Covid-19 Nationalism in China and Lessons from the Pandemic - Transcript

Opening Jingle [00:00:02]

This is the Nordic Asia podcast.

Joanne Kuai [00:00:06]

Welcome to the Nordic Asia podcast. A collaboration sharing expertise on Asia across the Nordic region. I'm Joanne Kuai, your host for today. I'm a PhD Candidate at Karlstad University in Sweden and an affiliated Ph.D. candidate with the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies. Joining me today is Florian Schneider, senior lecturer in the Politics of Modern China at Leiden University and the director of the Leiden Asia Center. He is the managing editor of the academic journal Asiascape: Digital Asia and author of Staging China: The Politics of Mass Spectacle, published by Leiden University Press and China's Digital Nationalism, published by Oxford University Press. Florian, thank you so much for being here today.

Florian Schneider [00:00:50]

No, thanks for having me. It's a really great honor.

Joanne Kuai [00:00:52]

So first of all, I would like to say thank you. You've always been an inspiration, and especially in the early days of the pandemic when I just started the academic journey. Your videos on YouTube has really helped me a lot to navigate this world, and you've been quite productive conducting a lot of research in relation to COVID pandemic and China. So I'd like to begin by one of these studies. So in no doubt when COVID broke out, there were a lot of like foreign observers skepticism how China is going to navigate. And you've stated that the Chinese leadership has turned a crisis into a national success story using effective governance measures and propaganda capacities to strong effect. Would you please elaborate on that? And how has digital media played a part in this?

Florian Schneider

Thank you. Also, thank you for the kind words. It's good to know that someone thinks I'm productive. I don't always feel that way in this crisis. Right? But you are right. I have been trying to work a little bit on the pandemic and on nationalism. And in that context and looking at the way that strategic communication works in China, how public communication works. And first off, before I go into the details of that quote you just had, I should point out that public sentiment in China is, of course, not monolithic. There's many critics of the crisis response in China. There's been vibrant discussion, at least at the beginning of the pandemic, about the Wuhan lockdown. There were criticisms of subsequent lockdowns, and it was often very severe and affected people in difficult ways. There has also been this problem of a lot of Chinese students abroad not being able to travel back because the flights were canceled. The market then kicked in and prices for flight to China went through the roof. So this has been extremely difficult for a lot of people around the world of Chinese descent. When I say it's a success story, it's not a success story for everyone. You always have to ask who is benefiting? But the wider impression, I think, is that much of the Chinese public feels that this was indeed a success. And I think that impression is driven by a couple of factors. So one is indeed that the Chinese government made some regulatory choices and extended its crisis efforts in a way that was often convincing, and I was often quite effective. Building hospitals, for example, especially in very brief amounts of time, or taking strong, decisive actions when there were outbreaks. And this has resonated with a lot of citizens in China. You've also been told for a long time that what the CCP really stands for is protecting the health, the rights to work and to life and to things that might not resonate the same way, in European ears, is as they do in the Chinese context, where it's much about human security, things like health and safety. So in that sense, the government was able to take measures that were recognized as effective and what probably also then helped the discussion in China., was the perception of how crisis management went elsewhere in the U.S. and Europe, which have been varying degrees of abysmal failures. I mean, much of what happens in Northern Europe is basically becoming a textbook example of how not to manage a crisis like this. And from the Chinese perspective, it's just a head scratcher how all these often very Eurocentric commentators who are talking about the benefits of democracy and Western values and so on are dropping the ball this hard. And that's also, of course, it's a warped perception. That's not all that's going on, there many examples of European responses that were also good. But the Chinese critics are wrong. There's something that then again resonates with the public sentiment that China is finally doing something right. And I think that then gets filtered through another factor, which is propaganda efforts. The Chinese Communist Party has been very active in telling the story that China is successful. It has been raising expectations of China having to be successful on the international stage. So this whole story now slots right in both in terms of what's called white propaganda. That's the sort of propaganda that is intentionally meant to inform people it's visible, doesn't hide that it's propaganda, but also black propaganda. So disinformation campaigns, astroturfing, the kind of efforts to unhinge debates elsewhere and manipulate. And both of those avenues have been very important in strategic communication for the Chinese authorities to establish that they got things right. And the underlying sentiment, I think that we need to keep in mind throughout all of this is nationalism, popular nationalism in China, which plays a major role in how pretty much any aspect of politics in China gets interpreted domestically. That doesn't necessarily translate into automatic support for the party and for the state, but it certainly translates into broad support for national, nationalist efforts, which is what we've now seen in China. So I think these are some of the things to keep in mind as drivers of public reaction. And sadly, I can't give you a number. I don't know what percentage of Chinese people are actually supportive of the crisis response, but we've frequently seen support numbers and surveys for the CCP or for particular kinds of policies, whether it's the social credit system or other things are often controversial elsewhere to be somewhere in the range of 70 to 80%. And there's a lot to unpack there in terms of when people lie and when they tell the truth and all that. But I think it's fair to say that probably the majority of people in China are overall quite positive. But you also you had a question about digital media, right, about how the digital technology fits in.

