Open Journal of Modern Linguistics
2011. Vol.1, No.1, 9-12
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/ojml.2011.11002
The Production of the Myth of “Sister Phoenix”:
From the Perspective of Discourse Analysis
Jin Zhang
Graduate School of Educa tion, Univer sity of P ennsylvania, P hiladelp hia, USA.
Received July 17th, 2011; revised September 21st, 2011; accepted September 28th, 2011.
The analyti cal paper mainly deals wi th the quest ions how the image of S ister Phoenix, one of the most “popular”
ugly stars in China is narrated, and how it is reconstructed and circulated by the media. In the paper, the author
utilize multiple analytical devices, such as Gee’s seven building tasks (2010), Bahktin’s dialogical processes,
Fairclough’s (2003) approaches to critical discourse analysis and Couldry’s (2010) theories about media dis-
course. The aim of the paper is not only to explore the reason why her self-narration is destined to attract the in-
terest of the media and the modern Chinese society but also aims at seeking how the media constantly helps
prod ucing new cat egories of life in front of the audience.
Keywords: Sister Phoenix, Critical Discourse Analysis, Media Discourse, Pop Culture
In 2009, Sister Phoenix rose to fame as a marriage-seeker in
central areas of Shanghai. She has given extraordinary high
standard for a future mate, but according to the description of
the passersby, she is herself a very homely looking girl who
does not match the men who have reached the standard at all.
Her marriage seeking activities receives intense attention of the
society; she starts to become the special guest of different TV
shows and news about her marriage-seeking activity flourish
throughout media. Discussions about her have become a part of
everyday talk of the ordinary people, even if most of them are
criticisms and ridicules. It seems that there is one thing which is
certain, that is, she is famous. The analysis primarily aims at
resolving the following questions: how does Sister Phoenix
enable her image potentially eligible for public attention? How
the media reproduces and utilizes her image as a channel for
disseminating dominating voices of the society? What is the
significant (if there is any) of the event of sensationalizing and
circulating the myth of Sister Phoenix?
How “Sister Phoenix” Is Produced
Why the act of Sist er Phoenix captivates t he attention of me-
dia and the mass? The answer to this question lies in the dis-
course of Sister Phoenix itself, and it concerns with how she
manages to construct meaning and realize the target of self-
sensationalization through various linguistic approaches. The
following analysis focuses on how she builds up her “unforget-
table” narration in the light of Gee’s seven building tasks.
Firstly, in regards to sign system, she is trying to privilege
the tension between the semiotic values indexed by her lan-
guage an d her visual image. In her marriage seeking pamphlet,
she offers 7 requ irements, in clud ing “must earn a master degr ee
at PKU or THU”, “must be economy major”, “must be from
east coastline of China” etc. In another situation, she even
claims that she wants to pursue Barrack Obama. Her ut terances
imply a very high mate selecting standard, though not talked
out explicitly. For it is among the common sense of most Chi-
nese people that PKU and THU are the best universities in
China, eco nomy major is on e of the hot majors nowadays, east-
ern coastline is the most developed area in the country and
Obama is the most powerful man in the world. When describ-
ing herself, she is also extravagant enough to use the most
commenting words she can ever imagine: “Many people say
that I’m beaut iful, and I know that I’m beautiful”, “Given t hat I
have such beauty and wisdom, I can find someone much better
than him (her ex-boyfriend)”. However, the visual signs have
totally betrayed her self-evaluation. From the TV show, we saw
a girl with huge mouth and nostrils, short stature, dressing in an
old-fashioned red jacket and jeans. According to the Habitus
(Bordieu, 1977), or the universal dispositions that mediate peo-
ple’s perceptions and practices of most Chinese people, these
traits are t he symbols of ugliness and lack of taste.
Moreover, she is not only exhibiting dichotomy in the per-
spective of visual and language sign system, but is also fore-
grounding a sharp contrast inside of her language signs. The
contrast stems from heterogeneity in her self-identification and
the actual content of her words. She is identifying herself as
“being greater than Einstein on macro level because she is ir-
replicable”, while Einstein “can be duplicated”. However, she
is showing ignorance when she makes common sense errors by
uttering “I cannot invent light bulb like Einstein did”. A typical
example of this contrast is manifested in her most well know
quotation as follows:
I started reading at the age of 9; I reached the peak of my life
as a learned woman at the age of 20. 300 hundred years back
and 300 hundred years after, there was and there would be no
man who surpasses me. Now, what I read are books on hu-
manities, such as Bosom Friend and Stories (the former is one
of the most welcomed magazine for housewives and the latter is
often thought to be favored by migrate workers).
