measures, and the desire to live onto the desire to remain in power. Entailments about disease affecting human health constitute our understanding about the ways in which corruption affects the party government. That is, understanding the contingencies of bodily health and ill-health provides a way of understanding the contingencies of political power and party rule.

Metaphorical entailments are inferences about the source domain that are imparted on the understanding of the target domain (Lakoff and Johnson 1980). There is preliminary evidence from experimental psychology that people can infer “at least a small range of entailments from an underlying conceptual metaphor” in comprehending a verbal metaphor (Gibbs and Ferreira 2011: 231). One entailment from the source domain of DISEASE is the life-threatening danger it poses to the human body and its health, understood as the existential danger corruption poses for the CCP and its power. Another entailment involves the way people normally feel about the patient being affected by a disease. A commonsense understanding of disease is that when someone falls ill, it is not necessarily her/his fault. In other words, a patient is a passive victim whom diseases befall. If Adam Smith (1759) and Charles Darwin ((1871) 2004) are right about sympathy being a basic social instinct or human propensity, then the pain of someone suffering disease will naturally activate sympathy in her/his fellow humans capable of “changing places in fancy with the sufferer,” to use Smith’s (p.48) words. Therefore, the construal of corruption as disease not only preempts the understanding of the cause of a disease as anything for which the patient could reasonably be held responsible. It also invites potential sympathy at the more visceral level of social instincts.

Another entailment of the DISEASE metaphor, especially the mapping between “four winds” and external causes of corruption, is that putting blame on “four winds” for causing corruption distracts from, if not obviates the need for further search of culprits. As long as our understanding of corruption is trapped in the seeming coherence of the source domain reasoning about winds triggering illnesses, it is difficult to reverse the causal direction embedded in the source domain, which preempts the question whether formalism, bureaucratism, hedonism, and extravagance are really symptoms rather than the actual causes of corruption. As noted previously, the cognitive view of metaphorical entailments within the CMT does not fully address how metaphor accomplishes its political goals. A pragmatic view of metaphor that explicitly addresses how the speaker strategically chooses metaphor and uses metaphorical entailments “to achieve particular communication goals within particular contexts” is necessary to account for the political function of metaphor (Charteris-Black 2004: 247). Specifically, metaphor is intentionally chosen as a referential strategy, and its metaphorical entailments are used as an evaluative strategy. That is, referentially, the idea of fours winds simplifies our understanding of the etiology of corruption. As an evaluative strategy, its entailments enable selective mappings that bias toward desirable perceptions. Edelman writes about the benefits of this functional simplicity and selectivity (1971: 67):

“Each metaphor intensifies selected perceptions and ignores others, thereby helping one to concentrate upon desired consequences of favored public politics and helping one to ignore their unwanted, unthinkable, or irrelevant premise and aftermaths. Each metaphor can be a subtle way of highlighting what one wants to believe and avoiding what one does not wish to face.”

The CORRUPTION IS DISEASE metaphor is not new in Chinese political discourse. Mao Zedong used it in his 1942 整风 zheng-feng “rectifying the wind” campaign that gave rise to the famous slogan 惩前毖后, 治病救人 chengqian bihou, zhibing jiuren “Punish those before, prevent those after; cure disease, save life17.” This metaphor is embodied, familiar, conventional, ritualistic, and easy to understand. As embodied experience, the idea of curing disease helps the speaker construct a viewpoint on a complex issue in a way that is accessible to the listener. Its entailments tacitly highlight what is desirable while hiding what may be undesirable about the understanding of the cause of corruption. At the same time, its familiar and ritualistic nature reduces its availability for conscious examination. For this reason, Edelman (1964) regards conventional metaphoric language as a device of “dulling the critical faculties rather than awakening them.” In a similar vein, Orwell (1946) laments the “invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases,” warning that “every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain.” By providing a simplifying and selective cognitive routine of understanding the etiology of corruption based on a cultural model of health and ill-health, the evocation of “four winds” conveniently circumvents the need to bother with the complex political, economic, and institutional circumstances conducive to corruption.

