The same pandemic, different “PanMeMic”: COVID-19 in Chinese and American university websites

Speaker: Prof. Yiqiong ZHANG, Center for Linguistics and Applied Linguistics, Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, PRC.

When: Friday, 5th March 2021 12:00-1.30pm GMT

Where: Online – Register for the event at and you’ll be sent a link to attend the talk


In May 2020, semioticians across the world have joined together to launch the project of “PanMeMic” (Pandemic Meaning Making of Interaction and Communication), with an aim to shape a socially responsive and responsible culture of inquiry in observing, recording and reflecting on the changes to communication and interaction caused by the COVID-19 (Adami et al., 2020). In response to the pandemic, most universities across the world have launched a theme section on their websites. Analysis of the newly emerged pandemic sections of university websites shall enrich our understandings about the effects of the pandemic on how we organize and regulate our social lives (Adami et al., 2020) in institutional settings.

The pandemic sections from the websites of ten leading Chinese and American universities have been analyzed and compared with a social semiotic framework (Djonov & Knox, 2014). The pandemic websites from both countries, unsurprisingly, mainly fulfill the online supporting function of the offline pandemic control. But the supporting functions are realized through different multimodal representations, which are shaped by different cultural values and institutional practices. The Chinese universities focus on promoting collectivist values and obedience of cooperative citizenry for fighting against the pandemic (He, Shi, & Liu, 2020), while the American universities emphasize on advocating self-reliance and independence (Rothstein, 2020). Implications about the differences will be addressed concerning functions of the websites for university administration and pandemic control. 


Adami, E., Al Zidjaly, N., Canale, G., Djonov, E., Ghiasian, M. S., Gualberto, C., Karatza, S., Lim, FV, Pedrazzini, A., Pirini, J., Wildfeuer, J., Zhang, Y. (2020). PanMeMic Manifesto: Making meaning in the Covid-19 pandemic and the future of social interaction. Working Papers in Urban Language & Literacies.

Djonov, E., & Knox, J. (2014). How-to-analyze webpages. In S. Norris & C. Maier (Eds.), Interactions, images and texts: A reader in multimodality (pp. 171-194). Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

He, A. J., Shi, Y., & Liu, H. (2020). Crisis governance, Chinese style: distinctive features of China’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Policy design and practice, 3(3), 242-258. doi:10.1080/25741292.2020.1799911

Rothstein, M. A. (2020). The Coronavirus Pandemic: Public Health and American Values. The Journal of law, medicine & ethics, 48(2), 354-359. doi:10.1177/1073110520935350


Yiqiong ZHANG is Professor of Applied Linguistics at the Center for Linguistics & Applied Linguistics at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies (China). She obtained her PhD from the National University of Singapore in 2013, and was awarded with the Fulbright Visiting Research Scholarship in 2020. Her research focuses mainly on digital communication, with an interest in Multimodal Discourse Analysis, Cross-cultural Studies, Science Communication, and Multiliteracies. She publishes in Critical Discourse StudiesLinguistics and Education, Text & Talk, Semiotica, etc. She is on the Editorial Advisory Board of the newly launched journal “Multimodality & Society” by Sage Publications.

The Multimodality Talks Series is organised by the University of Leeds Multimodality@Leeds, The UCL Visual and Multimodal Research Forum, and Insulander/Svärdemo Åberg at the Department of Education, Stockholm University. It is conceived of working as a tandem with the Bremen-Groningen Online Workshops on Multimodality to make the best of the online format to offer multiple chances for sharing research and stimulating discussions on multimodality worldwide. See the full Multimodality Talk Series programme here: