Institutional Problemization of Chinese Immigrants in Canada: A Media Analysis of SARS Reports
SARS infected over 8,000 people and claimed over 916 lives in 32 countries and areas in the early 2003. Toronto was the only place outside Asia with a cluster of cases, generating mass hysteria across Canada. Because the first SARS case was reported in China so that Chinese immigrants were ostracized and excluded. This study systematically examined media reports on the SARS issues from March to June 2003 through a content, discourse, and visual analysis on Canadian mainstream newsprints including two magazines and three newspapers. The analysis focused on the media coverage on the SARS crisis and its results of a public moral panic toward Chinese immigrants. 1) The media content analysis revealed that SARS virus was constructed as a "deadly", "fearful", and "mysterious" "killer", which left their readers being terrified. 2) The media discourse analysis demonstrated how SARS was compared to Spanish Influenza, which killed estimated 20-40 million people, at the early stage of the SARS outbreak by quoting "health experts" and by describing it as "Peril from the East". 3) Media discourse also further illustrated how the public panic was directed toward Chinese immigrants through regionalization and racialization of SARS, in which the earlier SARS patients' names and nationality were repeatedly stated, therefore their ethnic identity was exposed that was not only contrary to bio-ethics, misled the public efforts for epidemic control, but also resulted in public avoidance of Chinese people and people perceived as Chinese. 4) Media visual analysts explained how images of Chinese faces with surgical masks were exploited by the media accompanying SARS reports, which powerfully communicated and further generated public perceptions of risk of being contact with Chinese people. When media presented SARS as a scary mysterious Chinese disease, an anti-Chinese and anti-immigrant panic followed. The media over-presentation on SARS and its negative impact has ruined many small Chinese businesses, hardened Chinese immigrant's life, and also posed an additional challenge to Canada's promotion of multiculturalism.
Keywords: SARS, Racism, Racialization, Mass Media, Media Discourse, Visual Analysis, Chinese Immigrants
Dr. Jian Guan
Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Windsor