COVID-19 Special issue

April 2020 and November 2021 – Together with Lin Jian and Yiu Fai Chow I co-authored a short piece on biopolitical nationalism. The abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic stirs up strong nationalist and localist sentiments; places pride themselves on containing the virus more effectively: We are doing better. We call this ‘biopolitical nationalism’, understood by us as the dynamics between body, geopolitics and affect. When looking at mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, we analyse how the biopolitical efforts of these places are being compared, applauded and supported. Under a discourse of life and survival, this celebration of biopolitical control does not fall into the classic reproduction of capital, but speaks to geopolitical identification. Biopolitics has morphed into a field of competition, of rivalry, of nationalistic – or, perhaps more generally, localist – power games. What can we do as Cultural Studies scholars?

You can find the piece here.

A year later, I edited a special issue of the China Information on the mediatization of COVID-19. In its introduction, which you can download here, i wonder: How can we combat the invisible – a virus one can only see with the aid of sophisticated equipment? A virus that has nevertheless managed to put the world on hold, freeze our travelling, and a virus that has killed, at the time of writing – July 2021 – over
4 million people worldwide. A virus, moreover, whose first recorded outbreak started in mainland China at the end of 2019. What seemed like yet another local health crisis soon morphed into a global pandemic. I also doubt: is it not too much like capitalizing on the contemporary, turning a crisis into a publication opportunity? I mobilise the notion of imagination (Arjun Appadurai) and deep mediatization (Nick Couldrey and Andreas Hepp) to frame this special issue.

With Lin Jian and Hu Jueling I also co-authored the piece The politics of emotion during COVID-19: Turning fear into pride in China’s WeChat discourse, which you can find here. In this article, we analyse the most popular stories that circulated on WeChat public accounts concerning personalized experiences of COVID-19 in China during the first three months of 2020. Among these non-fictional online writings, we probe into ‘individual’ and mediated experiences with the coronavirus in China by questioning the visualizations and discourses of these stories and their producers, as well as the concomitant emotions they invoked. Parallel to the changing situation of the pandemic, we observe a diachronic evolution of emotions, from fear and doubt to (nationalist) pride. While articulating personalized experiences of the pandemic from disparate perspectives, the stories invariably built on, and were shaped by, the workings of the WeChat public account platform (公众平台) as evidenced by its content moderation logic and political economy. The analysis shows that emotions, rather than facts, propel the popularity of these stories. The measures taken by the state are mostly applauded, and only sometimes questioned; tragic memories are rewritten, and a political and economic order is consolidated.