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Arts & Culture

Racism as a Virus

Project Overview

Dr Victor Fan (Reader in Film and Media Philosophy) and Dr Wing-Fai Leung (Senior Lecturer in the Department of Culture, Media & Creative Industries) are responding to the 20% rise in anti-Asian hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic (Grierson 2020) to explore how figurations of the “Chinese virus” are reflecting longstanding institutionalised racism.

Initial Research

This project has several components. Initially, Paola Pofi, a CMCI PhD candidate, analysed UK media stories from the early months of the pandemic (January-May 2020) and conducted critical discourse analysis of the salient themes. This research suggests that epidemics can legitimise aggressive measures intended at renewing or recreating a sense of survival and safety within a threatened community.

Performances of The C-Word & Project Workshop

The research team also enlisted the support of writer and actor David K.S. Tse, who wrote a short play called The C-Word created in response to the pandemic in September 2020. This part of the project aimed to develop a creative response that would engage students. The play is about four undergraduate students who meet for lunch in Pat's flat, a British Born Chinese, during lockdown (but at a time when the mixing of households was allowed). Steve (a white British character) uses the ethnic slur ‘chinky’ and other cultural faux pas, and from this, there stems an argument, which threatens their relationships.

A mix of 25 students volunteered to recreate the play. The project team was initially unsure as to how the play would be received. As it turns out, the play was very provocative in terms of creating conversations between students. It enabled a lengthy discussion about the point of view of the perpetrator of racist language (the white British student), the situation, the ensuing emotions and embarrassment, and the anger of the British Chinese students. Students from a range of backgrounds related their own experiences to the four characters in the play, including Steve’s point of view. This was an essential part of the project and was supported by an interactive workshop, held on February 27, 2021, which highlighted the student’s engagement with the project and the wider conversation.


The project initially aimed to have two theatre-based performances, either in the format of plays or creative projects with accompanying workshops, however this was rethought after the first one. The students’ performances of The C-Word were a fantastic means of starting a conversation and fostering friendly dialogues to promote mutual understanding. However instead of repeating this element of the project, the project team decided instead that a website could be developed, so students and communities can be invited to contribute a range of creative responses, everything from creative writing pieces to podcast photographs and artworks, which tackle a particular theme, for example, the Asian body, or which respond to East Asian racism. This part of the project is currently under development.

Webpage Creation

This research project has since sparked other conversations with scholars across King’s and can now be carried forward into future projects. Kirsty Warner is creating a platform, using Mahara, that will enable the archiving of students' performance pieces and function as an interactive space for future creative work about anti-East Asian racism. In discussing the future of the project Dr Wing-Fai Leung states:

We envisage we will use this from September onwards to engage creative works (filmmaking, podcasts, creative writing, blogs, images that are about anti-racism) - these can come from students, community groups, artists, creators and staff. We have already spoken to a couple of East Asian performing arts companies this year about more activities open to the KCL community (performance, film screenings and talks), but unfortunately, it was not possible to organise another major event.

Victor and I are also considering how this collaborative platform can be turned into a research engaged teaching tool, e.g. through the new CMCI Level 5 core module Diversity Matters, or for the practical filmmaking modules in Film Studies. 


    Project status: Ongoing

    Principal Investigators