4.2 Tigers and flies

The most frequently repeated slogan in the anti-corruption campaign is the catch phrase 老虎苍蝇一起打 laohu cangying yiqi da “strike tigers and flies together,” originating in President Xi’s speech addressing the party’s top discipline body, as shown in (7):

(7) 从严治党, 惩治这一手绝不能放松。要坚持“老虎”、“苍蝇”一起打, 既坚决查处领导干部违纪违法案件, 又切实解决发生在群众身边的不正之风和腐败问题。要坚持党纪国法面前没有例外, 不管涉及到谁, 都要一查到底,绝不姑息。

congyan__zhi__dang, chengzhi__zhe__yishou__jue__buneng__fangsong. yao__jianchi__laohu__cangying__yiqi__da, ji__jianjue__chachu__lingdao__ganbu__

weiji__weifa__anjian, you__qieshi jiejue__fasheng-zai__qunzhong__shenbian-de__buzhengzhifeng__he__fubai__wenti. yao__jianchi__dangji__guofa__mianqian__meiyou__liwai, buguan__shiji-dao__shui, dou__yao__yicha-daodi, juebu__guxi

strictly__administer__party, punishment__this__trick__definitely__cannot__relax. must__insist-on__tigers__flies__together__strike, both__decisively__probe__leader__cadre__violate-discipline__violate-law__case, and__effectively__solve__occur-LOC__the-people__beside-ASSOC__unhealthy-tendency__and corruption-problem. must__insist__party-discipline__state-law__front__not-EXT__exception. no-matter-who__involve, all__must__probe__all-the-way, absolutely__no__tolerance

To strictly administer the party, punishment must not be relaxed. (We) must insist on striking tigers and flies together, both resolutely probing higher cadres for violation of party disciplines and state laws and effectively solving corruption problems and unhealthy tendencies that occur around the people. (We) must adhere to the notion that there is no exception before party disciplines and state laws. No matter who is involved, (we) must probe them all the way, with absolutely no tolerance18.

As this excerpt makes clear, the slogan targets both highly placed powerful leaders and petty local cadres, both of which are destructive and harmful. It conjures up a scenario of aggressive anti-corruption actions by means of VERMIN as a general metaphor source domain, with the following sub-domains:





Whereas flies have consistently qualified as a prototypical species of vermin or 害 hai “harm” in Chinese public health campaigns, the membership of tigers in this category may not be intuitive, especially from a modern urban point of view. However, the notion of vermin/hai is defined in relation to human interests and human activities in an ecosystem. As such, it is necessarily subject to geographical relativity, historical variability, and philosophical interpretation. In ancient China, tigers are conceptualized as a beast of hai that threatens human life. Several historical sources bear evidence of this. The Poetry of Chu (《楚辞 · 招魂》) refers to tigers and leopards as keepers of heaven’s gate, biting and injuring humans19. The Book of Jin (《晋书 · 周处传》), a history book compiled during the Tang dynasty, documents a “white-foreheaded beast” as one of three major harms troubling the people of the local county. Similarly, the Ming dynasty vernacular novel Water Margin (《水浒传》) depicts a tiger as a fierce man-eating beast that causes human suffering among ordinary villagers. What emerges from these texts is a historically consistent narrative of the tiger as a harmful and terrifying beast that threatens humans—thus vermin by definition, the elimination of which is viewed as a daunting task that requires extraordinary strength and courage.

Evidently, the semantic scope of 害 hai is wider than that of vermin: its denotation goes beyond environmental harms such as 虫害 chong-hai “insect-induced crop damage,” 水害 shui-hai “flood,” and more generally 灾害 zai-hai “natural disaster,” and may include social harms, as can be seen in compounds such as 寇害 kou-hai “burglary” and 边害 bian-hai “border unrest” in classical Chinese20. In terms of lexical classification, the word “vermin” is lexically and notionally similar to a collective noun, and as such similar to 害hai, and arguably to Chinese nouns in general, which, according to Chierchia (1998), are names of kinds21.

By tying tigers and flies into one single frame of VERMIN, the slogan profiles the corrupt officials’ harmfulness and destructiveness to the people and the party’s determination to act upon them aggressively. One may argue that tigers and flies occupy the two poles of a power continuum corresponding to a continuum of threat. Striking them together entails punishment of all ranks of corrupt party officials without exception. This entailment amounts to a comprehensive policy statement. It successfully encapsulates the party’s sweeping anti-corruption agenda in a simple, concise, and memorable imagery. It brings out a sense of tenacity from the sheer contrast between the two extremes of the continuum of power and threat. Research on the characteristics of political slogans finds concision, memorability, and formulaicity to be essential to a good slogan (Hare 1993). The slogan “strike tigers and flies together” exhibits all of these formal characteristics on top of the metaphorically constructed comprehensiveness of the policy.

