Welcome to Francis Academic Press

Academic Journal of Humanities & Social Sciences, 2021, 4(9); doi: 10.25236/AJHSS.2021.040916.

How We Conceptualize Epidemic--Visual Metaphors of COVID-19 in Editorial Cartoons


Xiaowen Xiao1, Yifei Li2

Corresponding Author:
Yifei Li

1Faculty of Foreign Studies, Beijing Language and Culture University, Beijing, China

2School of Foreign Studies, University of Science and Technology Beijing, Beijing, China


Since 2020, the whole world has been busy in fighting against a new invisible enemy: COVID-19. As a public health emergency of international concern, COVID-19 has become the focus of media attention at home and abroad. War-related terminology is commonly used in news to frame the discourse around epidemics and diseases. The current study presents an analysis of the visual metaphor of COVID-19 in 24 editorial cartoons from China Daily. The conceptual and framing of the metaphors are conducted. The study finds that the metaphors in editorial cartoons evoke a general understanding of COVID-19 problem by activating the war scenario and this particular way of framing help to establish people’s confidence and make them work together. The study further affirms that visual metaphors are better in conveying rich and implicit conceptual and affective meaning, and can be direct manifestation of the conceptual metaphor without the mediation of language.


Visual metaphor, War scenario, Framing theory, Editorial cartoons

Cite This Paper

Xiaowen Xiao, Yifei Li. How We Conceptualize Epidemic--Visual Metaphors of COVID-19 in Editorial Cartoons. Academic Journal of Humanities & Social Sciences (2021) Vol. 4, Issue 9: 101-111. https://doi.org/10.25236/AJHSS.2021.040916.


[1] Baker, M. G., & Fidler, D. P. (2006). Global public health surveillance under new international health regulations. Emerging infectious diseases, 12(7), 1058-1071.

[2] Bashford, A (ed.) (2014). Medicine at the Border: Disease, Globalisation and Security, 1850 to the Present. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

[3] Bennett, P. & K. Calman. (2010). Risk Communication and Public Health. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[4] Bounegru, L. & Forceville, C. (2011). Metaphors in editorial cartoons representing the global financial crisis. Visual Communication, 10 (2), 209–229.

[5] Chong, D., & Druckman, J. N. (2007). Framing theory. Annual Review of Political Science, 10, 103-126.

[6] Drass, K. A., Gregware, P. R., & Musheno, M. (1997). Social, cultural, and temporal dynamics of the AIDS case congregation: early years of the epidemic. Law and Society Review, 31(2), 267–299.

[7] Forcevillie, C. (2002). The identification of target and source in pictorial metaphors. Journal of Pragmatics, 34 (1), 1–14.

[8] Forcevillie, C. (2006). Non-verbal and multimodal metaphor in a cognitivist framework: Agendas for research. In G.K.M. Achard, R. Dirven & F.J.R. de Mendoza Ibáñez (Eds.), Cognitive linguistics: Current applications and future perspectives (pp. 379–402). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

[9] Forceville, C. (2008). Metaphors in pictures and multimodal representations. In R.W. Jr. Gibbs (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of metaphor and thought (pp. 462–482). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[10] Garoon, J. P., & Duggan, P. S. (2008). Discourses of disease, discourses of disadvantage: a critical analysis of National Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Plans. Social Science & Medicine, 67(7), 1133-1142.

[11] Group, P. (2007). MIP: A method for identifying metaphorically used words in discourse. Metaphor and Symbol, 22(1), 1-39.

[12] Hall, S. (1997). The spectacle of the “other”. In S. Hall (Ed.), Representation: Cultural representations and signifying practice (pp. 223–279). London: Sage.

[13] Hagopian, A. (2017). Why isn’t war properly framed and funded as a public health problem?. Medicine, conflict and Survival, 33(2), 92-100.

[14] Hartmann-Mahmud, L. (2002). War as metaphor. Peace Review, 14(4), 427-432.

[15] Hodgkin, P. (1985). Medicine is war: and other medical metaphors. British medical journal (Clinical research ed.), 291(6511), 1820.

[16] Kress, G., & Leeuwen, T.V. (1996). Reading images: The grammar of visual design. London: Routledge.

[17] Kövecses, Z. (2002). Metaphor: A practical introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[18] Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

[19] Lakoff, G., & Mark, T. (1989). More than cool reason: A field guide to poetic metaphor. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 

[20] Lan, C., & Zuo, D. (2015). Pictorial-verbal metaphors in Chinese editorial cartoons on food safety. Metaphor and the Social World, 1, 20–51.

[21] Lin, T.Y., & Chiang, W. (2015). Multimodal fusion in analyzing political cartoons: Debates on U.S. beef imports into Taiwan. Metaphor and Symbol, 30, 137–161.

[22] Miao, X.W. & Li, K. (2020), Discursive Construction of Community Identity in Combating the Outbreak of COVID-19, Journal of Tianjin Foreign Studies University, 27(2), 88-99+160.

[23] Platt, T., Platt, J., Thiel, D. B., & Kardia, S. L. (2016). Facebook advertising across an engagement spectrum: a case example for public health communication. JMIR Public Health and Surveillance, 2(1), 27-38. 

[24] Rollins, J. (2002). AIDS, law, and the rhetoric of sexuality. Law and Society Review, 36(1), 161–192.

[25] Salas, X. R., Forhan, M., Caulfield, T., Sharma, A. M., & Raine, K. (2017). A critical analysis of obesity prevention policies and strategies. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 108(5-6), e598-e608.

[26] Schilperoord, J., & Maes, A. (2009). Visual metaphoric conceptualization in editorial cartoons. In C. Forceville & E. Urios-Aparisi (Eds.), Multimodal metaphor (pp. 213–240). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

[27] Semino, E. (2008). Metaphor in discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[28] Semino, E., Demjén, Z., Demmen, J., Koller, V., Payne, S., Hardie, A., & Rayson, P. (2017). The online use of Violence and Journey metaphors by patients with cancer, as compared with health professionals: a mixed methods study. BMJ supportive & palliative care, 7(1), 60-66.

[29] Sontag, S. (1978). Illness as metaphor. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

[30] Steinert, H. (2003). The indispensable metaphor of war: On populist politics and the contradictions of the state's monopoly of force. Theoretical criminology, 7(3), 265-291.

[31] Turner, M. (2001). Cognitive dimensions of social science. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2001.

[32] Wallis, P., & Nerlich, B. (2005). Disease metaphors in new epidemics: the UK media framing of the 2003 SARS epidemic. Social science & medicine, 60(11), 2629-2639.

[33] Xin B. (2016), The constructive and constitutive nature of language and the homogeneity of discourse, Modern Foreign Languages, 39 (1),1-10+145.

[34] Zhang W. & Wang S. H. (2020), The Cognitive Power of Deliberate Metaphors in the Reports of COVID-19 Outbreak, Journal of Tianjin Foreign Studies University, 27(2),114-127+161.