The Pain That Connects: A New Perspective on the Chinese Health Humanities
4: Pandemic Prosociality and Viral Affects: The Case of the San Francisco Chinese Granny
Friday, March 25, 2022
3:30pm – 5:00pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
Bowdoin College, United States
This paper examines the transnational media phenomenon of Xie Xiao Zhen and the diverse affective attachments that have formed or failed to form around the story of her assault. On March 17, 2021—the morning after the Atlanta spa shootings that left eight people dead, six of them Asian American women—seventy-five-year-old Xie was punched in the face by a white male assailant while standing at a San Francisco street intersection. Her story quickly went viral across both anglophone and sinophone media worldwide, not as yet another tragic example of anti-Asian violence and victimhood during Covid-19, but as a tale of unexpected liveliness and resilience in dark times, as Xie was caught on film brandishing a wooden stick and cursing out her assailant while he lay bloodied on a stretcher. In anglophone media, she is celebrated as the Asian granny who fought back, while in sinophone ones, a popular meme has elevated her to the status of Chinese ethnic folk hero. Treating this transnational media event as an example of pandemic prosociality, this paper considers the affective links that have emerged around Xie, especially the ways her story mediates structures of feeling around epidemic disease, Chinese/Asian georacial difference, and global care work. I will probe the usefulness of this prosocial episode in disrupting crisis epistemologies vis-à-vis infectious diseases but also its participation in the continued erasure of endemic social conditions of homelessness and mental illness, factors that underlay Xie’s attack in the first place.