But there is still more to this slogan that explains its effectiveness than concision, memorability, and comprehensiveness. At the psychological level of human emotion, flies evoke disgust and irritation, which befit the familiar imagery of the ubiquitous lowly cadres who bother and harm the people on a day-to-day basis. The evocation of disgust and irritation resonates with the grassroots disdain for the corrupt local cadres, whose abuse of power directly impacts people’s lives. The emotional resonance goes hand in hand with the inference of the party’s compassion for the plight of the people and determination to stem corruption comprehensively, all of which are crucial to the forging of consensus between the party and the people.

While the metaphor of flies draws on basic human experiences of disgust and irritation, there is more semiotic and cultural nuance in the idea of “tiger” as a metaphor of a senior official, illustrated in (10) and (11), where the Peoples Daily reports the party’s anti-corruption accomplishments by counting the number of “big tigers” that had been sacked:

(10) 十八大以来, 打掉了17只“大老虎”

shibada__yilai, daodiao__le__shiqi-zhi__da__laohu

18th-Plenum__since, beat-down-PFV__17-CLF__big__tiger

Since the 18th Plenum, seventeen “big tigers” have been toppled22.

(11) 而涉嫌违纪违法的中央管理干部已结案处理和正在立案检查的有31人, 其 中包


er__shexian__weiji__weifa__de__zhongyang__guanli__ganbu__yi__jiean__chuli__he__zhengzai__lian__jiancha__de__you__31__ren, qizhong__baokuo__Liu Tienan, Ni Fake__deng__beishou__yulun__guanzhu__de__laohu and__suspected-of__violate-discipline__violate-law-ASSOC__central__administrative__cadre__already__conclude-case__and__currently__under-investigation-ASSOC__EXT__31__peopler, therein__include__PN, PN__etc.__widely__receive__media__attention-ASSOC__tiger

31 central administrators suspected of violations of discipline and law, have undergone or are undergoing investigation, including high-profile “tigers” such as Liu Tienan and Ni Fake23.

The tiger has a special place in Chinese cultural history and collective unconscious. It symbolizes at once the powerful and the scary. The earliest Chinese dictionary Shuowen Jiezi describes it as “king of mountain beasts.” The Book of Changes juxtaposes dragon and tiger as the respective symbols of power in heaven and on earth. The ancient worship of dragon and tiger leaves its footprint in Chinese lexicon, and dragon-tiger idioms such as 生龙活虎 shenglong huohu “full of vim and vigor,” literally “living dragon, living tiger,” and 藏龙卧虎 canglong wohu “hidden talents,” literally “hidden dragon, crouching tiger,” are still an active part of the ordinary lexicon.

On the other hand, as previously indicated, this powerful awe-inspiring animal is depicted in history and literature as a terrifying predatory beast, which only the strongest and most courageous men are able to subdue, control, and kill. Wu Song, the fictional character in Water Margin, who single-handedly slayed a ferocious tiger by bashing it with his bare fists became the ultimate hero in Chinese popular literature, and tiger slaying the ultimate symbol of heroism in the popular imagination. It is clear that the predatory and destructive nature of tiger is profiled against this historical, cultural, and intertextual background, which constitutes a culturally inherited narrative of the tiger as vermin, and of the tiger fighter as hero. Needless to say, there is a preponderance of negative effect about tiger and a positive effect about tiger striking in the cultural narrative. This narrative finds additional reinforcement in the frequent textual collocation of “tigers” with “flies” as the conjoined object of the verb da “to strike” in the data. The inherently evaluative concept of VERMIN captures the affective value behind Striking tigers and flies together, and is preferable to the affectively neutral domain of ANIMAL as the larger source domain in which tigers and flies are a part.

