In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

271 Imagining the People’s Risk: Projecting National Strength in China’s EnglishLanguage News about Avian Influenza Lisa B. Keränen, Kirsten N. Lindholm, and Jared Woolly I n the spring of 2013, a World Health Organization (WHO) official’s pronouncement that the outbreak of avian influenza A (H7N9) in China represented “one of the most lethal influenza viruses that we have seen so far” spread through global networks faster than the virus itself.1 As the Chinese government hastened to identify and contain the pathogen, international headlines highlighted the challenges posed not only by the emergence of the disease threat, but also by China’s recordbreaking “airpocalypse,” when pollution had peaked at alarming levels just months before the outbreak.2 “On Scale of 0 to 500, Beijing’s Air Quality Tops ‘Crazy Bad’ at 755,” wrote Edward Wong in the New York Times.3 Meanwhile, the unexplained presence of more than sixteen thousand bloated pig carcasses floating in the Huangpu River, the drinking water source for Shanghai’s twenty-two million souls, raised international speculation about the possible environmental-germ connections.4 “China ’s mysterious pig, duck and people deaths could be connected,” opined 272 Lisa B. Keränen, Kirsten N. Lindholm, and Jared Woolly the Pulitzer Prize–winning health journalist Laurie Garrett in Foreign Policy.5 And thus, the specter of “bird flu,” flanked by noxious smog and buoyant porcine hulls, refocused global attention on the growing health risks posed by China’s rapid industrial and urban development.6 The 2013 avian influenza outbreak provides a useful entrée into the media-saturated landscape that sociologists call the “world risk society,” signaling an era when manufactured local or regional risks to bodies, the body politic, and the environment are experienced, configured, and understood on a mediated, global scale.7 We position the outbreak as an opportunity to examine discourses concerning germs and national identity during a time of global interconnection and change. Following scholars of epidemic discourses, we begin with the presumption that outbreaks—whether real, threatened, and/or imagined—are occasions in which national identities are constituted, invoked, reworked, and mediated with symbolic and material consequences.8 As Ann Robertson explains, the ways “we conceptualize and speak and write about health are never just about health,” but rather serve as “repositories and mirrors of our ideas and beliefs about human nature and the nature of reality.”9 These health-based narratives tell us “about the kind of society we can imagine creating.”10 Analysis of how official discourses about outbreaks envision China—its government and character—can shed insight into the nation-state as an imagined community constituted in response to perceived threats. If one of the greatest global perils beyond climate change and pollution is an infectious, mutating virus, then paying attention to how Communist Party of China (CPC or the Party)–run media outlets in China portray the nation in relation to germs offers compelling insight into how the state is imagined in the face of perceived threats to health and safety.11 Although scholars of rhetoric have historically privileged analysis of the public discourses of predominately Western orators, genres, movements , artifacts, and occasions, the challenges of the twenty-first century require renewed attention to broader transnational discourses about germs, identity, and belonging.12 Accordingly, this essay takes up the focus on “contamination, national identity, and Otherness” that first author Lisa Keränen called for in a 2012 Quarterly Journal of Speech essay, wherein she urged investigation of the “artifacts, texts, discursive formations, China’s English-Language News about Avian Influenza 273 visual representations, and material practices positioned at the nexus of disease and culture.”13 This chapter examines how notions of nation, health, and the body intermingle in the face of external health risks. As all the chapters in this section contend, the rhetorical work of imagining communities is always embodied, with the health of individuals serving as synecdochal proxies for the health of the nation. In order to understand how China’s government constructed notions of nationhood in its mediated public responses to the 2013 avian flu outbreak, we pose two primary questions. First, how were the risks associated with the 2013 outbreak framed in official, state-sanctioned English-language news sources? That is, how were state-sponsored news outlets framing the outbreak for the rest of the world and for China’s English-speaking residents? Second, how were concepts of the local, national , and global presented in China’s state-sanctioned English...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.