The Attitude of the Guardian Report for China During the Coronavirus Pandemic 2020

By Jian Feng, Qian Zhang

This report aim at analysing attitude of Western countries media to China during the pandemic 2020. There are . start with more background information which talk more about motivation of this research,  there is an analyse for sample selected by coders, before an in-depth definition for subjects as well as frame concluded by researchers, so that readers can see the main topics of media. In order to help readers understand more about the focus of news reports, keyword analyse mentions about some trends  and assumption for future international relations. 

 A few months ago, it was hard to imagine what the world would look like. After WHO declared COVID-19 as a pandemic in early March, followed with dramatic growing numbers of death globally, people started to realise we are facing the challenge even more serious than SARS decade ago and Spanish flu in 1917, rather than “daily flu” according to President Trump. Up till today (12th May) the worldwide death numbers have climbed up to about 300, 000, while the overall cases breakthrough 4000,000. It is necessary to analyse China in this pandemic, as we can see Wuhan city was the first serious outbreak place of the virus, and there is a heated debate worldwide about the action of the Chinese government. For example, whether the Chinese government hid the information during the early stage of the outbreak, due to Macron ‘they are not part of the global social media and we could not know what happened. Also, UK is a good representative to explore the Western countries opinions on China, which can help us understand current international relations, for example, will the UK work closer with China or America after Brexit and Pandemic? Especially nowadays China becomes more powerful and challenge the traditional social structure, which is considered to be a ‘threat’ by some of the Western countries.  In this report, we want to explore the attitude of the news website, since the news report usually represents the idea of the government. We also want to figure out whether the report attitude change when China has fewer cases and the effective solution, regardless of the criticism of the hiding numbers by the Chinese authority.  

Why we choose The Guardian?

There are three reasons why we choose The Guardian newspaper as our research source. Firstly, similar to other news websites such as the BBC, which has a high reputation as well as popularity worldwide. However, The Guardian is more independent since it is not supported by state funding with a large number of readers. According to an Ipsos MORI research poll in September 2018 designed to interrogate the public’s trust of specific titles online, The Guardian scored highest for digital-content news, with 84% of readers agreeing that they “trust what [they] see in it”. Secondly, unlike another news website, the Guardian has more reports focus on Coronavirus in China, which includes the in-depth report such as race issue for the Black people, human rights crisis as a result of lockdown, and objectively analysis for the conflict between China and America during the pandemic, with a range of sources to help us see the real environment in a more diverse way. After Brexit, people are interested in the political standpoint of the UK, while we can see the sign throughout the reports of The Guardian. What’s more, during our analysis we found out that the Guardian takes the lead to focus on the Chinese people living in Wuhan. For example, they set up a link during January and encourage people to talk about their feeling about lockdown in Wuhan,searching for one-hand experience and stories in China and wuhan.

Sample selection and analyses

Based on quantitive and qualitative research, we got 59 samples, but after re-reading and screening.  We decide to take 7 of them out because we want to get rid of audio news(1), video news(1), and news content that are not related to our news topic(5)there are only 52 samples left, during the reports from 21st January and 3rd May, includes photo news, news comment, audience interaction, and brief news.  Our keywords are: Wuhan, Coronavirus, China, race, lockdown. This includes news report, feature, data analyse. In order to make sure the accuracy, we have two coders who decided the keywords, went through the reports and discussed the definition of frames and topics, ensuring that the text related to our topic. we coded and concluded 13 subjects, while some of them belong to Cross subject. Thirdly, we classified the different subject categories into 9 frames, with 4 based on the “universal framework” and 5 by our summary.

We can see from the chart that during the first month of coronavirus outbreak in China, there are no massive related reports, in spite of a few analyse to the situation during the middle of February. The turning point come when Prime minister Boris Johnson announce the community immunity strategy, with increasing numbers of reports related to it, while most of them are analyse from the scholar, criticising the policy and comparing different solution of different countries.

During the next section of our report, we dig into more related reports, with analyse and definition for the elements of news articles of The Gryphon such as structure and frame. We also produce a few visualize charts, in order to explain the relations between different elements that can make it easier for our readers to understand.  

