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The rise of xenophobia and nationalism in China since the COVID pandemic: insights from discourse analysis

Chan, Lai-Ha, Lee, Pak K. (2024) The rise of xenophobia and nationalism in China since the COVID pandemic: insights from discourse analysis. East Asia, 41 (1). pp. 41-66. ISSN 1096-6838. E-ISSN 1874-6284. (doi:10.1007/s12140-023-09416-6) (KAR id:104647)


Since the successful containment of COVID-19 in Wuhan in late March 2020, China had implemented a nationwide highly stringent and restrictive zero-COVID policy to manage the pandemic until the sudden swift away from it in early December 2022. How did the Chinese Communist Party discursively construct it as a ‘normal’ and legitimate policy? Using interpretivism and poststructuralist political theory, this paper examines how Chinese political elites constructed a discourse of danger for the COVID pandemic, with the dominant discursive narratives full of xenophobic and nationalist languages. The discourse framed ‘foreigners’ as ‘threats’ to Chinese people’s health, advocated that China should rely on home-made vaccines and medicines and, more importantly, argued that the Chinese Communist rule demonstrates ‘institutional superiority’ over Western governance. This xenophobic and nationalist discourse has lingered on after the dismantling of the zero-COVID policy. There are grounds for us to concern whether China is seeking self-reliance rather than integrating itself with the world. A Chinese decoupling from the world—a nationalist self-reliance policy similar with that in the Mao era—is not unthinkable.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1007/s12140-023-09416-6
Uncontrolled keywords: China; COVID-19; Xenophobia; Nationalism; Discourse analysis
Subjects: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
J Political Science > JQ Political institutions and public administrations (Asia, Africa, Australia, Pacific Area, etc.)
J Political Science > JZ International relations
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Politics and International Relations
Funders: University of Kent (
Depositing User: Robert Newman
Date Deposited: 01 Feb 2024 17:26 UTC
Last Modified: 02 Feb 2024 15:55 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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