Discourses of COVID-19 Vaccination in China: Public Response to Government Domination and the Emergence of ‘Vaccine Citizenship’

Abstract

Using online discourse-centred ethnography and focus group discussions, this paper explores evolving discourses of COVID-19 vaccination in China and corresponding public responded. In addition to the state’s intensive control of COVID-19 outbreaks, China initiated independent research and the development of vaccines from the spring of 2020. In line with the state’s emphasis on success in controlling the outbreaks, government propaganda aimed to shape and disseminate successful images of the vaccines developed. Correspondingly, the public showed a supportive attitude when the first two domestically produced vaccines received Emergency Use Authorisation (EUA) by China's authorities. In contrast, vaccine hesitancy emerged when the government claimed its initial success in pandemic control and tried to communicate the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness. Importantly, COVID-19 outbreaks have never disappeared in China. As new domestic outbreaks emerged and the administration started to promote vaccination more vigorously, more people were forced to accept vaccination. When the government endowed vaccine discourse with the responsibility of protecting the general population’s health, the implementation of the vaccination programme became even more constraining. This paper examines empirical data on the government’s and individuals’ discursive practices through a focus on subjectivity as part of China’s biopolitical governance of COVID-19 which presents vaccination as an individual ‘technology of the self’. In this complex context of top-down governance, I analyse how the exercise of biopower and a sense of governance emerged and changed during China’s efforts at COVID-19 control

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