The dualism of tiger as both the object of power worship and the target of popular loathing of oppression cannot be fully appreciated unless we take a historical perspective on the conceptual domain of TIGER as a subordinate category of VERMIN. That is, the salience of TIGER in the pre-modern Chinese representation of VERMIN has hardened in the collective unconscious. It must be reactivated in the mapping onto CORRUPT SENIOR OFFICIAL, whereby the power domain of tiger worship and the heroism domain of slaying a tiger as a serious threat become simultaneously available. The entailments from both domains are conceptually blended in the interpretation of what it means to take on corrupt senior officials in the anti-corruption drive, which can be represented as follows:

(12) Corrupt senior officials are harmful and powerful.

(13) Anti-corruption actions are heroic anti-vermin deeds that control power and remove harm.

We can see the deep pragmatic merit of these entailments of the TIGER metaphor. These entailments are culture-specific and epistemically shared by members of the cultural community. At the same time, they tap into common human emotions such as anger and hope. Corruption is the major source of public anger in China because it takes many forms that massively damage social welfare and public trust, especially in connection with civil rights abuses against citizens (Gong 2002; Meng 2014; Wedeman 2004, 2012, 2013a). An official response that is likely to placate public anger is one which promises the public: “We feel for you, and we will be your hero,” and one which calls forth public heroic actions. The TIGER metaphor accomplishes this goal by offering a gut-level promise of heroism without getting into the specifics of a rational course of action. That tiger slaying is conventionally associated with heroism finds converging support in distributional evidence from the zhTenTen Chinese corpus as part of the online Sketch Engine system24. A collocation analysis of the keyword 打虎 dahu “slash-tiger” (with 272 tokens) shows three nouns referring to or denoting “hero” as the top-ranked (by t score) collocates: (i) the proper noun 武松 Wu Song, (ii) 英雄 yingxiong “hero,” and (iii) 好汉 haohan “good guy, hero.”

Mio (1997: 123) points out that the ability of political metaphor to “stir emotion is seen as combining the rational with the irrational, the logical with the emotional.” Our analysis of the TIGER metaphor suggests that its use serves a strategic function. The evocation of heroism from collective memory organized in the tiger-slaying narrative consolidates positive public perception of the party’s determination. The evocation of emotion associated with cultural symbols is central to the function of metaphor in political discourse. People are excited, hopeful, and appreciative when they are told that the loathsome and untouchable tigers will be heroically slayed. This, again, conveniently removes the need for a rational inquiry into the troubling details of corruption, its political, economic, and institutional contexts, or the procedural specifics of anti-corruption policies.

Yanow (2008: 227) argues that metaphor is both a “model of” a phenomenon and a “model for” actions in relation to that phenomenon. When metaphor is used tacitly to construct political reality, it has implications for real-world actions about that reality. Construing a corrupt senior official as a tiger justifies a course of action appropriate for the removal of harm posed by the vermin. Imageries such as snaring, striking, and slashing conjure up an aggressive crackdown on high-profile officials and serve as an implicit warning to corrupt senior officials, as much as a promise to the public bearing the brunt of exploitation by their abuse of power.

4.3 Metaphor choice across boundaries of epistemic communities

The data in EPD present a very different picture of metaphor choice. Table 3 shows the type frequencies of the five metaphors in EPD and their distributions as indicated by the total number of article entries. Table 4 shows the MEMT of each of the metaphor categories and the total article entries featuring each token.
Table 3

Type frequencies and distributions of the five metaphors in EPD







Type frequency












Table 4

The most entrenched metaphor tokens in EPD










Root out


Strike tigers and flies together







These data suggest that the war metaphor is the most productive and prominent category with significantly higher type frequency and more article entries than all the others. It takes the linguistic form of conventional expressions including war, combat, fight, and victory, as illustrated in (14)—(17), whereby the word war shows the highest degree of token entrenchment.

(14) The war against corruption is a systematic project25.

(15) Besides the top leadership's efforts, it will be implementation by tens of thousands of local government officials that will ensure victory in the war against corruption26.

(16) This showcases the Communist Party of China's (CPC) resolve in combating corruption27.

(17) The CPC will, in the next stage, take measures and improve relevant rules to enhance the educational campaign on fighting undesirable work styles28.