The narration produces a rather glorious and grandiose lin-
guistic form by employing the technique of climaxing and
symmetry, when it comes to “300 hundred years back and 300
hundred years after”, it gives the hearers an illusion of con-
fronting with huge waves, which is intimidating. However, an
anticlimax brings the billows to a halt, when it comes to “Now,
what I read are books on humanity”, people are expecting her
saying something which is extremely profound and advanced,
but instead, she mentioned two magazines which are regard as
symbolically mundane and are often related to less educated
people. The sharp split between the form and the content of her
utterance produces a strong sense of absurdity.
What activity is Sister Phoenix trying to perform through her
marriage-seeking discourse? Though in the marriage-seeking
program she claims that she just wants to find an ideal spouse,
later in other interviews, she admits that she is trying to sensa-
tionalize herself by saying something extreme. “Ordinary peo-
ple can only get into media if they do something extraordinary”
(Langer 1998: p. 41), if there is nothing extraordinary in a per-
son, she may try to artificially produce something sensational.
This is what Sister Phoenix intends to do beyond looking for a
In terms of relationship, it is interesting that Sister Phoenix is
not trying to establish rapport with the audience and the candi-
dates as she does with the media, instead, in her language use,
she somehow wants to construct authority and superiority over
them. e.g. In one of the program, she says to the audience: “I
believe that you are all from regular institutions of higher edu-
cation. If you neglect the seven standards I give, I guess there
will be some of you who want to marry me.” When elaborating
on what kind of man she wants to marry to, she said: “I am a
clean freak, as a result, I hate those fucking man who are an-
thomaniac.”, “Men who are over 30 year-old please be off by
yourself”. Once she even shouted at a candidate: “Go die!” It is
as if she is drawing a clear boundary between herself and the
mundane by portraying herself as a celebrity who is gone after
by the ordinary, and she is forever in a position higher than the
audi ence and the candidates.
Let’s say, all h er end eavor s in publ ic en coun ter are d edicat ed
to the activity of self sensationalization, while all other building
tasks are rotating around this center. By establishing an image
of being abnormal and extremely barefaced, she succeeds to
manufacture “extraordinariness”, which is a critical step to
become the materials of the media. The contrasts between dif-
ferent sign systems, the linguistic form and the content are the
major techniques she employs in order to sensationalize her
image of bei ng an impressively crazy person, so as to attr act the
attention of the media. (The example of “300 hundred years
back and 300 hundred years after” is a typical form of encon-
textualization, enabling the text the potentiality and dynamic to
circulate through media. A few months before, it is popular
online to “make sentences after Sister Phoenix”. The ability to
undergone retexualizatation makes her utterances easy and fun
to get reproduced.) At last, the superiority she establishes over
the audience and the candidates marks the completion of her
self-advertising and her transformation from an ordinary
woman to a public figure, and the disconnection from
worldly-ness goes on reproducing the gap between she and the
ordinary life—people will contempt her senseless pride, but
they will get to know and remember her modes of meaning
How “Sister Phoenix Phenomenon” Is Reproduced
and Circulated by Mass Media
After Sister Phoenix become potentially eligible for public
attention, the media started to take on the task of reproducing
and circulating the phenomenon as a piece of news. As a matt er
of fact, what the media is doing is similar to what is described
by Bakhtin (1981) as the author of a novel, who orchestrates
between different voices and tries to po sition them on a certai n
place where they can reach all of the voices, with a difference
in terms of the distance with them.
