Chinese-Western Semiotic Dialogue
China Semiotics Forum (CSF) & Chinese Association of Linguistic Semiotics (CALS) & Nanjing Normal University (NNU)
Yongxiang WANG (firstname.lastname@example.org);
Haihong JI (email@example.com)
Youzheng LI, Zhuanglin HU
Chinese semiotics today is still remarkably characteristic of Chinese-Western comparative research. So this time we wish to continue widening and deepening our projects at the Sofia Congress along this line. Besides, we will also attempt to present some topics which indicate some typical Chinese traditional and modern tendencies to introduce the recent developments of Chinese semiotic studies in front of the international audience. This roundtable of course also accepts participants from other countries as long as their talks involve any of the Chinese or comparative elements. We suggest the following as the areas for our round table discussion:
(i) Chinese Cultural Semiotics: studies conducted by Chinese or western scholars on the semiotics of Chinese literature, music, art, architecture, historical and cultural heritage, and so on.
(ii) Chinese Studies on Western Cultural Signs, Sign Theories, and their Applications: studies conducted by Chinese scholars concerning western sign theories and/or their applications.
(iii) Chinese-Western comparative Research on Semiotics: studies conducted by Chinese or western scholars on the differences and/or similarities between Chinese and western semiotic thoughts or theories.
1. Jie ZHANG, Dean and Professor of School of Foreign Languages and Cultures, Nanjing Normal University
A New Transformation of the Reception of Former Soviet Union’s Cultural Semiotics in China.
Since the 1980s, with the implementation of the reform and opening-up policy in China, the cultural semiotics represented by Bakhtin, Lotman, and Uspensky from the former Soviet Union has been ushered into China, and exerted great influences in the fields of philosophy, literary criticism, and linguistics. We can very well say that the theory has been widely known in the Chinese academia. Since the turn of the 21st century, the theory of cultural semiotics has, on the one hand, crossed the threshold of philosophy, literature, and linguistics, and entered the interdisciplinary areas like communication studies, film and television studies, pedagogy, and religious studies, and on the other hand, it has produced continuous influences on China’s theoretical circle, providing new methods and thoughts for the analysis of concrete and practical problems. This paper focuses on the new transformation of the reception of former Soviet Union’s cultural semiotics in China in the 21st century, especially on the application of the semiotic theory to the analysis of classical literary texts, to the spreading of the Chinese culture, and to the teaching in colleges and universities, with an attempt to explore the methodological value of former Soviet Union’s cultural semiotics. As a matter of fact, the developmental path of the reception of former Soviet Union’s cultural semiotics in China partially reflects the basic tendency of Chinese semiotic studies.
Keywords: former Soviet Union’s cultural semiotics; reception; new transformation; China
2. Bin XIN, Vice Dean and Professor of School of Foreign Languages and Cultures, Nanjing Normal University
A Multimodal Analysis of No Smoking Day Print Advertisement.
Discourse analysis has been mainly confined to the description and interpretation of the verbal elements of a discourse in specific contexts. Other meaning-making semiotic modalities such as image, typography, sound, flash, etc. have been largely ignored. However, most, if not all, texts or discourses are actually multimodal in nature, in the sense that they make use of the resources of diverse semiotic systems. Based on the theoretical framework of visual communication grammar which is developed by Kress and van Leeuwen, and also Halliday’s systemic functional grammar, this paper attempts to analyze how different semiotic resources are exploited and put into interplay in the No Smoking Day Advertisements to make meanings that may serve to persuade people to quit smoking. We will first briefly introduce the study of multimodality and the functions of different semiotic modes (e.g. verbal, image, color, typography) in the advertisements, and then address the question of how these modes interact to accomplish effective communication.
Key words: Multimodality, Systemic functional grammar, No Smoking Day, print advertisements
3. Yongxiang WANG, Professor of School of Foreign Languages and Cultures, Nanjing Normal University
The “Dialogue” between Victoria Lady Welby and Mikhail Bakhtin ― Reading Susan Petrilli’s Signifying and Understanding.
