COVID-19 and sonic governmentality: Can we hear the virus speak?

Qian Zhang, Yiu Fai Chow*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

    6 Citations (Scopus)


    A virus is not only invisible; it is also inaudible. Alongside attempts to visualize COVID-19, this article inserts a sonic perspective to listen to encounters between authorities and populations during the pandemic in China. The article examines how sound (mal)functions to mediate, interpellate, and distribute authority and power in the name of national health and safety. We will concentrate on the use of sirens and loudspeakers. First, at 10 a.m. on 4 April 2020, sirens were sounded throughout the nation to mark an official National Day of Mourning (全民哀悼日). Second, to reach places not readily accessible by more modern means of communication, rural leaders resorted to loudspeakers to announce virus-related messages to offline populations. Our curiosity about the sonic element was piqued. At the same time, we were reminded of ocularcentrism – the tendency or the bias to place the visual at the centre of inquiry. We argue for the need to engage with sonic practices and politics, and to foreground sound as a tool of governmentality. We want to document how certain instances of sonic governmentality played out in China during the pandemic. Finally, this inquiry should help us explore possible avenues for future research on sound and politics.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)325-345
    Number of pages21
    JournalChina Information
    Issue number3
    Early online date25 Apr 2021
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021

    Scopus Subject Areas

    • Arts and Humanities(all)
    • Social Sciences(all)
    • Economics, Econometrics and Finance(all)

    User-Defined Keywords

    • COVID-19
    • loudspeakers
    • National Day of Mourning
    • ocularcentrism
    • sirens
    • sonic governmentality


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