Using The Interactive Graphic Novel as a Vehicle to Facilitate Fertility Discussions for Multi-Age Audiences in China

  • Liuchuan Wang

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Many countries around the world now face the population crisis of an ageing society due to the increasing disproportion between people living longer and a declining birth rate. To address this issue in China, the government u-turned on its 35-year long one-child policy by introducing a two-child policy in 2016, and within only five years increased it to a three-child policy in 2021. The Chinese government changed its slogan, from ‘Having only one child is the best choice’ to ‘Having two children is the ideal family’ and then to ‘Having three children guarantees a happy old age.’ Many scholars have discussed this dramatic change in family-planning policy and its effects from demographic, sociological and economic perspectives. However, according to research, one-child families continue to be the social norm and the policy change has had little effect on the prevailing social perception of low fertility. Many of China’s younger generations also have a negative perception of the government’s slogans and promotion of having more children. This practice-based research examined this issue from a visual communication perspective, with the aim of informing people that the new family-planning policy gives them more freedom to make their own fertility choices rather than forcing them to respond to policies that encourage childbearing.

Based on Harold Lasswell’s communication model (1948), I created a social media-based interactive graphic novel as a visual communication vehicle to encourage multi-aged groups of people to openly discuss their fertility willingness and family planning attitudes with their partners and families, towards a more progressive fertility discourse. This visual communication approach is radically different from the unilateral family-planning slogans and propaganda that use directive proclamations that having two or three children will create the ideal family. In contrast, the interactive graphic novel uses visual prompts for discussion of sensitive issues. Participants can recognise themselves in the story plots. The graphic novel incorporates a role-playing experience which provides an interactive storyline that participants can choose to follow as individuals, young couples, or retired seniors to learn about different fertility intentions and make different life choices.

Today, the hegemony of official mass communication dominated by the authorities has been weakened by the Internet and the development of social media. I 3 used the Bilibili website, China’s most popular online interactive video platform, which is similar to YouTube to post my interactive graphic novel to reach the widest possible range of respondents. Before developing my visual outputs, I used questionnaires and interviews to collect fertility concepts from various groups. Through this approach, I recorded each participant’s story plot choices and included their feedback in the creation of future storylines. The interactive graphic novel incorporates mainstream viewpoints from various groups of people. Unlike the traditional didactic visual propaganda used in China’s family planning campaigns which promote a particular concept the visual practice of this research creates a platform for unbiased communication of varying views held by different groups of people. Individuals can seek acceptance through the stories while they encounter different ideas. Key issues influencing people’s decisions to have children were discussed, including peer pressure and competition, working hours and overtime demands, women’s career opportunities, gender inequality in parenting, childcare costs, retirement issues, and intergenerational parenting.

As well as undertaking online research, I also held live events in shopping malls using a market stall to compare the interest in and participation of people in cities differently affected by the family-planning policy.

This study helps us understand how visual communication can enable people to make family planning choices. It embraces popular culture as an expressive medium with which to facilitate social discourse with the public in the age of social media. This research provides evidence that multi-perspective visual communication can help mitigate the effects of previously enforced social concepts. Through this research, I develop a critical approach to creating visual graphic novels that communicate complex social discourse. The data collection and comparative analysis in this research ultimately verified the findings and conclusions regarding the effectiveness of the interactive graphic novel and its contribution to knowledge.
Date of AwardJun 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorCharlotte Gould (Supervisor) & Paul Sermon (Supervisor)

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