To Trust or not to trust? Face masks in China-Europe relations: A comparison of Sino-French and Sino-British relations

Émilie Tran

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference paperpeer-review


At the crossroads of sociology and international relations, this interdisciplinary paper explores how the Covid-19 outbreaks have impacted on China-Europe relations. Unfolding the critical moments of the COVID-19 outbreaks, this paper characterizes the evolution of China-Europe relations with regards to the facemask. That simple object of self- protection against the coronavirus has strikingly become the bone of contention between peoples and states. In the face of this situation, we argue that the facemask is the prism to illustrate (1) the transnational links between China and its overseas population, (2) changing social perceptions of China and Chinese-looking people in European societies, and (3) the advent of China’s mask diplomacy and its reception in Europe. Comparing the shifting political discourses and social perceptions of China and the Chinese in two European settings — France and the UK —, the common denominator appears to be the reduced trust, if not outright distrust, between individuals and communities in the French and British contexts, and in Sino-French and Sino-British relations at the transnational level. Using (dis)trust as our analytical framework, the paper examines the social perceptions of China and Asian-looking people in France and the UK in the first two months of the outbreak in China. As the epidemic unfolds throughout Europe, the facemask becomes a politicized object, both at the national policy and diplomatic levels. Adopting a qualitative approach, our dataset comprises: official speeches and statements; press releases; traditional and social media contents (especially through hashtags such as #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus, #IAmNotAVirus, #CoronaRacism. etc.); and interviews with governmental officials, Chinese, French and British community members.


WorkshopOnline Workshop “Racialisation and Social Boundary Making in Times of COVID-19”
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