Joanne Kuai [00:05:53]

Exactly. Because you also have this book; China's Digital Nationalism. I'm just wondering, how has the digital media played a part in the construction of this digital nationalism and how do you define digital nationalism to begin with?

Florian Schneider

Yeah, well, let me say a few things about digital media and why it matters, especially in the Chinese context, but also in general. And then I can say a bit more about digital nationalism. In terms of digital media, what's intriguing about the technology is the way that it filters discussions, how it can be used to moderate sentiments and how it also ends up amplifying certain kinds of views and emotional reactions. And that has a lot to do with the technological setup. The technological setup always interacts with the regulatory framework and the societal elements on the ground, that's true anywhere. In China that means a regulatory framework that is very strongly focused on state power, on state sovereignty. And in that kind of environment, you see a development of technologies that are meant to guide public opinion that's kind of often used, quote, guide public opinion and guide people into discourses and into sentiments that the CCP approves of. And so that brings certain statements to the fore, especially nationalism, which is a go to default set up for the Chinese Communist Party to legitimate and justify itself. So nationalism is often, especially when it doesn't become aggressive or toxic, that kind of nationalism can be a default background for having discussions in China that is relatively safe for anyone to comment on. But at the same time, the mechanics of the digital technology also often assure that certain statements float to the top, that other people get drowned out, that alternative views get downplayed. And that doesn't necessarily just have to do with censorship. The CCP does intervene in these discussions to remove certain comments, but it also has a lot to do with platform design and with the way in which social media work in general. So these are phenomena we also see in Europe and America, where a sudden cyber activism can silence oppositions, drown them out. And in China it's quite common to see bullying behavior, cyberbullying, shaming of people who are not conforming to certain nationalist assumptions, doxing people by identifying who they are online to scare them. And that creates a spiral of silence in which a lot of people who might not actually have the view that the CCP did well, don't dare to speak out. Now, we've seen this in the wake of the Wuhan diaries and the kind of backlash that the author got there. And there's many examples like this where people are a bit worried of whether they should criticise or not. And so that is a built in phenomenon in the kind of social media platforms that all of us are using, but certainly in the Chinese context. So the question was about digital nationalism, how I define that. So I define digital nationalism as the nationalist expressions, the nationalist discourses, but also the nationalist practices that end up emerging as actors. All sorts of actors interact with each other through what we might call social technical systems. So by that I mean what happens when people and technologies interact systematically in some setup. And so in short, it really is what happens with nationalism when it gets filtered through digital technology. But I should expand a little bit more because there are a number of different phenomena and a huge range of terms, plethora of terminology that we might want to try and sort out because people talk about nationalism in online contexts and they use the word online nationalism, cyber nationalism, techno nationalism, digital nationalism. So what's the difference? Is this all this just the same? And frequently these words get swapped out and used synonymously. But I think it's worth distinguishing a couple of different phenomenon and observation. So one is online expression. What do people say online? What do they write? What are their statements? So that's the question of discourses of narratives, and that's what I would call online nationalism. So when someone goes on Weibo and makes a statement about how they hate a different country or how they are supportive of something nationalist happening in China, that is part of online nationalism. Then there's another phenomenon, which is what happens when people become activists, when they engage and mobilize, right? So cyber activism. When they organize groups, whether it is to spill into the streets and do something offline or simply to do more things online, to crowd out perceived opponents, for instance. And I would call that cyber nationalism. So we already have online nationalism as the expressions, cyber nationalisms is the activism and the activities. And then there's another important term, or maybe I should start again from the observation, another important phenomenon, and that's that the state itself is extremely nationalist. So the set up in China is that the Chinese Communist Party and its leaders believe in sovereignty as one of the major principles of politics. And they extend that idea to national spheres. And so state policy is designed to create and maintain digital systems for national use. And this is again, it's not just a Chinese phenomenon. We see this in other contexts as well. We see this in Europe, though maybe the word nationalism is not quite the right word to use at the European level. But any kind of policy that is designed to manage, obtain certain digital practices also enable them through infrastructure projects and so on, is what I would then call techno nationalism. So the Chinese state is already involved in that kind of techno nationalism, and that provides the foundation for these other two phenomena. So what's digital nationalism? Digital nationalism takes these three phenomenon, the online nationalism expressions, the cyber nationalism, so the activities and the techno nationalism, which is the state policies and asks how do they interplay and what kind of technological affordances do they generate? So really what my approach would bring to the table is something that's not at all new to media study scholars, which is the argument that the media matters, that the technology is not just neutral design guides usage, it's political in various ways. And so when we look at what gets expressed and what happens online, we need to take the technology into account. And the kind of social technical feedback loops and the effects that they create in that context. So that's the statement I'm essentially making when I say we should look at quote unquote digital nationalism.

