“If you get AIDS… You have to endure it alone”: Understanding the social constructions of HIV/AIDS in China
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Recent AIDS research has documented the widespread discrimination toward people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) in China. General ignorance and misconceptions about this disease have been identified as the two primary reasons for this prejudice. Yet, little attention has been paid to social constructions of HIV/AIDS in the Chinese context and to the processes by which such constructions are experienced, understood, reacted to, and, perhaps, reconstructed through social and interpersonal interactions. Based on a qualitative study of Chinese PLWHA's illness experiences, this paper explores how HIV/AIDS, as a social construct, is understood by these individuals in the context of their daily encounters. It is discovered that, despite their knowledge of HIV/AIDS, PLWHA's perceptions about and responses to this disease are greatly influenced by their experiences of interacting with others (e.g., their families, friends, and health workers). The conflicts between individuals' mastery of knowledge pertaining to, and their overreactions in practice toward, HIV-infected bodies suggest that AIDS education should not be limited to the dissemination of knowledge per se, but that the interpersonal or interactive dimensions of discrimination and efforts to combat it must also be taken into account.
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