By contrast, the WEED, DISEASE, SLOVENRY, and VERMIN metaphors are relatively unproductive and marginal. In particular, the DISEASE category has a much lower type frequency than its Chinese language counterpart. Furthermore, there is no trace of “four winds” in this category. Instead, the target concept is referred to literally as harmful or undesirable work styles, as shown in (17) above. The MET in this category is the lexeme “prevent,” which is so conventionalized that it is hardly metaphoric, as shown in (18):

(18) To prevent corruption, many provincial anti-graft agencies have issued detailed rules governing official activities and behavior29.

Similarly, in the WEED metaphor category, the MET is a highly conventionalized metaphor—“root out,” as in (19):

(19) Party chief Xi Jinping has repeatedly urged senior officials to root out corruption and asked them to prevent their friends and relatives from abusing power for personal gain30.

The SLOVENRY category features the Chinese types xizao “bathe” and zhao-jingzi “look in the mirror” as one-off items, but displays a notable addition of the highly conventionalized English expression “clean,” which is the MET in this category. Example (20) illustrates the use of this token:

(20) The party is expected to unveil more specific and long-term measures against corruption to constantly uphold its ethics and keep its members clean and accountable31.

Finally, the VERMIN category features one single type in the form of a fixed literal translation from the Chinese original, that is, Strike tigers and flies together, typically presented as a direct quote, accompanied by a note paraphrasing its meaning.

In general, we observe remarkable discrepancies in metaphor choice between the two editions of the party newspaper, and differences in the salience of source domains across the language boundaries. Why are there such discrepancies and differences when clearly the two newspapers share the same party ideology and political perspective?

To answer this question, let us consider the sociopolitical context in which each newspaper constructs and communicates its political discourse, and the presumed audience to which each newspaper directs the discourse. In a study of newspapers in modern China, Guo (2010b: 43–51) makes the observation that newspapers have always been in “the forefront of political struggles” in the nation, and that as a “necessary and influential platform for politics,” they can “swing ideological orientations in China.” Party newspapers in particular are the organs of the party government and “opinion leaders” especially on political issues. As the central party newspaper, the Chinese language Peoples Daily is no doubt the leader of opinion leaders, devoted to political materials directly reflecting party viewpoints and government policies. Its presumed readership, broadly speaking, is domestic, consisting of the collective of party cadres conforming to ideological guidelines issued via the editorials, as well as that part of the Chinese public that is willing to lend its ear to party-line political messages. By contrast, the EPD is part of China’s efforts to reach out to an international audience and to improve the country’s image on the international arena by providing English language media (including TV channels, newspapers, and online news portals). As Cooper-Chen and Scotton (2010: 108–109) note, such English language media are “more consciously world oriented,” aiming to “present a different face of China” to the world. With two different roles to play for two different audiences, it is understandable that the two outlets of the party newspaper will choose metaphor source domains that are accessible and meaningful to the respective audiences.

Herbert Clark (Clark 1996: 3) reminds us that language use is a form of “joint action,” to be carried out in the social units in which people cooperate and coordinate based on the “common ground” shared by members of a community. Similarly, Van Dijk (2014: 147) suggests that discourse presupposes the existence of an “epistemic community,” defined as “collectivities of social actors sharing the same knowledge” necessary for successful communication, social engagement, and interaction. The challenge for the EPD to communicate its viewpoint and stance on corruption to an English-speaking audience lies in the very absence of a common ground both in terms of shared representations including cultural knowledge, beliefs, values, and collective memories and emotions, and in terms of shared practices. That such a lack of shared knowledge structure and cultural models creates conceptual barriers for metaphor interpretation is well known. Littlemore (2001, 2003) demonstrates that misunderstanding and confusion arose when overseas students relied on their own value systems and cultural schemata in interpreting English metaphors used by their British lecturers. Similarly, Deignan (2003: 261) argues that metaphors encapsulate a community’s worldview and cultural stereotypes such that “people with only an outsider’s knowledge of the source domain might not understand what is alluded to.” The metaphor of “four winds” in the DISEASE category is based on a Chinese specific model of ill-health and its etiology, and the metaphor of “tiger” in the VERMIN category exploits Chinese specific conception of power and culturally inherited emotional associations with tiger-slaying heroism. Without shared epistemic common ground, the intent and impact of these culture-specific metaphors would be lost in translation.