Joanne Kuai [00:12:09]

And how has this digital nationalism manifested during COVID 19, as you've looked at?

Florian Schneider

Yeah I mean, in many ways much of what we've seen in the past is still very much present now. I wouldn't say that there's radical shifts in how nationalism works today in China compared to a few years ago. But there are a couple of things that are indeed different, or at least worth talking about in more detail, which is initially at least something like a pandemic doesn't have an antagonist in the way that, for example, international relations or traditional historical narratives might have. And this is actually one of the criticisms that I get, and I think rightly so, for the book Digital Nationalism, my cases are all about these moments where there is an antagonism. I'm focusing on Sino-Japanese relations. So you always have Japan as the “other”. There's other studies that look at nationalism vis-a-vis, for example, America, and anti-American sentiments or vis-a-vis the West. (Big quotation marks because that very difficult term to use in the first place). But in China, it's very common to talk about what the West is doing. And so there's always these antagonists. And so what happens when there isn't an antagonist? And so for the COVID pandemic, much of this, by the way, is work that my PhD students are doing, not I myself, so big shout out to them. And for now, also looking at examples where people are celebrating, for instance, the construction of these hospitals or what happens when there's a scandal like the Red Cross scandal, right? Where money was or the allegations that money might have been embezzled - large amounts of money during the early part of the pandemic. So how how do publics react and how does nationalism fit in? And in these cases, it's not an outside force that can be easily blamed. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to celebrate the domestic context in contrast to what's happening in Europe or elsewhere. And so how does nationalism work then? And I don't yet have particularly good answers to this because much of this research is still in progress. But I think some of the things that we are seeing is that aggression and group dynamics still matter a great deal, even when there's not necessarily a foreign adversary of some sort. But people get heated and emotional about these connections very quickly. They debate and discuss often aggressively and perform very aggressively their own identities of what it means to be a Chinese citizen and being a patriot. And then people get into each other's hairs about what's the difference between being a liberal patriot versus a conservative patriot or all these different forms of nationalism that you get in China, because it's not just one nationalism in China. There's many, many different groups. And so you get that, But the discussions still turn toxic quite quickly. And so you then frequently something I think is happening is you frequently see the idea of an antagonist drag back out because group dynamics in the way they work, any group needs an outgroup. Otherwise, it just doesn't work. And that's a social psychology for you. So whenever there is an opportunity to link the discussions about COVID to some other often outside force, there's plenty of people who will take that opportunity. And so you see the older patterns re-emerging that we've also seen in antagonisms was Japan or America. And particularly the anti-American sentiments are quite vibrant in the Chinese context, where also a lot of the conspiracy theories have circled around this idea that maybe COVID came from the US in the first place. Military experiments. You see this now with the war in Ukraine. A lot of the anti-American sentiments are feeding into those conspiracy theories and disinformation campaigns as well. It's all readily available for people to go to if they need to make a strong claims about the in-group versus some kind of outgroup. So I think, sadly, we're still seeing a lot of xenophobia, often quite racist comments in certain segments of Chinese online discussion. Of course, not everyone is making these statements, but it was quite telling how quickly the COVID discussion and also turned to claiming that it's mainly foreigners who are bringing the disease. And if you're a black person in China, especially during the early parts of the pandemic, that was particularly unpleasant because of the racist undertones that these discussions had. And again, not that different from what you see elsewhere. anti-Asian hate has been on the rise in Europe and America for very similar sort of tribal senses of how to deal with a crisis situation. And we see something similar in China. So, yeah, it's not just a Chinese problem, but it is generated by social psychological dynamics of groups that need these outgroups to function. And it is also fueled by general political discourses in 2022 and more broadly at this time in our lives wherenationness” is really kind of the default lens for which much of politics gets understood and this is true the world over. So the default group tends to be the imagined community of the nation, and that that's the level at which states should be active in order to make policy. And so we see all around the world this phenomenon what scholars call the re bordering. So we have all these borders already in place and now they're getting reinforced and we see a revival of the nation state and of nationalism in that context, in order to create policies that are supposed to address this crisis. And so in China, that resonates very much with the perception that nationness and Chineseness matter - a perception that has been driven home by the authorities for about 40 years through patriotic education campaigns, through propaganda practices, rituals and so on. But that also is immediately recognizable elsewhere in the world for something that quote unquote, everyone, seemingly everyone is doing anyways. And hence this emphasis and this popularity of the sovereignty concept in China.

