Interpersonal Relationships and HIV/AIDS Stigma in China

Li Liu


This study explores the implications of interpersonal relationships to HIV/AIDS stigma in Chinese society. The data were collected by 67 open-ended individual interviews. The study shows that HIV/AIDS stigma goes beyond fears about the risk of infection. Two interrelated themes, the social categorisation and  bao, constitute the underlying principles in the structure of discourse.  On the one hand, people with HIV/AIDS are typically represented as a deviant outgroup. They are believed to be retributed by the Heaven. However, the differentiation between ingroup and outgroup is not just simply based on HIV/AIDS infection. Instead, the boundary between the two is penetrable and is mediated by blood ties. One the other hand, the double-entendre of bao is called  to  play with respect to ingroup and outgroup. When a close kinship istaken into account, the belief of divine retribution fades out, and the belief of worldly reciprocation foregrounds. People with HIV/AIDS in this case straddle the very fine line between outgroup and ingroup. They are considered to be outgroup in the sense that HIV/AIDS as a virus/disease (a third party) found in their body is contagious, and the physical boundary between “them” and “us” is therefore needed. Yet they are considered to be the part of ingroup, because either they are innocent, or they make use of the profit for righteousness. In both cases, they deserve to be reciprocally cared for by their family. The reciprocity hereby acts as an invisible binding force between the infected and the uninfected within a close kinship.


ingroup and outgroup; HIV/AIDS stigma; bao; Chinese society

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