In the special communicative context that calls for the delivery of a political message in the service of a specific ideological agenda to members of a different epistemic community, the use of the WAR metaphor seems to provide a solution to the challenge posed by the lack of a common ground. This metaphor evokes what is familiar to the target audience, whether that audience is aware of it or not. The pervasiveness of the WAR metaphor in the moral discourse about social policies in the Anglo-American world is well documented, both in scholarly research (Chilton 2004: 154–172; Childress 2001; Hauser and Schwarz 2015; Lakoff 2001; Liendo 2001; Wolfe 2008; Semino 2008: 100–101; Steinert 2003; Bacharach 2006; Sun 2010; Stuart 2011), and in mainstream media (Hauser & Wassersug 2015; Simons 2015). Lakoff (2001) shows how the WAR metaphor replaced the CRIME metaphor in the Bush administration’s response to the terrorist attack on September 11, and prevailed as an effective discourse strategy to justify its Middle East policy. Similarly, Wolfe (2008) shows that after September 11, the Bush administration’s use of the “War on Terror” metaphor framed its change of foreign policy toward a global long-term military campaign against radical Islamists, highlighting the goal of the campaign as self-protection and “loss aversion” rather than the “pursuit of future gains.” Such a framing effectively solidified public support for the military operations in Afghanistan and the subsequent invasion of Iraq (Wolfe 2008: 43–44).

The Anglo-American public has been socialized into the militarist conceptualization of many other abstract social and political issues through frequent exposure to the WAR metaphor as an expression of unwavering resolve (e.g., war against crime, war against inflation, war on cancer, war on poverty, war on drugs, war on global warming, war on human trafficking, to name just a few). As Semino (2008: 100) observes, the use of the WAR metaphor “tends to dramatize the opposition between different participants in politics,” to “emphasize the gravity and urgency of the problem in question, and the seriousness of the effort that is being made to solve it.” The dramatic and emphatic effects of the WAR metaphor as well as the seriousness it implies are clearly advantageous for the construction and representation of the CCP’s viewpoint and stance on corruption in front of an international audience, and for persuading that audience.

In keeping with Mio’s recognition of the way metaphor stirs emotion and its effect on persuasion, Charteris-Black (2004) points out that successful political leaders choose metaphors that draw on both conscious reasoning and unconscious emotions to convince listeners. Because the WAR metaphor is deeply entrenched in the Anglo-American epistemic community, it has become part of the implicit knowledge of its members. As such, it is capable of evoking their unconscious emotional associations. Lakoff (2008) pushes the argument by asserting that, because much of human cognitive functioning is grounded not in logical reasoning but in emotional responses, emotion-laden metaphors are necessary for effective political discourse. The success of the WAR metaphor in justifying the Bush administration’s foreign policy lies exactly in its appeal to emotion rather than reason. As Stuart (2011: 40) states, the WAR metaphor is “like those little tunes and advertising jingles – earworms, that we just cannot seem to get out of our heads” and “we remember those and embrace them without otherwise thinking about their factual basis.” In using the WAR metaphor, the EPD taps into this implicit knowledge and its affective potentials uniquely entrenched in the psyche of the English-speaking audience. Van Dijk (2014: 171) insists on a relativist view on knowledge, arguing that “knowledge in everyday life only functions by the criteria of a community.” Likewise, Wenger (1998: 139–140) maintains that knowledge is defined, discursively constructed, organized, and negotiated in a community of “mutual engagement.” If metaphor is a form of knowledge representation (Weiner 1984), its use is constrained by boundaries of a community. Following from this, the EPD’s use of the WAR metaphor can be seen as an attempt at knowledge management across boundaries of epistemic communities.

5 Discussion

Political discourse takes advantage of metaphors that draw on both embodied experiences and entrenched cultural models to strategically construct viewpoint and reality. In doing so, such discourse shapes people’s understanding of complex sociopolitical issues and supports ideological agendas. An important way metaphor influences the cognitive aspect of perception is by playing into our affective dimension and evoking emotions, which can conveniently distract from logic and facts. Furthermore, as a form of knowledge representation, metaphor use is constrained by boundaries of an epistemic community. This study confirmed these points.