Reporting Subjects

The definition of subjects:

Anti-epidemic Measures: We can tell from the picture that topic mainly focused on the early outbreak in January and February, while “Anti-epidemic Measures” topic, which rank first, accounted for 23.1% (12)of the total. The measures taken at home and abroad to control the epidemic during the epidemic, including but not limited to, lockdown, quarantine, staff adjustment within the Wuhan government, traffic control, etc. It can be speculated that The Guardian is concerned about China’s epidemic prevention measures. 

Coronavirus SituationCoronavirus Situation is the second biggest subjects with 17.3% proportion and also accounts for 1 in cross-subject——policy stance & coronavirus situation with only 1.9%. The domestic virus situation and the lockdown change, including the anti-virus measures taken by Taiwan and Hong Kong during coronavirus which exposed their hidden contradictions with mainland China. And the coronavirus influence on other countries and measures taken by them. The discussion on the “Coronavirus Situation” lasted from February to April and was particularly concentrated in March. The guardian also paid attention to the development of the International situation, when western countries have increased numbers of cases and take the lead around the world.

China-US conflicts: It accounts for 9.6%(5) of the total. The conflict between China and the United States escalated in March and April, when the United States spread rumours such as the Wuhan laboratory and expelled Chinese journalists based in the United States. These actions aggravated the tension between China and the United States and further escalated the tension between China and the United States. The US government argued, “The cables have fueled discussions inside the US government about whether this or another Wuhan lab was the source of the virus – even though conclusive proof has yet to emerge.”

Origin of the virus: It accounts for only 1.9%, 1 report but there are also 2 another in Cross subjects——Origin of Virus & China-US conflict. It talks about the hypothesis and speculation of China and other countries about the origin of the virus highlighting the conflicts and contradictions between China and the United States on this issue. Most of the reports related to this topic happened in March. Prediction and opinions about the origin of the virus come from the US as well as other countries, Some reports mainly talks about the tense relationship between China and the US. Whereas, others are listing the opinions from other countries.

Policy stance: It accounts for 5.8%(3) of the total. It talks about the question of whether the Chinese government initially covered up the epidemic and resulted in massive numbers of death, the opinions and discussions of various countries, as well as their positions. Most of the related comments were made in April during a period of tension between China and the United States. For instance, there is talk of a surge in the number of people infected in China after the country changed its epidemic detection strategy. “Instead, ours is a divided, leaderless world and we are all suffering from the tendency to go it alone: an initial cover-up in Wuhan; China’s delayed reporting to the international community; the World Health Organization (WHO) meekly agreeing …’’

Environment Change: Environment Change accounts for 1.9% (1). It describes reduced human activity and the improved atmospheric environment in the country in the meteorological picture, reduced emissions of nitrogen dioxide, and carbon dioxide. Although the topic “Environment Change” is a rare one, it deserves attention because people travel less and environmental pollution has improved around the world. We can reflect on how the relationship between humans and nature can be better balanced. Here is a picture showing the climate change before and after the lockdown in Guardian report.

The climate change before and after the virus


Human Rights: Human Rights is the topic keeps a heated discussion for a long time, and the account for it is 7.7% (4). It talks about the measures taken by the Chinese and foreign governments during the coronavirus led to discussions on the rights of freedom of speech, privacy, and personal freedom. The Guardian reported that “Human Rights” were distributed in January, February, and April, with a focus on January, which was the early stage of the outbreak in China. There was a lot of debates about the government’s policy and discussed the human rights violations involved in the lockdown such as mobile green health code. The following report has described the death and sacrifice of Chinese doctor Li Wenliang. In this report, The spirit of democracy and freedom was emphasized and advocated. 

Public Reaction: It accounts for 13.5% of the total, with the number of 7. It describes thepublic discussion and reflection on government measures and living conditions during the coronavirus. This subject was focused in March on the guardian’s interviews and reports on Chinese people living in Wuhan and westerners who have emigrated to China.

There are three more relatively smaller subjects which are Misinformation, Data Report Analysis and Misinformation accounts and Racism, accounting for 5.8% (3) , 3.8%  and 3.8% (with the same number of 2) of the total . In the course of the coronavirus, there were speculations on the origin of the epidemic in other media or on the Internet, as well as the correction of comments such as “the epidemic has little impact on young children”. There are more “misinformation” topic news stories in January that refuting rumors, such as the outbreak may have originated from China. The reports of Data Analysis and Misinformation are in the form of data tables, the changes and trends of the global epidemic situation are reported objectively.Racism accounts for  of the total, with 2 reports. It’s about reporting and analyzing cases of racial discrimination, either verbal or physical, suffered by Asians in other countries.

