Viral Content: COVID Through the Eyes of Chinese Netizens

Viral Content is a new CDT series introducing terms coined and used by Chinese netizens during the 2019-2020 COVID-19 outbreak. These terms include both subversive critiques of government policies and nationalistic support of them. Similar terms are being compiled and translated at China Digital Space, CDT’s bilingual wiki, as we expand it beyond the Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon to include short biographies of people pushing for change in China, topical resource pages, and special projects.  


(guānzhuàng bìngdú 官状病毒)

Criticism of government incompetence in responding to the COVID-19 epidemic; homophonic play on “coronavirus” (guānzhuàng bìngdú 冠状病毒, swapping the character “crown” guān 冠 for “official” guān 官).

For example, netizens fumed over the 2020 CCTV Spring Festival Gala broadcast, which came in the throes of Wuhan’s lockdown. Anger piqued especially when Jackie Chan sang, “Show me where China looks sick” (问我国家哪像染病). One netizen wrote, “[…T]he bureaucravirus is spreading, the sick are pleading for help, doctors are sounding the alarm… and a pop star is asking where China looks sick?”

Preventable and Controllable

(kě fáng kě kòng 可防可控)

Declaration made on January 10, 2020 by a prominent physician about the novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan. Wang Guangfa, a respiratory specialist who lead the response to SARS at Peking University First Hospital in 2003, was in Wuhan as a medical investigator when he told CCTV that the disease was “preventable and controllable.” Dr. Wang fell ill with COVID-19 soon after; he recovered in late January. Netizens have thrown those fateful words back at officialdom, for example in response to the Pollyannaish 2020 Spring Festival Gala:

@梦***妄: My Liege, allow me to report to you that there is peace throughout the realm and happiness among all its people. A minor illness has emerged in one of the provinces, but it is preventable and controllable. Please, My Liege, sit down and enjoy the show, hear the generations sing of your triumphs. [Chinese]

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