Qiuyu Jiang, Department of Anthropology
The research problem Guangzhou, one of the world’s largest manufacturing zones, is currently home to the largest African community in Asia. As the Ebola epidemic unfolded in 2014, discourses concerning Africans as a threat to public health in China mushroomed on various Chinese media platforms. For example, the web post "Ebola is likely to attack China by the end of this month" was forwarded more than one million times on WeChat in 24 hours. The fear of Ebola had tangible implications: an African trader who had returned to his hometown for his son’s birthday could not renew his Chinese visa, which affected his business and family’s livelihood. Thus, the media coverage of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa worsened the racial, socio-cultural, and legal difficulties that Africans were already facing in China.
My objective is to investigate the Chinese media response to the Ebola epidemic and the resulting exclusion, rejection, and/or support that African migrants encountered in Guangzhou, and as a result, how these contribute to an understanding of a “public sphere” in contemporary China. The Ebola outbreak not only led China to take a more active role in foreign aid in Africa, but also influenced China’s future relations with African countries. What role did Chinese media play in the Ebola epidemic? How, and to what extent, did the media coverage of Ebola in China impact the daily lives of African migrants, and their relationships with local Chinese? And, more importantly, how did members of African communities negotiate these impacts?
Building on contacts I have already established with African communities in Guangzhou since September 2013, I will conduct six additional month of research (June–November 2015). I will focus on three key areas: 1) print media coverage (e.g., China Daily), 2) social media commentary (e.g., WeChat), and 3) 10 to 15 ethnographies about Africans’ living in Guangzhou during the Ebola outbreak. My primary method of data collection will be participant observation in physical sites like markets, shops, and warehouses, and virtual sites like WeChat, Tencent QQ, and Weibo. I will also employ three complementary research methods: interviews, focus groups, and textual analysis of Chinese media reports and posts on social media platforms. Interviews and focus groups will be concentrated in the first phase of research (June-uly 2015), as it allows me to accumulate contacts and later maintain research relationships on virtual sites.
This research on Chinese media response to Ebola as a special social phenomenon emerged during my fieldwork provides a new way to examine how media platforms mediated the tenuous relationships between Africans and Chinese. It thus will be part of my doctoral project on African communities in Guangzhou. My project documents the everyday economic activities, religious practices, social networking, and coping strategies with the Chinese rigid immigration regulations by African migrant communities.