During the two weeks examined, China identified just one case of the H1N1 flu within the country’s vast borders, but the examination of one of the country’s major newspapers suggested a remarkable level of alarm nonetheless.
Coverage in the People’s Daily, which is published in Beijing, was substantial. The paper, owned by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and considered the outlet of record for government policy and politics, offered nine front-page stories—more than France and even Spain (which had 93 cases during the time studied.)
In addition, the coverage was largely framed around one area—official actions and statements by the Chinese government. A series of reports focused on what the government was doing to protect the country from the spread of the virus and urged citizens to be vigilant by outlining how they could contribute to minimizing the spread of the flu.
On April 29 and May 1, the People’s Daily reported that Chinese President Hu Jintao had sent Mexico a conciliatory message and was sending humanitarian aid to Mexico by way of masks, gloves, isolation coats and other necessary emergency materials. An article that appeared in the paper’s Saturday edition (not coded by PEJ) reported that the first batch of humanitarian aid had arrived in Mexico and that President Calderón himself came to the airport to accept the materials. It also added that the President thanked the Chinese government for its support.
What was noticeably absent from this paper’s coverage (except for a brief mention inside a different article) was action the government took soon after the outbreak became public—quarantining Mexican and other North American citizens and banning American pork products.
It was these controversial actions—not the humanitarian aid—that circulated in press coverage of other countries.
A May 5 New York Times article, for example, reported, “On Saturday, Chinese authorities began confining dozens of seemingly healthy Mexicans to hotels and hospitals, even escorting some from their hotels in the middle of the night for testing, Mexican consular officials said Monday.”