Susan Petrilli’s Signifying and Understanding was published in 2009; and three years later, it was Victoria Lady Welby’s 100th anniversary from her death (1912). Susan Petrilli’s book is a great work manifesting a great English scholar, a significian, a “founding mother” of semiotics. In this paper, the author gives a brief introduction to Susan Petrilli’s Signifying and Understanding, a milestone work in promoting the development of semiotics, indicating its important role in discovering Lady Welby and making her better known to the world, and then analyzes the commonalities between Lady Welby and Mikhail Bakhtin, following Susan Petrilli to establish an “ideal relation” between Welby and Bakhtin and to get them into a “dialogue”, which will help readers to understand the great significance of recovering an almost forgotten figure ― Victoria Lady Welby.
Keywords: Victoria Lady Welby; Mikhail Mikhaǐlovich Bakhtin; significs; metalinguistics; dialogue; Susan Petrilli; Signifying and Understanding
4. Wang Jiao, Drama Movie-TV Art-design Department, Shenyang Conservatory of Music, China
A Study of the Visual Symbols of the Characters in the Korean TV Series and Their Representation — Taking You Who Came from the Stars as an Example
The Korean TV series You Who Came from the Stars in the early spring of 2014 has hit the top one ratings in South Korea and also set off a whirlwind ratings in China. There are more than one billion VOD volume on the website and even a big amount of Chinese celebrities brush posts for their own viewing experience，breaking two million Baidu quota，which all made it the hottest topic in this spring. The housing decoration style, clothing, and modeling have all aroused the audience’s fanatical chase.
In this paper, we study the images of the characters in the series from the perspective of semiotics, and analyze the representation system of the character images. In fact, the analysis of the character images has the obvious advantage of creating the new meaning: like other symbols, the visual symbols of the character images also have a dual function: meaning and form, in which the meaning is generated in the encoding and decoding process. Through the analysis of the representation system of character images, including content, mechanism, and methods, we can understand the visual symbols at the level of structure, and conduct the semiotic practice at the level of meaning, which enables us to understand how meaning is generated in our mind and how we are “interpellated”.
Keywords: character image; symbols; visual symbols; representation; interpellation
5. Hsiu-chih Tsai, Dept. of Foreign Languages and Literatures, National Taiwan University
The Grandmaster: The Flowing of Forms and their Visual Impacts
Hong Kong movie director Wong Kar-Wai’s The Grandmaster (2013), a stylistic martial-arts film, presents many excellent shots on fighting, maneuvering, and practicing of martial-arts. It pays attributes to the great Chinese martial-arts masters, and in particular, Ip Man, during the Republican era and the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, the North Eastern part of China and the British colonization of Hong Kong in the first half of the twentieth century. Accompanying the shots on the performance of martial-arts, there are many ones focus on the flowing, sweeping and spreading of water, rain, snow, fire, and smoke in the film. In this paper I would like to study the metaphoric and symbolic significance of these visual images together with their aesthetic sign functions in The Grandmaster. Walter Benjamin claims that the secret of the modern art of photography lies in its preservation of certain optical unconscious that was kept while there was not even a slight awareness of its being there upon the very moment of the shot. I would argue that Wong’s superb style in cinematography lies in the presentation of the creation and maneuvering of the optical unconscious. His shots on the various forms of flowing and changing of water and fire images are well designed and calculated so as to map out a territory of aesthetics characteristic of the flow of filmic images that can be categorized into different dossiers symbolizing the uniqueness and heterogeneity practiced by masters of various martial-arts schools. The sign functions of these visual images therefore help formulate the structuration of Wong’s stylistic articulation of and reflection on the world of martial-arts.
Keywords: Wong Kar-Wai, The Grandmaster, martial-arts, visual image, metaphor, structuration, optical unconscious, Walter Benjamin
6. Abraham Solomonick, Israel
New Characteristics of the "Sign" Notion in Semiotics
At present, the standard definition used in semiotics for the term "sign" is the definition that was proposed by Charles Peirce more than one hundred years ago. Daniel Chanders, in his book Semiotics for Beginners, articulates this definition as follows: "Anything can be a sign as long as someone interprets it as 'signifying' something - referring to or standing for something other than itself" . This definition implies three very important traits that every sign has:
It represents something other than itself.
