Content analysis of nature documentaries in China: challenges and opportunities to raise public conservation awareness

Wei, H., Berdejo-Espinola, V., Ma, Y. & Amano, T. (2024) Biological Conservation 292: 110522.

Mainstreaming conservation is one of the key challenges in addressing the ongoing biodiversity crisis. Nature documentaries have been shown to promote conservation awareness and efforts among the general public, but earlier research has focused largely on documentaries that are produced and available in English. In contrast, the potential of nature documentaries that are available only in languages other than English has rarely been explored, despite a marked increase in their number and range over the decades. In this paper, we thus investigated the challenges and opportunities for nature documentaries in China to raise public conservation awareness, by investigating their thematic, geographical, and taxonomic coverages.

Of the 313 documentaries released in 2021, we found that terrestrial biomes, mammals, and birds were overrepresented, while only a quarter of documentaries explicitly covered human destructive impacts on nature. We also revealed marked differences between domestically produced, Chinese-language documentaries and imported, mostly English-language documentaries in terms of the scope of their content. Domestic documentaries tended to be people-oriented with a local focus, while imported documentaries tended to be nature-oriented with a global focus. This demonstrates the complementary role of domestic and imported documentaries in enriching people’s knowledge of nature. Moreover, domestic documentaries provided a wide range of important information on unique biodiversity in China, highlighting their potential to promote international awareness of biodiversity in China. However, they are largely inaccessible internationally, as only 9% of them provided English subtitles/versions.

The paper show the urgent need to import and create more nature documentaries on those under- represented, but critically important, realms/biomes (e.g., freshwater realm and deep-sea biome), and taxa (e.g., invertebrates, plants, and fungi) and anthropogenic threats. Making Chinese-language nature documentaries accessible to the global community by translating them into other languages would also facilitate biodiversity conservation worldwide.

View full publication, here.

Figure 1. (a) The realm representation between domestic (left, n=197 times of appearance in 171 documentaries) and imported nature documentaries (right, n=289 times of appearance in 114 documentaries). Each realm is shown in a separate color, except from the five transitional realms, which are all shown in pink, with labels provided for identification. The definition of realms is based on the IUCN Global Ecosystem Typology (v2.0) (Keith et al., 2022); (b) Biome representation in domestic (dark grey bars, n=233 times of appearance in 171 documentaries) and imported nature documentaries (light grey bars, n=517 times of appearance in 114 documentaries). The color of the biome name on the y axis indicates the realm to which the biome belongs, with ‘Terrestrial’ in green, ‘Freshwater’ in light blue, ‘Marine’ in dark blue, ‘Subterranean’ in grey, and all transitional realms in pink. The identification of biomes is based on the IUCN Global Ecosystem Typology (v2.0) (Keith et al., 2022).

Figure 2. Threat representation in domestic (dark grey, n=69 times of appearance in 171 domestic nature documentaries) and imported nature documentaries (light grey, n=64 times of appearance in 114 imported nature documentaries). The categorization of threats is based on the classification provided by the IUCN (IUCN, 2022).