Closed Window & Open Window: How Media Projects Wuhan Coronavirus Crisis in China
I happen to be in China after Christmas, which is right before the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak. The first time I’ve heard of the Virus, I felt fine and relaxed. However, the more media talks about the virus and the more I heard of the news, I began to feel frightened. I’ve noticed how people around me talk about the outbreak. Some joke about it, (especially Asian people to Asian people) but I’ve also noticed how some people are really judgmental and criticizing Asian people in general without knowing what exactly is happening. Social media and top daily news sites are filled with coronavirus and its death rate. People are scared and threaten by the existence of the virus. The number of deaths people hear make inaccurate assumptions. Without looking more deeper into data and pre-reviewed works, people start to fear more and think, once you catch it its the end of your life.
While all crisis happening, I came to question myself, how do people in China think about this? How are they feeling? Why media doesn’t talk much about what ‘Chinese’ people think or feel, or even what they are going through?
To begin answering these questions, I had to understand the culture and the society people in China are living in. What is really appealing about the country, China, is that the government is taking control of information with its technological system called “The Great Firewall”. The system is known as internet censorship, where it regulates information consumed by people using the internet in China.
Some of the important things to know about censorship in China are…
- Foreign sites and apps are blocked and cannot be viewed in China (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, The New York Times). Instead, they have their own social media.
- Individual conversations held on text messages or apps are under monitorization. Chinese government officials, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and workers are monitoring everything on social media to detect politically sensitive topics or words and phrases and will immediately block or delete them with the notification to the publisher or sender with a warning.
- China has adopted an automatic keyword censor where it detects sensitive words and would not allow them to be sent.
- Local Level & Central Level censors… Local official censors looking after community people and report issues to the central Level officials so they can take care of the situation. Local Officials will be punished by any mistakes they make.
- Multiple attempts of sending or publishing censored content or word will lead to minor punishment.
- Attempting to create a social group (any kind) will also be punished- local officials will prevent the community to create groups with the intention of creating a movement… even groups that are for pro-government is prohibited.
Now since we understand the basic system of censorship in China, we know that China is a Closed Window society. Getting outside information from inside China is a difficult task with the risk of individuals ends up punished or imprisoned. Oppositely, individuals sending out information is a risk as well. As you can tell by now, activists and journalists are always targetted by the Chinese government…
Until recently, people outside Wuhan city had access to what is happening inside the city. People were notified of the situation relating to hospitals and medical cures in Wuhan. Tragic videos and clips were provided by individuals and journalists who risk their lives to capture and send proofs and messages to people inside and outside Wuhan.
- Mr. Chen Qiushi (Chinese lawyer, activist, journalist) documented the situation in Wuhan. After many footages capturing the chaotic environment of Wuhan hospital, CCP removed his posts and coincidently he went missing.
Understanding Cultural Difference
It’s not easy to keep your calm self once you hear the news about the virus. You cannot ignore it once it's outside. I would scroll down on my Instagram timeline then boom!!!, a post about the virus. A picture of people wearing white masks. Not only that, the mask became a trend. Nowadays, I’ve seen a lot of advertisements for selling masks. High quality and colorful masks.
For countries where people are not used wearing masks on a daily basis, seeing a person with a mask on is terrifying. Even from my personal experience, people question you when they see you wearing a mask. People assume you are seriously sick. From a cultural difference, it is understandable to know that most western countries will make assumptions like this. However, in many East Asian countries (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and China, etc) masks could be fashion, identity, or even something to protect you from catching the sickness or prevent giving sickness to others.
In listed Asian countries, a mask is a normal item wore on the public. Nothing threatening. But this was a story before the whole outbreak happened… Nowadays, you see more people wearing masks in public. This tells a lot about how people became more cautious and worried about the spread of the virus. With the information that the media provides, people are locked into this shell of fear by covering their bodies to prevent any diseases.
Open Window; Media impact on people with open access to internet.
The reaction of people live outside of China with free access to the internet and social media; One of the important features of media is, the more you gain information about the event (specifically from media), the meaner and negative you become.
- People start to throw haterade toward East Asian people in general.
- The reason behind the behavior is unknown but can be from the feeling of fear or stress that media provide upon people through broadcasting news reports or social media content.
Closed Window; Censored media impact on people in China.
After the outbreak, the government placed strict censorship to prevent people from spreading “rumors”. Virtual Private Network also known as VPN(Censorship breaker, software allowing internet users to have access to the blocked information) became difficult to use, a lot of articles about the virus were deleted. One of the most inconvenient that the government brought upon the people in China was, taking away mainly used SNS apps (WeChat) from people. A lot of people lost contact with their families or relatives living across the provinces.
How is the Chinese community seeing this matter? ;
Information regulation in China has a large impact on people in China. It is not just being less aware of the World events, but significant events that are happening in their country is restricted as well.
In the case of Coronavirus, the report of the incident was not published or handled well. As I have explained earlier in the article, local-level officials are supposed to send out any reports to the central-level. However, local-level officials attempted to cover the incident, which the result is nothing that can be forgotten.
By hearing this, Chinese people were feeling anger toward the local officials and the social media was filled with comments with anger toward the officials.
Once the local officials were punished, people’s attention switched to the people who are fighting against the virus. A lot of voices of encouragement can be heard. Many footages showing hospitals with patients were released since then.