This “something” constitutes the meaning of the sign.
The meaning must be understood by the interpreter of the sign. Otherwise the sign cannot serve its purpose.
The essence of this definition is correct, and I accept it as it is. Even so, in my dealings with various semiotic issues over the years, I have come to the conclusion that this definition does not include some very important traits of signs, traits that it really ought to include. One of these traits, which concerns what Charles Morriscalledthe semantic aspect ofsign analyses , is that the relationshipbetween a sign and its referent is never immutable. Indeed, this relationship is in constant flux, either because of changes that take place in the referent or because of modifications to the sign itself.
Let us begin by considering changes to the referents of signs. No single object that is defined using sign(s) remains the same all the time. Every referent is always in the process of mutating. Even if a sign is a proper name and represents a single object, this object changes in the course of time. This fact makes it necessary to create new signs all the time, signs that add something new and different to the old definitions. You can verify this simply by looking into a mirror and comparing your current image with one that was frozen in photos of you from some time ago. Your name, and a number of other objective facts about you (your date and place of birth, your parents' identities, etc.), represent your constant and eternal essence, as it was recorded in the past by means of various signs. By contrast, photographs of you from various times in the past show the changes that have taken place in you over time, even as your essence remained unchanged.
Now, let us consider some examples of gradual modifications to signs themselves. A sign denoting an object or phenomenon can, as research related to it progresses, obtain new qualities and be assimilated into different sign-systems, even though it remains the same in form and essence. For example, in 1896, Wilhelm Roentgen discovered a new kind of ray that he called an X-ray. (Later, it was called a Roentgenray in his honor.) When X-rays were first discovered, the first sign that was assigned to them was a name. Initially, X-rays were only used to observe internal parts of the human body that could not otherwise have been seen from the outside. But, while they were being used in this way, they were also studied in greater detail, so that over time additional characteristics, both qualitative and quantitative, were attributed to them.
Of course, these characteristics were also defined using various signs, so that, as time progressed, X-rays came to have more and more signs associated with them. Furthermore, the research that was under way led to new applications for X-rays, like defining the crystalloid structures of different materials, and to investigations in new areas, such as the study of cosmic processes that produce X-rays. With these advances, the X-ray phenomenon came to be included in diverse sign-systems and to have different qualities and aspects in each one. That is, the X-rays remained the same, but they had different meanings when they appeared in surroundings that had new structural properties.
Another case in which we can see the gradual modification of a sign is the discovery that something that was formerly thought to be homogeneous actually has variants. Mendeleev's periodic table contains a single square for each element, as if each one exists in nature in only one form. Over time, it has become clear that very few chemical elements actually appear in the world in their primary states; the vast majority can only be found in isotopic variations. For example, no single oxygen exists in nature, even though oxygen appears only once, with a single name and in a single square, in the periodic table. All of oxygen's variants are represented by the same letter "O," but over time, this sign has acquired a number of slightly different meanings, as variants of oxygen have been discovered. Then the O representation got additional diacritics which define the particular isotope we deal with.
A third class of changes affects the relationship between a sign and its referent. Such changes can appear when, in the course of time, we deepen our understanding of the thing under observation, and, as we do so, we apply more and more powerful signs to it. Take, for example, the theories about the structure of our universe. At first, human understanding of the subject took the form of Ptolemaic theory. Later on, this theory was superseded by the theory of Copernicus. More recently, Einstein's theory, the hypothesis of the Big Bang, and the Higgs boson, were added to it. At each stage, the description of the phenomenon acquired new signs.
In view of what I explained above, I suggest adding an annotation about the balance between a sign and its referent to the accepted definition of a sign. This addition would say that the balance between the two is always fluid and not fixed, and that the changes this balance undergoes over time follow certain standard paths. In effect, there would be two kinds of sign definitions: one that matches the currently established formulation and applies to signs that reflect the eternal and metaphysical essences of their referents, and another whose manifestations apply to all the additional signs that are ad hoc display of the referentstransientinformational content. This new approach to signs can stimulate research about them, both along the lines alluded to above and with regard to a number of other issues that I did not include in this, my initial presentation on the subject.
