09/03/2023 (Thursday) 13:00-14:00 E21B-G002

Internet memes and health communication in the time of COVID-19


This study examines official health communication through internet memes during the COVID 19 through drawing upon a case study in Shenzhen, China. Due to the worst outbreak in two years, Shenzhen, the southern tech hub and one of the most developed cities of China, was locked down for a week to prevent the Omicron flare-up. During the lockdown, Shenzhen Municipal Health Commission communicated health information including memes to its residents through its WeChat public account. The memes drew on both Chinese and local Shenzhen culture to give information and advice through often with wry humor that poked fun at the habits and peculiarities of Shenzhen residents who are known for their high work ethic. In this study we draw on over two thousand memes posted between February 1 and April 1, 2022, to highlight the creative and innovative health communication afforded by social media technology. Through a social semiotic multimodal approach, we identify and examine three main discursive themes, fighting against the pandemic, constructing hero figures, and representing local identity to explore the creative work of public health engagement during a period of health crisis. The research shows how lockdown, local and national culture, and local identity provide rich resources for Chinese official social media accounts to design locally targeted public health messaging in a humorous and light-hearted manner.


Prof. Xiaoping WU is Associate Professor in the ELLS Programme at BNU – HKBU United International College. She has published on Chinese social media, discourse studies, media and translation studies, and intercultural studies. Her recent work has appeared in SSCI and A&HCI journals including Social Semiotics, Discourse Studies, Media, Culture & Society, Discourse, Context & Media, Language and Intercultural Communication. She is a member of the Editorial Board of Discourse, Context & Media and edited, with Richard Fitzgerald and Todd Sandel, a special issue of Discourse Context & Media on Chinese social media published in 2022.

Richard Fitzgerald is Professor of Communication at the University of Macau. He has researched and written extensively on methods of qualitative discourse analysis and forms of media discourse with a recent focus on Chinese social media. His recent major publications include On Sacks. Methodology, Materials and Inspirations (2021, Routledge), co-edited with Robin Smith and William Housley, a co-edited a special issue of Discourse, Context and Media (SSCI) Chinese Social Media: Technology, Culture and Creativity (2022) with Todd Sandel and Wu Xiaoping, and his most recent book Sage Handbook of Digital Society (2023) co-edited with William Housley, Adam Edwards, and Roser Benito-Montagut, R. He is a former Editor-in-Chief of Discourse, Context and Media (SSCI) where he remains an Honorary Member of the Editorial Board and is currently a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Macau.