Joanne Kuai [00:17:38]

Mm hmm. How do you see this kind of nationalism, nationalist sentiment, nationness is going China, especially amid the environment that we see, is being more digitalized with increasing affordance to mobile phones, the platformization that we are witnessing, where like in China, we also see this national effort like from the state regulators trying to rein in the power of these platforms. Would that bring any changes?

Florian Schneider

Yeah, that's a really good question because especially the additional regulations we've seen over the last couple of years, it's something that my colleague – again very much worth checking him out – Rogier Creemers has been working on extensively. But one of the cases he keeps making is that we shouldn't conflate these regulations simply with censorship and with control of content, that that is one dimension, but it's also an enabling and often industry driven and publicly demanded engagement with digital systems which are meant to expand digital technology, not just restrict them. So yeah, part of it is how do we manage public opinion and guide this public opinion, but also how can we assure that our national champions are economically successful and how can we expand digitilisation to the point well, so the state benefits from it through e-governance and various kinds of feedback mechanisms in politics to make politics more responsive and show up and increase legitimacy in China. So there's a whole lot of dimensions to these changes in terms of what this means for toxic discussions and nationalism. I mean, on the one hand, you see the government indeed cracking down on often problematic interactions. Cyber bullying is one of these issues. So a lot of the interventions in China also gets justified with the argument that discussions online should be, quote unquote, civilized. And then the political offshoot of that, keeping political discussion in line is kind of an externality to that or side effect to that. Right. Whereas there's much more going on in terms of preventing hoaxes and scams online, which aren't always explicitly political. One good example of how discussions have been reigned in is how celebrities have been censored or have been brought in line to behave in certain ways online. How fandom is being controlled more carefully. And a lot of that, actually it doesn't just have to do with online discussions possibly getting unhinged in some way. It also has to do with this perception that a lot of what is happening in these spheres of fandom practices is getting translated by online users into contexts that are then very political and that might at some point challenge the state on certain issues, or that might create the impression that China isn't stable or that certain progress in China isn't as good as the Communist Party likes to make it seem. So there's a constant worry that when people get online and get coordinated online, that the discussions might spiral out of control. The somewhat bizarre reaction to nationalism, is that on the one hand, the Communist Party is trying to contain the more aggressive versions of it, but it's still encouraging it quite actively when it benefits the CCP legitimacy. And I think that is a combination that cannot really be maintained because you cannot easily divorce the - so what the Communist Party describes as patriotism rather than nationalism. It describes it in the word of Àiguó zhǔyì, loving one's country, and pretends that this is completely different from ethnical attributions to groups like the Mínzú zhǔyì or nationalism. And I don't think that's a clear cut difference in the way the Communist Party wants to see it. And one easily slides into the next, as we also see now with these COVID examples, where even the more positive internal, quote unquote patriotism can flip very quickly. And so I think one of the big lessons to learn is that something like nationalism, digital nationalism, cannot be controlled. It can be guided a little bit, but it cannot actually be controlled. It can also not be predicted. And that has something to do with the complexity of networks, nationalism, discourses in general and these networks are emergent properties. And that means not just because people don't have all the data or the controlling mechanisms, but in principle they cannot be predicted and controlled because there's always going to be components that end up being more than the sum of the parts. And there's a couple of elements that create this phenomenon. One is, as I said, the State techno nationalism that is already creating the foundation for constantly defaulting as a safe territory to the ideas of nationalism, just to make any kind of discussion work in the Chinese context. But there's also the corporate sector, which we haven't talked about much yet, which is has a profit rationale. It is trying to generate clicks, generate traffic. And so much like in the context of Facebook or Twitter or other forum platforms, getting people outraged, getting them afraid, are getting worried is something that generates discussion and that makes money. And so that kind of combination between the state already setting the stage and these commercial actors then benefiting from often quite loud discussion, creates a context in which then consumers are living out their frustrations, often with a very consumerist stance that can be quite individualist. And we will probably come back to these questions when we talk about COVID responses in Asia and