Lecture: "The 'Kung Flu': How Media Images Frame Asians in Diasporic Chinese and US Newspapers During the Pandemic"


Jennifer Huynh

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About the Lecture

Racially targeted hate crimes have increased for Asian populations across the globe since the coronavirus's arrival. This has been spurred by President Trump’s anti-Chinese rhetoric calling COVID-19 the “Kung flu” and “Chinese Virus,” assigning an identity to the virus. The FBI has reported a marked increase in hate crimes and physical violence against Asians and Asian Americans in the US including assault and harassment on public transportation.

This talk analyzes the representation of Asians and Asian Americans in US media during the coronavirus pandemic. I draw my analysis upon a unique dataset of 292 front-page newspaper photographs published between April and May 2020 (including the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Omaha-Nebraska Herald, and one of the largest circulating diasporic Chinese-English newspapers, the Global Times). I investigate how the visual regimes of news in the United States participate in articulating collective imaginations and identities of Asian and Asian Americans. Which conceptions of identity did mainstream news produce and legitimize in their visual representations?

Results demonstrate that in US newspapers: (1) Asians are more likely portrayed as carriers and vectors of disease and blame (2) Chinese are segregated and separated, often depicted in Chinatown; (3) foreignness is symbolized by showing images of masked bodies. When an Asian person appears on the front-page, they are wearing a mask 60-100% of the time; (4) Asians are under-represented as first responders- most images of doctors and medical staff are white. This contrasts with the diasporic newspaper that frames Asians in diverse, dynamic, and active social roles. The diasporic newspaper counters the racist narratives of the mainstream US News by showing Asians and Chinese in a diverse array of identities and agency, including action-oriented roles and shots. The US coverage's cumulative effect is to reify stereotypes of Asians and Asian Americans as foreign and threats of contagion and constructs American identity in contrast with the Asian other.

About the Speaker
Jennifer Huynh is an assistant professor of American studies at the University of Notre Dame and a faculty fellow at the Liu Institute.

Event Details

This lecture discussion will be held through a Zoom webinar at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time. 

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Originally published at asia.nd.edu.