The CCP’s anti-corruption lexicon is a combination of bodily and cultural metaphors. The four metaphor categories that emerged from the Chinese data, subsumed under the general domain of HARM, represent basic human experiences central to adaption and survival. Specifically, DISEASE focuses on the somatic and medical aspects, VERMIN and WEED on the environmental and ecological, and SLOVENRY on the behavioral. At the same time, reference to cultural models of conceptualizing shared human experience and to the historical aspect of intertextuality as culturally inherited narrative is crucial to a full understanding of the specific metaphoric imageries mapped onto corruption and anti-corruption actions. Two of the source domains—DISEASE and VERMIN—stand out with FOUR WINDS and TIGER as the most entrenched metaphor tokens. The metaphorical entailments of the FOUR WINDS metaphor serve to construct an etiology of corruption in a way that emphasizes the existential danger posed by corruption, obviates the need for, and potentially distracts from, a rational examination of the political, economic, and institutional circumstances conducive to corruption, and encourages compassion for the institutional entity construed as the passive victim of corruption. The entailments of the TIGER metaphor based on the blending of the power domain and the heroism domain profile the anti-corruption campaign as an extraordinary undertaking of heroism against harmful and destructive forces.

The most salient metaphor in the English Peoples Daily is the WAR metaphor. This is arguably the single most popular metaphor in Anglo-American political discourse. As a tool for shaping public perception and solidifying public support, it has proved highly effective, if deeply controversial. The use of this metaphor in the EPD is a nod to the intentional construction of urgency, seriousness, and unwavering resolve now automatically associated with the (WAR against/on X) construction in English where the X slot can accommodate almost any noun referential of any perceived social problem or conflict.

The use of metaphor is specific to an epistemic community the members of which engage in discourse on the basis of shared knowledge. The difference in metaphor choice found in this study can be explained in terms of the cultural context that defines shared knowledge and practices including discursive practices, as the common ground between participants in a communicative act—in this case, the two versions of the PD and their respective presumed audiences.

6 Conclusions

This study fills a gap in research on corruption and the ongoing anti-corruption campaign in China by examining the CCP’s discourse about corruption and anti-corruption policy. It also makes a methodological contribution to research on metaphor in use by examining party documents including newspaper texts. Furthermore, the comparison and contrast of the Chinese and English editions of the party newspaper takes corpus research of metaphors to a new level by exploring how the same party ideology and political agenda are framed for two different audiences. With this methodological innovation, this study makes a theoretical contribution by uncovering a clear pragmatic strategy in metaphor choice across languages, which is sensitive to culture-specific epistemic conventions and conceptual preoccupations. In this sense, the theoretical contribution rises above the mere confirmation that both culture and embodiment motivate metaphoric discourse.

Finally, this study points to a methodological issue that is inevitably associated with the use of a language as the lingua franca of scholarly communication that is other than the language being analyzed. As can be seen in our analysis of the DISEASE and VERMIN source domains, conceptual or referential differences can be obscured by word-to-word English translations of the concepts that represent the source domains in Chinese. This problem is not specific to research on metaphor source domains and should be a reminder of the misleading potentials of any literal translation in linguistic analysis and a reminder of the care that must be taken to avoid them.


学习贯彻习近平总书记系列讲话精神xuexi guanche xi jinping zongshuji xilie jianghua jingshen. Source: Accessed 20 May 2014.


十八大以来反腐倡廉大事记 shiba da yilai fan fu chang lian dashiji. Source: Accessed 20 May 2014.


Although Fillmore’s proposal of Frame Semantics is largely based on his intuition about the lexicon as an organized system of knowledge representation, this intuition finds a strong parallel in ontology-based knowledge representation formalisms (e.g., Sowa 2000), which may be traced back to Minsky (1975). Similar to metaphor source classification based on Frame Semantics, computational ontology groups lexical items with the same shared concepts into the same source domain of a metaphor, as demonstrated in Chung et al. (2005) and Huang et al. (2007).


It is worth noting that the data is not meant to be exhaustive. Rather, it is intended to reveal general preferential tendencies in the choice of metaphors of corruption. In keeping with this intention, we did not include metaphors that are related to anti-corruption actions and occur in the anti-corruption discourse but are not metaphors of corruption per se. For instance, 把权力关进制度的笼子里 ba quanli guan-jin zhidu-de longzi li “constrain power by the cage of regulations” is a metaphor of power and the way to handle it. Surely, there is a direct real-world relationship between power and corruption, but such a relationship is indirect at the semantic level, with which we are concerned here.