some of the perceptions that Europeans have of these responses. But it's a big mistake to assume that somehow China is a collectivist society as something that people sometimes say - that's way too simple. There's so much individualism happening in Chinese online spheres where people are performing their identities in ways that, yeah, often leads them to be quite aggressive. And so all of these things come together with the design choices that then encourage a motive into actions. And the outcome, I think, is simply more loud and more toxic online behaviour of which we're going to see more. And that's very worrying. And I'll give you two reasons why I think this is worrying. One is the legitimation mechanics in China themselves. Chinese leaders are very much concerned about public opinion, about what Chinese citizens think about them. And so there's a constant need to justify Chinese politics to the broader public. And that also means that leaders are monitoring social media. They're monitoring Weibo through big data practices and in collaboration with these platforms in order to find out what is it that citizens care about, what is it that they want? That is in principle a very, you know, very positive development because it brings citizens and governments closer together. But it also means that if the policy input are often toxic debates and debates that blindside leaders to what sentiments actually are, just because something gets expressed on social media isn't doesn't mean that that's what people actually think. And, you know, we just talked about all the people who get silence in these discussions and who don't have a voice. So that means that there's a very real likelihood that more aggressive attitudes will start shaping policy in China compared to maybe the more moderate voices that are not so visible and so audible. And then the other problem is that policymakers are also embedded in these environments, in also social media, they’re social media users. They have to worry about performing on all these different stages. How are they going to get perceived? Are they going to get attacked or doxed if they say the wrong thing? So there's already a moment of self-policing for any of these. Anyone who works in government in China has to be extremely worried about how they get perceived and whether the angry nationalists are going to turn against them and try to lynch them. And so you see people adjusting their behavior to conform with these kind of attitudes. And I personally think that that's one of the major driving forces between what's sometimes called, wolf warrior diplomacy. So the kind of people who are officials in China, but who are making very strong arguments about Chinese sovereignty and about Chinese successes and so on, and often attacking perceived oppositions because they're speaking not necessarily to foreign audiences, they're speaking to that domestic audience that there's so much to worry about. So that's one worrying component, right, this legitimation mechanic. And the other worrying component is a increasing, I think, decoupling not just of economic systems and diplomatic systems and so on, which is something we indeed see, but a decoupling of realities. We're seeing each of these environments, often domestic context and platform specific context, creating perceptions of what is real even though it has nothing to do with the actual reality. And I think a particularly worrying example and COVID is a really good example of this to begin with, but the War in Ukraine is a good example because of the way that Chinese media has been reproducing much of the disinformation from Russia. And there's a general sense of what is happening in Ukraine, in China, that is completely different from what Europeans would recognize as the reality in Ukraine, whether it is stories about bioweapons and chemical weapons. So if American labs that supposedly I don't know, the myth is that there's 24 bio and chemical weapons labs by the U.S. trying to work on further versions of COVID, no less, you can already see how this is then connected to exactly the kind of legitimation arguments that Chinese officials make, trying to see doubt about where COVID came from and that it was that it emerged in China. Why is that such a such an issue? But in a nationalist context, that becomes a very strong issue. And so trying to divert attention from that and suggest that maybe it was the Americans all along and look what's happening there now to unhinge the discussions about the Russian invasion in Ukraine and making it seem as if that's all America's fault. This is a created a completely separate reality that many people are not able to step out of because it coincides with a lot of assumptions and already readily held beliefs about China and the West. But it also it gets reinforced by official media and by the logic of digital technology and how it reproduces disinformation and misinformation. And so that is deeply worrying. And I'm not seeing the government in China doing anything to actually lessen the impact of that. But it seems like the CCP caters are largely leaning into those opportunities in order to shape a reality that benefits them. And I think as more and more actors around the world are doing exactly that, including in Europe. So we shouldn't just point out authoritarian states, but where platforms are creating their own realities, we're going to have very serious problems having civic and civil discussions among each other across borders.

