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Coronavirus Outbreak Must Not Morph into Anti-Chinese Stereotyping

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Yes, China could do better in terms of public hygiene. But, moral panic over the foods the Chinese eat is more about cultural prejudices than anything else.”

Epidemics have always scared the bejeezus out of people—and with good reason. Smallpox alone killed 300 million people in the 20th century alone, prior to its eradication in 1980. No wonder the Pale Horseman of the Apocalypse is usually associated with pestilence. Given that—as Darwin would have it—we will forever live in a struggle for existence, it is unlikely that we will ever defeat germs altogether.

This typically prompts cultural anxieties. Germs are much more than little things that kill people; they also can become a means of expressing xenophobia. In the midsts of epidemics, cultural outsiders frequently become scapegoats. In the 14th century, one third of the European population was wiped out by bubonic plague. At the time, nobody knew what caused this terrible pandemic, but Jews were frequently pointed to as culprits and were accused of poisoning wells.

Furthermore, particular groups become associated with certain contagious diseases and, as a result, can find themselves targets of discrimination. Sometimes, the outbreak of a disease is blamed on a particular group’s cultural habits, and this contributes even more to their discrimination. In the United States during the 19th Century, cholera was blamed on Irish immigrants and their living conditions in urban slums. In the early days of AIDS, it was thought that this was a gay disease brought on by their promiscuity; in more recent times, Africans have become associated with HIV/AIDS and are occasionally blamed for its spread because of alleged sexual contacts with chimpanzees.

We now have a new outbreak. The coronavirus has begun in China. Although the entire city of Wuhan has been quarantined by the Chinese government, some cases have also been reported in neighboring countries, as well as in the United States. As with many other epidemics in human history, this has also become an occasion for xenophobia.

Anxieties over the so-called “Yellow Peril” are nothing new. The demographic power of East Asia has always made Westerners nervous. China was perceived as a sleeping giant that—if awoken—could bring forth havoc to Europe and North America. The Chinese may now be seen as a “model minority” by some parties in the United States; however, in 1882, the United States passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting all immigration of Chinese laborers. The fictional Chinese villain Fu Manchu was not just a funny mad scientist; he was the expression of the imagined dangers that the Far East, with its huge population, embodied.

Trade brings cultures closer, so the “othering” of China has dissipated in more recent times—but not entirely. With its crowded cities, China is still perceived as a danger to global health. There is certainly legitimacy to that view. But, additionally, Chinese eating habits are especially frowned upon, and Chinese dietary choices likely remain one of the significant leitmotivs in Western cultural anxiety about China.

Predictably, this is becoming the case with the coronavirus outbreak. It appears that the virus spread to humans from a bat, sold for consumption in a meat market in Wuhan. This confirms many Westerners’ fears that the Chinese cannot be trusted because they will eat anything. Who, in their right mind, could eat cute little puppies?

Some clarification is in order. Yes, China could do better in terms of public hygiene. But, moral panic over the foods the Chinese eat is more about cultural prejudices than anything else. Perhaps this time a bat was responsible for the spread of the coronavirus. But, as a rule of thumb, bats are not particularly dangerous creatures to eat. As they are described in the Oxford Companion to Food, bats, “are clean animals living exclusively on fruit, and have a taste which has been compared (like so much other exotic animal fare) to that of chicken.” One might say that, even if bats are clean creatures, eating wild animals is still not a particularly good idea. Sure—but, then, let’s make a bigger deal out of deer hunting; after all, there are risks involved

Anthropologists have long studied cultural prohibitions on food. One common conclusion they reach is that specific foods are seldom prohibited on safety grounds. Take, for example, the Jewish and Muslim prohibitions against eating pork. Yes, pork may cause trichinosis, but it is doubtful that whoever wrote Leviticus (the Biblical book that inspires this prohibition) had that disease in mind. Anthropologist Mary Douglas argued that pork was more likely prohibited because the pig defied Hebrew classifications, whereas Marvin Harris believed pork was prohibited because it is not practical to raise it in the desert. Whatever the reason, the prohibition of pork reflected Middle Easterners’ own cultural and economic concerns, rather than objective sanitary knowledge. Cows may cause Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease but don’t expect a rabbi or an imam to outlaw eating steak anytime soon.  