The second addition to the accepted definition of signs refers to the fact that any sign is being changed if it is included into a sign-system. There are many cases when the same sign is incorporated in different sign-systems, and in each occasion it becomes dissimilar in meaning. Its meaning is understood exclusively in the framework of the system ambiance, from the sign exact position inside the system. Moreover, only inside sign-systems signs reveal their syntactic possibilities and in this quality they are used for obtaining new knowledge about the things they denote. I think that in any new definition of the 'sign'-concept we have to reflect this attribute too.
 See at: http://users.aber.ac.uk/dgc/Documents/S4B/sem02.html (retrieved December 2013)
 Morris, Charles. "Foundations of Theory of Signs." in International Encyclopedia of Unified Science 1:2 (1938). Available at: http://www.scribd.com/doc/51866596/Morris-1938-Foundations-of-Theory-of-Signs (retrieved December 2013).
7. Haihong JI, Lecturer of School of Foreign Languages and Cultures, Nanjing Normal University
Red Ballet’s Semiosis — A Semiotic Study of the Important Sign of Red China and its Influence.
Red ballet, as a distinctive cultural sign representing the red China in the 1970s, has undergone a series of twists and turns over the years and still remained an ever present reminder of a wide range of interpretants. This paper aims to explore how people, both Chinese and foreign, perceive it, with the most famous example of The Red Women’s Detachment, in different periods. Analysis is carried out with illustrations of movies and opera such as Mao’s Last Dancer, Les chinois à Paris, Nixon in China, and CCTV’s Spring Gala.
Key words: red art, red ballet, The Red Women’s Detachment
8. Hongbing YU, Lecturer of School of Foreign Languages and Cultures, Nanjing Normal University
Some New Thoughts on the Biological Bases of Cultural Semiotic Inquiries.
From the early era of Saussurean semiological studies, to the Lotmanian formulations of cultural semiotics, all the way to the present days of global semiotics, cultural semiotic inquiries have come a long way. However, most of the previous researches in this area largely focused on the surface level, which was normally confined to philosophy, epistemology and similar things, although they did constitute considerable theoretical achievements and practical applications, occasionally by drawing on natural sciences. Seldom has the possibility arisen that cultural semiotics can also be tested, expanded and refined through interactions and collaborations with updated research findings in natural sciences, especially sciences that explore the biological features of semiosis. It is this conviction that has directly inspired the present writer to incorporate into cultural semiotic studies the latest confirmed discoveries in neurocognitive sciences, particularly cultural neuroscience. By accounting for some biological bases of human sign activities, this synthesis is expected to bring new insights into the myth of social cultural diversity in that it offers an intriguing innovative approach to the hidden mechanism that underlies cultural semiosis.
Keywords: culture, modeling, neuroplasticity, Sebeok, semiosis
9. Hanwei WANG, Professor of School of Fine Arts, Nanjing Normal University
A Study of the Metaphor in the Literati Painting in Yuan Dynasty.
“Implicitness” is one of the traditions of paintings. Two causes might be identified: one is the political situation in a specific historical period; and another is the talent of the literati, many of whose expressions in the paintings are not explicit. And in most cases, such “implicitness” results from both. It conforms with the theory of metaphor in the icon, one of Peirce’s three signs. Yuan Dynasty was the first unified dynasty ruled by a minority nationality in China’s history. The scholars who lived in the transition period from Song Dynasty to Yuan Dynasty experienced great changes both of the situation and of their state of mind; they often indirectly expressed their own ideas and feelings, therefore, the metaphor in the paintings of the literati in Yuan Dynasty became highlighted. Based on Peirce’s theory of semiotics, this paper classifies the metaphor in Chinese ancient paintings into historical metaphor, Buddhist metaphor, political metaphor, and style metaphor, and expounds the metaphoric expressions of literati painting in Yuan Dynasty in the transition period in such aspects as the pain of national subjugation, national governance, unrecognized talent of the literati, and the reception of Buddhist ideas.
Keywords: semiotics; metaphor in paintings and calligraphy; paintings in Yuan Dynasty