Reporting Frames

 Frame Frequency
Frame and Subject

We gave the definition of frame based on the general theory “Universal Framework”[1] raised by Semetko and Valkenburg. We have used four of them: “Human Interest” “Conflict” “Responsibility” “Morality”. 

Human Interest: It accounts for around 23.1% of the total framework and rank the second. The subjects it covers include Public Reaction, Coronavirus Situation and Human Rights & Racism. The Public Reaction refers to the coverage of the lives and experiences of individuals during the coronavirus lockdown, in the form of personal interviews with journalists and residents in different countries, etc. Coronavirus Situation is related to the situation of viruses in different countries, but it also deeply reflects the lives of people by describing them. Racism could be regarded as one of the issues of Human Rights if we can find out that it actually puts emphasis on the minority of people’s rights. The Human Interest Frame was highly clustered in mid-March when the ‘Herd Community’ came out and aroused a heated discussion between the government and professors. At this period, with the virus outbreak in Europe, western countries started to seek help and advice from China. The main focus transferred to the stories from the public who told stories about their online lifestyle and their attitude towards their government.  “All the hundreds of small lock-up shops selling everything from bottled water and fruit to computer parts and floor mops, all have their shutters closed. It feels like being in a science fiction film – some alien force has spirited away nearly everyone and only I remain …” “We were under self-quarantine at the end of January but by February it had become mandatory and we were restricted to one person per household being allowed out every four days,’ said the 47-year-old.”

In these reports, we can see the description of people in The Guardian’s reports tend to against the lockdown policy.

Responsibility: The proportion of Responsibility ranks first which accounts for 42.3% of the total. This frame discusses whether governments should take more actions during the coronavirus, prioritizing economic development or epidemic prevention. It involves public reflection, epidemic prevention measures, Misinformation.  There are relatively more subjects included in this frame: Anti-Epidemic Measures, Coronavirus Situation, Human Rights, Origin of Virus & China-US Conflict, Misinformation and Origin of Virus. Anti-Epidemic Measures discusses  In the early stage of the outbreak, the topic of epidemic prevention measures mainly discussed whether China, as a socialist country, has put in place the protection of human rights, as well as the measures and attitudes in the “one country, two systems” region to deal with the epidemic. In the late stage of the epidemic (since march), with the outbreak in Western countries and the initial success of China’s epidemic prevention measures, western media to focus on China’s epidemic prevention measures. Thus it can be seen that the sharp discourse attitude of western media towards China is gradually weakened with the development of the epidemic situation. 

“Complacency, incompetence and cover-ups are hardly unknown in democracies. But an authoritarian political culture which punishes rather than rewards transparency prevents accountability and struggles to change course.”. 

The subject of Coronavirus Situation mainly talked about the process of spreading the epidemic at home and abroad, there have been more fluctuations and changes, which have highlighted many new problems and hidden dangers. In response, the Chinese and foreign leaders have taken corresponding measures, such as restricting overseas flights and preventing a new outbreak caused by too many imported cases. Human Rights also takes a part in this frame as the discussion and speculation of  the origin of viruses among countries. The Chinese government has restricted the publication and conduct of papers and academic research reports on the origin of the epidemic and other sensitive words, so  China’s human rights and right to information have been questioned by representatives from many countries. It reflects the measures taken by the Chinese government in the debate on the origin of the virus and discusses the issue of government responsibility.

Global Influence: Global Influence takes only 9.6% of the total. It mainly talks about the influence of coronavirus on other continents except China including the measures they took and the economic change. And the subjects it includes are two, one is Coronavirus Situation, the other is Data Report Analysis & Environment Change. The influence of coronavirus on other continents except China including the measures they took and the economic change. In the subject of Data Report Analysis & Environment Change, by showing the charts and pictures about the global virus situation and environmental change, we can clearly know the global influence of the virus. There are no obvious stances or issues including but mainly the global condition of the virus.