The search was run with the command [site: 腐败]. (腐败fubai “corruption”)


In a similar way, Gong, Ahrens & Huang (2008) identify the most frequent collocate of a metaphor source concept in order to determine the mapping principle between that source domain and a target domain.


The search was run with the command [site: 腐败]. (腐败fubai “corruption”)


The command used for initial CPD retrieval was [site: corruption OR graft].


The selection of the medical source domain was complicated by the fact that the English language distinguishes “disease” and “illness” as two distinct yet related concepts, which remain undifferentiated in the semantics of 病 bing “disease/illness” in Chinese. Medical anthropology in the Anglo-American tradition defines disease in terms of “abnormalities of the structure and function of body organs and systems,” and illness in terms of “the subjective response of the patient to being unwell” (Helman, 1981: 548). We chose DISEASE as the source domain for CORRUPTION because it focuses on the physical and bodily reality of ill-health, rather than the patient’s experience of being unwell. This said, we haste to add that the Chinese concept of bing is based on a holistic view of ill-health as inherently psycho-somatic. Consequently, the concept of bing can potentially evoke feelings about the impact of disease and its significance by activating the subjective experience of illness. The blurred boundaries between disease and illness in Chinese can be seen in our translations of the original Chinese examples.


In ecological and biopolitical discourses about illegitimate animals, “vermin” and “pest” are often used interchangeably. However, “pest” also includes invasive and unwanted plants. In this article, we use “vermin” for its exclusion of plants and its collective reference to “animals obnoxious to man,” as defined by Webster’s Third New International Dictionary.


As is the case with translation, which has been discussed previously with regard to Chinese bing and its conceptual relation to disease vs. illness in English, subtle cross-cultural variation can be obscured by a direct translation. As will be discussed in section 4.2, VERMIN and HAI differ in referential scope, which can be attributed to variation in cultural experience.


In this article the following abbreviations are used in the glosses of the Chinese examples: ASSOC=associative, CLF=classifier, EXT=existential, LOC=locative, PFV=perfective, PN=proper noun.


See Raphals (2015) for a detailed discussion on the inherent intellectual common ground shared by Chinese philosophy and TCM.


Source: Accessed on 20 May 2014.


This literal translation may be paraphrased as “to punish wrongdoings that have occurred in order to prevent future occurrences.”


虎豹九关, 啄害下人些 hubao jiu guan, zhuo hai xia ren xie “tiger and leopard guard nine gates, biting and injuring humans below.”


A casual search of the CCL corpus (北京大学古代汉语语料库 available at, accessed 23 August 2016) yielded 466 tokens of 灾害 zai-hai “natural disaster,” 151 of 水害 shui-hai “flood,” 108 of 寇害 kou-hai “burglary,” 87 of 边害 bian-hai “border unrest,” and 21 of 虫害 chong-hai “insect-induced crop damage.”


Chierchia (1998) talks about mass nouns or names of kinds instead of collective nouns, which in Chinese are not differentiated. However, in English, vermin is considered by Huddleston and Pullum (2002) as one of six collective plurals, namely, those nouns that refer to an assembly of individuals, have no overt plural marking but behave grammatically like plural nouns and require plural concord, such as people and cattle. Biber et al. (1999) consider such nouns s-less plurals.


This is a simplified Chinese corpus with over 1.7 billion words, created from the Internet. For details on the corpus, see Accessed 21 June 2015.


Source: Accessed 15 June 2014.


Source: Accessed 15 June 2014.


Source: Accessed 15 June 2014.


Source: Accessed 15 June 2014.


Source: Accessed 15 June 2014.


Source: Accessed 15 June 2014.



The authors thank the editors of Lingua Sinica and the four anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions on earlier drafts of this paper, the students of the East Asian Languages and Literatures Graduate Seminar, and the Asian Studies Graduate Seminar at the University of Oregon for their interest and input, as well as the audiences at the Second Conference of the American Pragmatics Association at UCLA, and the 2014 Stockholm Metaphor Festival for their feedback. We alone are responsible for all errors in the writing.

Authors’ contributions

ZJ conceptuliazed the study and drafted the m anuscript. XP designed the data retrieval procedures and retrieved the corpus data. Both authors conducted data a nnotation and analysis. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Copyright information

© The Author(s). 2016

Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of OregonEugeneUSA

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