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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Medical Emergencies and Epistemological Ruptures: Epidemics and Their Cultural Legacies in China in the 20th and 21st Century
3: Narrating Infectious Diseases: Story-telling in China during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Thursday, March 25, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
Peking University, China (People's Republic)
Story-telling represents a heuristic for creating and re-creating human connections broken or altered under the lockdown during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In China, narratives about the widespread disease bear not only representational and therapeutic values, but also metaphorical and diagnostic significance. This paper focuses on the plurivalent narrative modalities engaged by Chinese medical professionals gathered in the collection Stories from the Front Line in the COVID-19 War. Drawing on Rita Charon’s and Andrew Shonebaum’s conceptualizations of narrative medicine, I argue that storytelling has a formative function in doctors’ understanding of the ongoing crisis; it allows them to trans-historically and trans-geographically produce and disseminate new knowledge, while holding memories of past epidemics and pandemics as the basis. The legacies of the Spanish Flu pandemic in China alongside the multiple tuberculosis epidemics during the Mao-era produced numerous first-hand accounts in periodicals that inform my historical theorization of storytelling.
I supplement my argument with Fang Fang’s Wuhan Diary: Dispatches from a Quarantined City and its take on patients’ phenomenological endeavors at the infection, quarantine and recovery stages. With this, the connection between the biopsychosocial model of medicine and story-telling becomes crucial for a comprehensive approach to current events. I hold that in order to understand the complexities of human connection within a pandemic, the capacities of intellectual fields and disciplines, as well as the epistemological ruptures that vigorously challenge both medicine and literature at the moment, we must explore the intrinsic value of story-telling at the intersection of multiple disciplines and affective positions.