Conflict frame: Conflict Frame accounts for 17.3% of the total, with the number of the report is 9/52. It emphasizes that one side blames the other in domestic and international relations during the coronavirus, involving China-US conflicts, Policy Stance and Coronavirus Situation. In the subject of Policy Stance, the condemnation of the number of COVID-19 cases in China and the response of the Chinese government reflect the different attitudes towards the same issue under different backgrounds and policy positions, as well as the collision and conflict between them. But there is also the Human framework element involved. Conflict Framework also has a coronavirus situation subject which mainly talked about the issue of Taiwan. It described the measures Taiwan has taken during the virus and also clarified the diplomatic isolation from mainland China, but basically about the virus situation in Taiwan. The conflict frame is clustered in three periods, February, March, and April. The reason why there are many conflicts in April is that the increasingly tense relationship between China and the US. There are many rumours going spread and the US criticizes China for brewing a plot and the laboratory in Wuhan. China also fought back to that misinformation. The Guardian also appealed to the public and newspapers to check before speaking out. As a result, there is less responsiveness than before. Let’s look at this report “Let’s not be so naive as to say it [China] has been much better at handling this,” The French president, Emmanuel Macron said in an interview with the Financial Times. “We don’t know. There are clearly things that have happened that we don’t know about.” and another one here “Senior figures in the Trump administration have put pressure on US intelligence agencies to provide evidence supporting claims that the coronavirus outbreak originated in state-run laboratories in China, a report

There are other two frameworks are Truth Report and Cross Frame accounting for the same 3.8% of the total. Truth Report means that the reports are based on the data or simply describe the truth without any comments or emotional preference. It includes two subjects which are Data Report Analysis which only show the data and pictures and Misinformation which is the clarification of some misinformation messages. The Cross Framework includes Conflict & Global Influence which is related to the subject of Policy Stance & Coronavirus Situation and Truth Report & Responsibility which is about Misinformation.

All in all, the conflict frame is still in the dominant position, and we need to clearly recognize that there is still some criticism underlying. 

Keyword Analysis

There are a numbers of reports analysing  human rights issue in China. We can see  the word ‘privacy’ been used 53 times since Chinese government required citizens use a code to identify health status and chase new cases. Additionally, AI technology such as face identification has been critised for ignoring the privacy data protection of individual.  

 Lots of places has been mentioned as well, including ‘China’(464), ‘America’(410), Asia (275), Country (169), Europe (97). There is a heated debate between  ‘China’ and ‘America’ has been mentioned. Not only because China is broadly regarded as the origin place of Covid-19, political conflict between China and America also covers a large parts of overall report topic. On the other hand, it is interesting to see the comparison about the anti-virus strategy by ‘Europe’ and ‘Asia’. While most of the Asian countries, most of which experience SARS in 2003, reacted quickly and came up with travel ban as well as quarantine policy, European countries such as Italy and UK miss the key stage without strict policy to prevent wide spread of virus. Worse Still, EU countries did not focusing on supporting each other, which  brings a negative impact for future unit.

 However, there are lots of issue and social system been  highlighted during pandemic, and this encourage governments to learn from lessons and build up a better country  in the future.  For example, ‘job’ (88), ‘market’(72),’mask’(72), ‘medics’  (68) shows weakness especially in Europe, with a growing unemployment rate, damage for economy since they heavily rely on EU market, and rely on China to produce masks as most of them do not have enough factory.  This may bring more changes for their future international relations strategy.

‘Meida’(69), ‘observer’(66), ‘twitter’(44) shows that a changing from traditional professional news report to a modern online based platform, everyone can share news online quickly and normal people who are observer can be easier to be part of news report. We can see the status of journalism become   ‘easy-going’ rather than dominant by elite.  


  As a result of the source of information plays an important role in frame construction, it is an important variable that affects the frame effect. We decided the sources based on our analyse and discussion for the article and come out with six different sources. Ordinary people and experts takes a large part of sources. There are many reports based on the interview to residences and journalists who live in lock down cities such as Wuhan and Italy. Meanwhile, social media plays a key role to spread the public opinions, especially when the whistleblower, Doctor Li passed away, there was a huge public argument challenge the government authority about the actual time he passed away. Fake news also spread around quickly boosted by social media, we can see a trend of postmodernism journalism, that people are more likely to rely on the comments from specialists. This also a sign of post journalism.

1.Ordinary people: The author quotes / interviews daily people related to news topics in the report, including but not limited to passers-by and parties. Teachers and parties.

2. Media Insititution: The author quotes comments or reports from other newspapers (such as the Daily Mail, China News Network) and social media (such as Sina Weibo, Twitter) in the report.

