This paper explores Mandarin-language radio operations broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)’s External Service Programming and the United States Information Agency (USIA)’s ‘Voice of America’ (VOA) programming from 1949-1976, particularly the concerns over language among employees as they attempted to shape public opinion across a variety of Chinese-speaking audiences in the ‘Far East’ region. Using archival, memoir, and oral history sources, I argue that the broadcasting policy concerns of the BBC and the VOA were shaped by an entanglement between national and transnational pressures, particularly over the use of accent, dialect, and terminology which could evoke real or imagined feelings of national identity among transnational listening audiences. As the BBC and VOA staff prioritised certain language, from ‘pure’ accents to ‘acceptable’ phraseology for their diverse and disparate listening audiences across mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, ‘Burma’ and other Chinese-speaking overseas communities, they produced ‘mixed signals’ which upheld ideas of a unified and homogeneous Chinese nation-state while attracting few to their informational programmes, especially in mainland China. One result of these ‘mixed signals’ was that many listeners on the mainland and elsewhere valued foreign broadcasts with language-free musical entertainment over informational news. By reconsidering the transnational dimensions of British and American broadcasting in the region, which have long been considered only on national terms, this paper emphasises the role of transnational listening networks in shaping the development of news systems across this diverse linguistic region.

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Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision
Tijdschrift voor Mediageschiedenis

Santacaterina, Donald. (2021). Transnational Environments and 'Mixed Signals' in Radio Propaganda: The Voice of America, the BBC, and the People’s Republic of China, 1949-1976. Tijdschrift voor Mediageschiedenis, 24(1-2), 1–27. doi:10.18146/tmg.778