The author looks into several entertaining programs in which
Sister Phoenix gets involved, and finds several linguistic traits
they have in common. First of all, all the hosts or the inter-
viewers apply different footings when they conclude the news,
or make manifest certain stance and criteria intended for the
audien ce, compared with when they talk with S ister phoenix in
person. When the hosts are interviewing with her, there are
hardly any distance between them. They talk on an informa-
tion-exchanging level, normally, the hosts will only ask ques-
tions and paraphrase what she says in order to make sure that
they have got what she is trying to express. The tones of the
hosts are absolutely neutral, without taking a stance on the in-
cident. For example:
Interviewer: why you choose candidates only from PKU and
THU? Like, there are two universities that are also excellent in
Shanghai, Fudan University and SJTU, why not from these
Sister Phoenix: overall, people say, in China, there are only
two universities: PKU and THU.
Interviewer: yes. You are saying that they are not on the
same level?
Sister Phoenix: ((nodding)) as a matter of fact.
However, when the hosts are introducing the topic or when
they come to the conclusion after the interview they will switch
to another footing, which exhibits a considerate distance with
Sister Phoenix’s logic. The following is an example:
Some p eople say t hat her ma rriage seeki ng act is only a form
of sensationalization; some other argues that Sister Phoenix is
ind eed seeking fo r true love, but she h as resorted to an extreme
approach. Here, we are more willing to explain her act as an
expression of long-suppressed anxiety, an extreme expression
because of something irresolvable. While most of us ridicule
this form of expression, there is seldom anyone who feels sad.
Perhaps some of them will feel sad, that’s for the Media. Pre-
sent era is indeed an era of entertainment, no matter whether
there is any aesthetic value, so long as it is eyes-at-t ract ing, th e
Media will be swarming around immediately. What left for the
public is only a chaotic value system and visual tiredness. Per-
haps you may ask: be it as it may, why you are bandwagoning
here? Yes, then why are we here focusing on Sister Phoenix,
who is only a morbid and tragic figure positioned under the
spotlight in the eyes of the experts. Then who are the tragic
ones, Sister Phoenix or us?
In this excerpt taken from the end of a certain piece of spe-
cial news about Sister Phoenix’s marriage-seeking act, the host
speaks with a different level of abstraction. She talks as if she is
an outsider of the phenomenon, thus is able to draw an outline
of the event. She juxtaposes different forms of ideologies about
the event (“sensationalization”, “extreme approach”) and fi-
nally arrives at her preferred stance which describes the act as
an “expressi on of anxiety”. Mo reover, instead of bei ng neutral,
the host is taking an emotional stance towards her deeds. By
using negative expressions such as “anxiety”, “morbid”, and
“tragic” etc, she is showing a pitiful attitude towards Sister
Phoenix, or, she is using a device of epistemological modality
in order to establish a hierarchical relationship between herself
as one who represents the media, a channel always disseminate
something true and advanced versus Sister Phoenix, who has no
clear understanding of herself and is thus caught in an asymme-
try relationship with the media, in which she is passively sub-
ject to constant ideological imposition.
In this excerpt, what is collected and responded is not only
the voice of Sister Phoenix, but also other voices such as the
voice of the authority and the society. Here the author argues
that, the ground o f the remark is based on the so cial doxa whi le
the conclusion is making an alignment with the authoritative
discourse. As a result, it is “mediation between society and the
state” (Graham, 2010: p. 52).
Firstly, consider about the voice of this society, or what is
taken for granted and ritualized by the public throughout the
history, or doxa in a Bordieu’s sense. That is, the principle of
exchange at equal value. It is created under the condition of a
capital society in which we need to have something in order to
get something else, as a result, capital is vital in evaluating a
person’s social position. In the case of Sister Phoenix, all criti-
cisms stem from this solid ground of societal differentiation.
The following two excerpts come from the introductory parts of
two different pieces of news about Sister Phoenix, but as if the
transcripts are written by the same person, they all echo the
same social doxa mentioned above:
News A: it is that Luo Yufeng, who is not only ordinary in
terms of family background, but also plain in terms of appear-
ance. Though only 1. 46 meters tall, she has a Great Expecta-
tion of herself: she claims to marry no man other than those
who graduate from PKU or THU.
News B: the woman, whose name is Luo Yufeng is only a
cashier in a supermarket. She is short and plain-looking, but
she has given extraordinary high standard for a future spouse.
