History, modernity, and city branding in China: a multimodal critical discourse analysis of Xi’an’s promotional videos on social media

Yilei Wang, Dezheng Feng

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


In the digital age, cities around the world are mobilizing various symbolic resources to rebrand their images through social media. Against this background, this study investigates how Xi’an, a second-tier developing city in China, constructs its digitalized urban imaginary using the popular social media platform of TikTok. A semiotic framework is developed to model Xi’an’s urban imaginary as evaluative attributes and to elucidate how they are constructed through linguistic and visual resources in short videos on TikTok. The analysis of 294 videos shows that Xi’an highlights its dual identity as a modern metropolis and a historical city. The modern metropolis image is characterized by the personification of Xi’an as a stylish, young, popular, and international microcelebrity; the historical city image is constructed through recreating the Great Tang dynasty and revitalizing local folk art. The characteristics of city branding discourse reflect China’s wanghong economy, urban policies and the affordances of social media.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Semiotics
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021


  • China
  • City branding
  • multimodal critical discourse analysis
  • promotional videos
  • social media
  • TikTok

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

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