Joanne Kuai [00:28:13]

Yeah, definitely a lot to digest over there. Yeah, I understand that you've also recently added a book on the public health in Asia, so coming back to the COVID pandemic, how did a book come into being and you mentioned some of the lessons that we can draw from how Asian countries are dealing with the crisis. Do you think that is a transferable knowledge that we can apply in different contexts, even in Europe?


Florian Schneider

Yeah, short answer is yes, definitely. The motivation for this book was in fact, at least partially the observations that many of us as Asian studies scholars have and many of our colleagues in Asia have been making, or some of the statements that they were making regarding policy measures in Asia that actually did work quite well in many contexts. And the way that we might want to learn from these, you know, these examples of these experiences and the almost complete learning resilience that Europeans and European institutions have exhibited in the wake of the crisis. I should, first of all, I should quick shout out to my two co-editors who’ve actually been doing much of the bulk of the work on this book, and that's Anoma P. van der Veere and Catherine Yuk-ping Lo. So do check out that work, interested in these kind of questions. They've also they have articles or chapters in the book. I only contributed a bit to the introduction, so I'm taking the backseat a little bit on this one. But one of the things that the book showed. So there's this, I think, two major takeaways. The first is, so we're talking about success stories in Asia, but of course, not everything is a success story. That would be too easy as well. There are plenty of things that have not gone particularly well and that we also need to keep an eye on and that we need to learn from. The book is explicitly also about labor issues and about issues of migration. So we’ve worked together with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in Tokyo and with the Leiden Asia Center, which is the center that I also run specifically with the idea of what we learn about migration and labor in this particular moment in crisis. And a lot of societies in East Asia have not necessarily been very good in the initial phases of the pandemic to protect vulnerable groups, to make sure that especially migrant laborers from other parts of Asia, we're able to stay safe, to still see their families, to continue working in environments that from one day to the next, almost switched very radically to online work and excluded, for example, domestic workers and made life for a lot of folks very, very difficult. And there's still a very strong need to change regulatory frameworks on migration issues, on what it means to be a resident, what it means to maybe become a naturalized citizen. And so a lot of countries don't necessarily have the discussion yet properly on what that might mean. And so in the crisis that's emerged as a very problematic point for vulnerable groups. So that's just in terms of a moment of criticism. So you don't have the impression of just singing the praises for everything that went great in Asia. But in terms of the crisis responses, those were frequently quite positive. So there were a number of very effective response strategies, not just in authoritarian context, because we talked about the PRC quite a bit. You could make similar arguments to it, to a lesser extent about Vietnam as well. But these are authoritarian states and they can, in fact, yeah, flip the switch and say, well, we're going to lock everything down now or we're going to build a hospital in a week. And so that is not something that is easily done in other societies. And so there's a lot of people say, you know, democratic politics don't work. That's the problem. If only we were authoritarians it would work much better. And I think that is a major mistake and something that we can learn from the East Asian contexts as well, is that there's many democratic societies that have also done exceedingly well. South Korea is a good example. Taiwan is a good example where democratic processes, democratic institutions have contributed to making these societies handle the crisis very well, comparatively speaking. So some of the things that we see in terms of what was effective, what worked well, often quite straightforward. I mean, obviously vaccination, right? But in the early phases there weren't any vaccines yet. So what do you do when something new breaks out and you don't have the ability to vaccinate yet? And that was testing, rigorous and extensive tracing social distancing measures and ubiquitous mask wearing. And it's just absolutely stunning how Europeans have not learned any of these lessons. I shouldn't exaggerate. And again, there are European societies have done fairly well. I keep thinking of the Greek context. The Greek government has done quite well. And there's also a substantial difference in how, for example, Germany handled some of these problems compared to how the Netherlands handle them. But overall, especially in northern Europe, there seems to be resilience to just putting up on a mask in public spaces or to say, well, we're going to test and we handle the data from the testing in a way that allows government reactions instead of worrying about, you know, what happens with that data afterwards. And of course, you have to keep privacy measures in place. But Asian societies have shown how you can do that, how you can test and make that data available for analysis without infringing on people's privacy rights. So why are we not learning from these examples? It's a bit bizarre. And so one of the issues I think that has gotten into the way of learning from these examples and I might as well extend that not just to Asia but also to African societies, is this assumption that when societies and other countries and other places do well, it's for cultural reasons. So the Koreans did well because they're Korean and, you know, people in Taiwan did well in general for these reasons that well, because they're all Confucianists. Right. And they're all collectivist. None of this is true. This makes no sense. Right. But one of the things that my colleague Anoma van der Veere pointed out in the introduction to this book, he has an example from a Dutch analyst who wrote a policy advice paper saying, What can we learn from the South Korean example? And their conclusion was, we cannot learn a great deal because South Koreans are different. And that is just a strange thing to say, and it feeds back into policy. This is actual policy advice for policy makers to say, you know, not to bother with South Korea. They are all just Asian. Oh, geez. I mean, just the underlying racism of that is deeply worrying. And it's not the reason why things went well. The reason things went well were good institutional designs, clear communication practices, and very effective public participation mechanisms that generated trust in society over many, many years, often in the wake of difficult experiences. And that's why I'm bringing up Africa with also a lot of experience with communicable diseases that people have found solutions to at least approaches to address them. And so, you know in Asia, that has been the case certainly with SARS in 2001 and with many other diseases that have followed. And so there are already strategies in place for dealing with these kinds of problems, which we should take very, very seriously. Instead of trying to figure out how individualist and collectivist societies are supposedly different, how that gets in the way of us learning from each other. So, yeah, I think that's that's the major takeaway from that book.