Both pieces of news have mentioned that Sister Phoenix is
plain in terms of appearance, social status and family back-
ground. Etc. And apparently, they are not taking a favorable
attitude towards her. “Great Expectation”, the name of Charles
Dickens’ book is used ironically, in order to show the absurdity
of the event itself, and the expressions “not only (something
negative) but also (something negative)”, “though”, “only” are
signs of revealing inherent limitations of the subject being de-
scribed. If the social doxa is not presupposed, the transitional
logic of the two excerpts will be somehow weird. It is because
that there is an underlying assumption of principle of exchange
at equal value which claims that because she is plain in all as-
pects, she has no capital to find someone who is good in all
A severe violation of social doxa or a deviation from the
voice of th e society is th e reason wh y Sister P hoenix is brought
under the limelight, and why she is under behoove attack by the
public. In one of the interview program she took part in, there
are two other honored guests being invited, a scholar in a cer-
tain college (the male guest), and an actress.
Male Honored Guest: Just now you said cooperation”,
which i mplies tha t you two sho uld be on the sa me level. E ven if
you pay 51 percent and I pay 49 percent. I would like to ask
you what the basis is for this. For instance, I have five bucks in
my pocket, and I am hungry, I can have a bowl of noodles on
the street. But you want to go to a top grade restaurant; I be-
lieve it is more possible for you to wash dishes there for a
whole month.
Here, the male honored guest directly equals marriage to
business transaction in which people involved are busy calcu-
lating all the times about profits and advantages they can take
from others. The underlying assumption “No capital, no coop-
eration” is brought on the table and is compulsorily applied to
the realm of love affairs.
Male honored guest: Be polite! Don’t cross your leg and
show contempt (Towards a candidate). Do you ha ve any credit
to laugh at him? Do you think you have anything better than
Female Honored Guest: As a girl, you pay too much atten-
tion to vanity. I think you are selfish and Narcissistic.
Does the male honored guest mean that if Sister Phoenix has
the “credit”, she is justified to laugh at or showing contempt
towards the candidate? In the case of the female honored guest,
Sister Phoenix is related to other negative denotations, though
she is only narcissistic according to the habitus of ordinary
Chinese people, and has nothing to do with selfishness. People
on a higher social status are able to impose ideologies irrespon-
sibly to th ose on a lower social lad der at random, because th ey
have the “credit” to do so, and because they are the celebrities
with all the capital of fame, fans or authority in a certain aca-
demic domain to justify their claims. The following example
made the assumption manifest:
F: I think she has serious psychological deformity.
M: I wou ld like to make a ra tional abstraction: this is called
Erotomania, in which the patient will fall into the illusion of
being in love with another person (usually on a higher social
status), (the official definition for the problem).
The actress may have no background in psychology, but she
is able to come to a definite conclusion that Sister Phoenix has
psychological deformity even quicker than a psychologist do;
the scholar, on the other hand, take advantage from his ability
to make “rational abstraction” by switching to a set of patho-
logical jargon which make no other sense than reaffirming his
own authority and the social doxa. In short, as “honored” guest,
their social capital endow them the credit to exert ideologies
and discursively constructed illnesses to a figure that just rise to
fame from the lowest class.
All of the above, both the discourse of the hosts and that of
the honored guests are grounded in the social doxa or main-
stream voice of the society. Moreover, they act as apparatus to
circulate and reinforce the dominance of the doxa and become
the techniques through which the dominant Discourse of Capi-
talism further est ablishes social differences and h i erarchies.
Though the argument of the media is based on social doxa, it
cannot manifest an end towards differentiation itself, and it
cannot disregard the voices of the authority.
The following is the criticism towards Sister Phoenix phe-
nomenon by the spokesman of China’s State Administration of
Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), which is embedded into
one of the special reports about the event .
The emergence of Sister Phoenix Phenomenon is due to
some of the Media’s act of adding fuel to the fire. Obviously, it
will not lead to positive and Truth-Benevolence-Beauty-Seek-
ing values. It will not guide people to go after a better, and a
more passion ate, more crea tive an d encou raging cultura l trend ,
on contrary, it is le ading to the opposi t e .
