Visual communication of aspects of human intellectual capital: a comparative study between UK and Chinese firms

Guotian Fu

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis focuses on the visual communication of aspects of the human intellectual capital of firms through a comparative study between UK and Chinese firms (from both mainland China and Hong Kong).

It makes use of a theoretical framework of impression management and Barthesian visual semiotics, extended by portraiture theory, to conduct a content analysis of the visual forms of the corporate reports of 150 companies (50 each from the UK, mainland China and Hong Kong) belonging to five sectors (Banking/Financial Services, Logistics, Energy, IT/Telecom, Retail). The research examines the overall visual content devoted to intellectual capital disclosure, especially that pertaining to human intellectual capital, and the breakdown between pictures, photographs, graphs and charts. It then analyses the pictures and photographs relating to the human intellectual capital to consider the comparative proportions of managers, employees and customers, together with dimensions linked to aspects such as their gender, age and dress.

The key findings are: (1) that there is a higher proportion of visual communication in the UK reports than there is in the Chinese ones (Hong Kong placing itself mid-way between the two), together with more visual communication of intellectual capital and a greater diversity in the visual forms; (2) all country groups make use of large proportions of visual material to communicate intellectual capital – especially human intellectual capital – and of more pictures and photographs than graphs and charts; (3) the Chinese reports present more depictions of males, older people and formal dress than the UK ones.

The research contributes to the work on visual communication in financial reporting by being the first study on the reporting made by Chinese companies (and in the Chinese reporting language) and by extending methodological considerations. It contributes further through its detailed examination of the connections which exist between visual communication and intellectual capital disclosure, especially human intellectual capital, and by presenting a comprehensive analysis of the portrayal of people in annual reports.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Davison, Jane, Supervisor
  • Nobes, Christopher, Advisor
Award date1 Feb 2015
Publication statusUnpublished - 17 Jan 2015


  • Visual communication
  • Human intellectual capital
  • Intangible Assets

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