Heroes in Harm’s Way
COVID-19 Narratives of China as a Form of Soft Power
Keywords:China, COVID-19 narratives, soft power, wolf warrior diplomacy, docudramas, heroism
This paper examines COVID-19 narratives of China as a form of soft power. The coronavirus pandemic and its handling have presented an image problem for China on the global stage. The country has struggled to control the narratives surrounding the pandemic. This article is interdisciplinary in nature with a focus on contemporary Chinese history, culture, and politics, as well as communication issues and narratives. It analyses non-fictional and fictional narratives as part of China’s COVID-19 diplomacy. Beyond documentaries, this paper examines the two docudramas Heroes in Harm’s Way 最美逆行者 (2020) and With You 在一起 (2020) and how these popular TV shows present the coronavirus crisis in China at the beginning of the pandemic. We argue that they provide positive narratives of the COVID-19 response that highlight people’s courage and sacrifice to inspire the Chinese population to stand together as a nation. The docudramas showcase everyday life during the lockdown in Wuhan over 76 days from the end of January 2020 to early April 2020. Nurses, doctors, and patients are represented as heroic characters who fight the pandemic together. Heroes in Harm’s Way and With You are testament of a united China broadcast both to domestic audiences and viewers abroad. The docudramas function as damage control to enhance China’s image in the world. This helps increase China’s soft power as the country presents itself as a capable force for good within its boundaries and beyond.
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