SARFT, which represent the voice of the state, is intended to
standardize the ethos of the society. However, we find a va-
gueness o r even feebleness in the speech. As to o bscurity, who
is to be blamed as the culprit for the event is not identified;
instead, the spokesman only criticizes SOME of the media’s
ADDING FUEL TO THE FIRE. Which media and what’s the
root for th e devian t aest het ic valu e is excl ud ed . Mo reo ver, what
is “Truth-Benevolence-Beauty-Seeking values” exactly? There
is even no clear definition of a should-be attitude. On the other
hand, the statement is feeble in that the power of the authority
discourse is not in its language itself, but in its ability to put the
mandate into legal action. In the statement, the spokesman
doesn’t say that the media who sensationalize the event should
be looked into or Sister Phoenix should be sanctioned. It seems
that there is conflicts and corresponding negotiation between
the authority discourse and the media. On the one hand, the
authority doesn’t want the society stirred into a moral chaos
such as the appreciation of the ugly; on the other hand, they
have to real ize that t he reaso n why S ister P hoenix rises t o fame
irradicab ly has its so cial roo t. The author ity need t o air its voice
of standardization while making some concessions to the atten-
tion of public which is based on social doxa, so long as the
public opinion doesn’t threat its dominance. As a result, there
seems to be clashes as well as collaboration between the gov-
ernment and the media. By accepting the government’s mild
criticism towards them and making an alignment with the gov-
ernment, the media earn themselves the chance to disseminate
sensational but controversial news which brings them profits.
From the ab ove analysis, th e author arrives at the con clusion
that the reproduction of Sister Phoenix as a myth in the new era
is the result of the media’s orchestration of different voices.
Sister Phoenix, the center of the story is placed in a distant
position, as her morbid and sensational image is discursively
reshaped by socio-economical doxa throughout the orchestra-
tion. Some of the media may arri ve at the voice of the autho rity,
even if this is only form of decorum.
A Last Word about the Phenomenon: What Happen
after the “Sister Phoenix” Myth?
The reports and entertaining programs concerning “ugly
stars” such as Sister Phoenix are not only performing an act of
flooding the people with monopolized representations about
class difference s and th e authoritative st and ardizat io ns; they are
also ritualizing people’s actions and construct categories (Coul-
dry, 2010). Nowadays, “the appreciation of the ugly” has be-
come a form of life in which more and more people are taking
part in. They dress oddly, talk silly things in order for them to
make a leap from “liveness” to “celebrity” (Couldry, 2010).
The pub lic, reciprocall y, mak e a space for a cate gory of peo ple
who are identified by the majority as those who blur the
boundary between the ordinary and the famous ones, or, a new
category of people. They are both ordinary and are public fig-
ures, th ey are famou s because the y dare to ch allenge the social
doxa, an d because th ey dare to present what ought t o belong to
the realm of everydayness before the camera: ugliness, mun-
dane and ignorance according to the perception of ordinary
people. They are famous, but they receive ridicules instead of
admirations of the ordinary like the classical type of celebrities
do. The new category reproduced by the media can be regarded
as a parody of those media-constructed celebrities under the
aurora of extraord inariness and perfection in that they bring the
mass an awareness of the fact that what the media is busy cir-
culating can be something or someone absurd and stupid, what
matters is how their images are parceled up by the media.
In conclusion, Sister Phoenix is building up her own narra-
tion in an extraordinary way in that it privileges a contrast be-
tween different sign system and what’s inside the linguistic
system. By employing this technique she is able to establish her
image as absurd , morb id and i mpressive, t hu s ach ieve an end o f
sensationalizing herself. Her image is eligible for public atten-
tion and become potential candidate for the circulation of the
media in that it seriously deviate d from social do xa, as a result,
is extraordinary in a sense. In the reproduction of the image of
Sister Phoenix, she is depicted as being abnormal, pitiful and
disgusting when incorporated as the negative example mocked
by the social doxa and rebuked by the authority. However in
another sense, it is the media that helps the popularization of
the images Sister Phoenix and the like, so that there are more
and more “Sister Phoenixes” appearing in the world forming a
new category and a way of living. The author is not here to
question the ugly stars for their clumsy sensalization, nor is she
criticizing the media’s identity of being the accomplice of re-
producing and deepening social differences. What’s important
is that the voices of the ordinary can be heard, even if the pro-
tagonists should overact their identities in a distorted way and
be positioned in an awkward position by the dominant social
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