3. Government agencies: Citing comments from national spokespersons, presidents, prime ministers, state presidents, representatives of political institutions (such as defense agencies, health agencies, etc.), and the military. It also includes large international organizations such as WHO and EU.

4. Experts and scholars: university professors, statistics bureaus, historians, etc.

5. Fuzzy information source: the author did not give a detailed name of the person or social organization, data report.

6. There are reports without sources, which means it is based on author own opinion and knowledge without referencing from others.

Positive and Negative

News articles are supposed to be neutral. Therefore, it is necessary to classify articles to ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ to see their perspective. As a consequence, we can figure out the attitude of public to China and explore whether there it is changing by time. The meaning of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’, according to our discussion, are not simply focus on people opinions for China authority. However, we care more about whether the articles contribute a positive or negative impact for Chinese status worldwide.  ‘Positive’ refers to reports that agree or praise Chinese government action during pandemic, including lock down policy, medical support to other countries. When it comes to ‘negative’, there are more opposed criticise such as human rights, origin place of virus, as well as a series of political conflict with WHO and America.

Overall, there are more negative reports (86)than positive(24). Expert and scholar have more neutral report. Media institution includes other news websites, plays the role to criticise the social issue, explain why more neutral and negative news than positive. More and more people start to use social media to talk about their opinion or share their daily life during quarantine. Compared with traditional media, digital platform transfers the news quicker and attract more discussion. Nevertheless, we can’t deny the fact that traditional news websites provide more in-depth and accurate report to help the public get closer to the truth, it is necessary for them to improve their way to tell the news story creatively. They can work close with each other rather than a competitor.

At the same time, we can see more common people have negative thoughts, which can be explained that quarantine and lock down drive people mad. Even if there are some reports in April, when some of the countries, such as China, ease the lock down policy, (we can see people still concern about the second wave might happen).

In 52 reports, we found that in the early days of the outbreak in January and February, China’s epidemic prevention measures were questioned and discussed by western countries. Although some reports stated that China’s epidemic prevention measures had a positive impact, most reports still questioned China’s policies and human rights issues. In March, the outbreak in western countries, especially after the introduction of herd immunity policies, sparked a heated debate among society, experts and governments. At this time, the guardian, in favour of experts and scholars, reported that China’s epidemic prevention measures still have a great positive side, which may due to that China’s epidemic prevention measures have achieved remarkable results at this time. The number of infected people gradually declined or even approached 0. At this time, the neutral and positive coverage of China in the guardian reached its peak in January, February, March, and April. It was not until April that US launched a mid-air clash with the Chinese government over accusations of a Chinese laboratory in Wuhan and over the number of Chinese coverups who had lied. The Guardian, meanwhile, is using the American tailwind to revive the issue of human rights policy. In the report, the neutral and positive attitude towards China has been weakened.

In this outbreak, we should not only start from the standpoint of one nation but also examine the problems exposed in the epidemic from the perspective of the world. The guardian’s coverage of China’s image has been influenced not only by changes in the situation of the epidemic but also by changes in government policies and the pattern of international relations. We couldn’t see a clear trend that the attitude changed from negative to positive. However, we can see the gap is closing while there were more positive and neutral reports coming out. It also reminds China to pay more attention to the communication of international image and the innovation of the reporting patterns, sharing more latest information to get rid of the misunderstanding with others.

At the same time, although environmental issues account for a small proportion of reports, we should also recognize that human activities have a significant impact on the environment. How to realize the harmonious balance between human and ecological environment is still to be discussed.

As the report concluded: “ Nevertheless, this pandemic has given us the time to look at ourselves and decide what is important. It allows us to reflect upon what kind of civilisation we have made and what we have done to nature. We cannot live well in isolation – the world is connected as never before. Our priority should be to live by helping others and to fight together against the crises we face, whether this pandemic or climate change.”


[1] Semetko, Holli & Valkenburg, Patti. (2000). Framing European Politics: A Content Analysis of Press and Television News. Journal of Communication. 50. 93 – 109. 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2000.tb02843.x.

[2]Li Xinfeng,Li Yujie. (2018). The Conflict Frame and Becoming Neutral: An Analysis Based on 2012-2016 BBC WebsiteReportof China-Africa Relations

[3] Zheng Wen, Yue Yin, Xing Yue (2019). The Media Image and Cultural Imagination of “a Post-Colony”: The Coverage of Macao in the Portuguese Media

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