China's AIDS underclass (Aimin) : preserving power and inequality through media portrayals of HIV/AIDS

Publication Type:
Thesis
Issue Date:
2011
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The ways in which HIV has been narrated in urban Chinese media has produced knowledge of a new kind of person known for their heightened susceptibility to HIV infection and transmission. I call these people the Aimin (艾民),a term made up of the first of the Chinese characters for "AIDS" (ai 艾 from aizibing 艾滋病) and the character for "people" (min 民). The Aimin form part of a long tradition of othering and underclasses in China, but are unusual in that understandings of them are created through urban ascriptions of their identities and histories within China's media. The production of the Aimin is a contemporary example of how different sectors of Chinese society collude to preserve existing power structures through the creation of social "underclasses." Aimin histories, however, are rarely mentioned in light of the political economy and discourses of value which pushed them to participate in an activity---blood-selling---which is highly taboo. Instead, they are often portrayed as residing in non-urban, out-of the-way places that are difficult to travel to. The environments they inhabit are shown to be in decay and impacted severely by widespread incidence of blood-selling, poverty, marginality, and death from AIDS. The Aimin have distinct negative physical, intellectual, and moral qualities, which over time became portrayed as threats to the security, health, and prosperity of the Chinese nation. As a consequence of these dominant portrayals, China's HIV positive are widely feared and suffer high levels of discrimination and stigma. Furthermore, media consumers know little about the causes of the HIV epidemic in China's central plains, nor about what is happening with regards to the actual spread of HIV within China. As a consequence of depoliticizing the Aimin's histories---which would have provided an alternative, far more critical perspective on China's supposedly successful modernization policies---top-level CCP leaders and scientists who were aware of the problem of AIDS in China's central plains but failed to react remain unaccountable. The absence of discussion of the policies and ideologies which encouraged China's left-behind agriculturalist peasants to sell blood preserves existing power hierarchies, cultures, and ideologies of inequality in contemporary China.
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