Joanne Kuai [00:35:31]

This has been fascinating. I know this has been given me a lot to think about and digest. But before I let you go, would you please tell us a little bit what have you been working on right now? What are some of the upcoming writing projects?

Florian Schneider [00:35:47]

Well, I'm trying to get more into questions of disinformation. I have been trying to do that for a couple of years. It gets more and more urgent that we look at disinformation campaigns also outside of the usually studied American context, because again, for years and years, for decades, really, societies in East Asia all have a long history with questions of what is truth and what is what is fact, what is not. And how do people invest themselves in certain narratives and stories and conspiracy theories are extremely important places to study. Also, because of the rapid extension of digital technology, which is often way ahead compared to what we see in European contexts in terms of just the everyday relevance of digital technologies. So I'm trying to launch more projects that deal with disinformation. We're going to be doing more on this at the Leiden Asia Center. At Leiden University, we're launching a minor for undergraduate students, which is literally a minor on disinformation, which is starting in September. So there's a whole lot of opportunities for me to to dig in and do some of my own research in that regard. So that's on the research side. The publication of working on at the moment is really textbook. So it's not actually about many of the things we talked about now, not not directly, but indirectly, because it's a textbook on how to study political communication using examples from East Asia. So it's all about all the different ranges of media, how to do a discourse analysis, how to do a visual analysis, what to do when these materials are digital, how do you study space? So just urban space as a political expression and something that people use and engage in. What are the political implications of that and what do you do in practice? So yeah, I'm working on that textbook and hopefully it's only a matter of years until it's done, but I'll make sure to keep you informed.

Joanne Kuai [00:37:35]

And we look forward to that. So Florian, thank you so much again for joining us here today. And to our listeners, you can connect with Florian on Twitter and the link can be found in show notes. And thank you for listening to the Nordic Asia podcast showcasing Nordic collaboration in studying Asia.

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