This anthropological insight should tell us something about our shock when we see the Chinese eating dogs. Every year, thousands of activists will sign petitions against the Yulin dog festival. If you are a strict vegetarian and are concerned about animal welfare as a whole, then you have a legitimate claim. But, if you eat sheep, cows, or chicken but still tear your garments upon seeing the Chinese eating dogs, then—at best—you are a hypocrite and—at worst—you are a bigot. Pigs and cows are just as intelligent as dogs (in fact, pigs may even be more intelligent), so what, exactly, makes going to McDonald’s a normal activity but going to the Yulin festival a crime? Hard to say. One might argue that the Chinese are especially cruel to dogs when they eat them, but if one believes that, then surely he has not visited a Western slaughterhouse.

I am no friend of cultural relativism. Over the years, in books and articles, I have consistently argued for the cultural superiority of the West in many relevant aspects. But, the time has come for me to give the devil his due: when it comes to the Chinese and that which they eat, we need relativism. In the 16th century, Michel de Montaigne famously said that cannibalism in Brazil was not so bad because Europeans did worse things. To me, this always appeared to be a cheap shot. However, upon seeing the recurrent hysteria over some Chinese villager eating a bat or a dog (and also taking into account the nasty and long history of the “Yellow Peril” moral panic in the West), I now think that—at least this one time—we, Westerners, should be more like Montaigne. 

This stance will even prove beneficial in fighting the coronavirus. We need to persuade China to take better sanitary measures, such as it is now doing in building a hospital from scratch in Wuhan. However, pontificating about how monstrous Chinese people are for eating Lassie will not help at all.

Dr. Gabriel Andrade is a university professor. He has previously contributed to Areo Magazine and DePauw University’s The Prindle Post. His twitter is @gandrade80

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Nobu
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Nobu

I do not agree with some aspects of your article and miss the point that lack of hygiene is what caused this absolute disaster and i would have thought that chinese and the government would have learned their lessons back then! Please do not mix the subject of culture into this discussion as other cultures eat bats too. This is all about Chinese and their lack of basic hygiene and nothing more. The opportunities for inter species mingling of faecal, blood and other disease ridden bacteria and viruses abound! This is an absolute disgrace what happened and there’s no excuse… Read more »

Gabriel andrade
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Gabriel andrade

Darling, apart from grammar and spelling problems, you are lacking in reading and comprehension skills.
1. I have very clearly made the point that the trouble with China may be hygiene, but not their diet. You read the whole article, yet you somehow missed my point.
2. I mentioned that slaughterhouses in the West are not much different from the Yulin festival. You obviously did not bother to see the link I provided documenting that.

Nobu
Guest
Nobu

Hi, thanks for responding back. I get the point of the article and agree that foods chinese eat must not be basis of negative stereotyping, but the issue of hygiene will and that’s the cause of this very illness. So negative stereotyping may be inevitable especially given that this coronavirus is the second time a disease of this magnitude has originated from china on basis of hygiene. Something needs to happen here and is no longer acceptable that international community have to be affected by this! As for your second point, about yulin festival, please do not generalise by saying… Read more »

Véronique Crèvecoeur
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Véronique Crèvecoeur

Mr Nobu, thank you so much for your comments and answers to Mr Antrade. You expressed clearly what I am thinking as well, and probably much better than I would do, English being not my mother tongue. People around the world are deeply affected about the way that animals are treated in some places in Asia, and especially in China, e.g. Yulin. This is an authentic feeling of empathy towards the animals, nothing to do with racism against Chinese people. And of course, we admit there is still work to do in Western countries to better protect animals but nothing… Read more »

Nobu
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Nobu

Dear Véronique, Thank you for your response. I must admit your response is much more eloquent and much more diplomatic than your colleague who responded back to me ! Its good to know that you share a similar view on this topic and especially in regards to racism on basis of hygiene. As i was reading on the news that this has already started happening around different parts of Asia. Though it is sad for this to happen, however the Chinese government are the real culprit behind this issue and their inability to properly regulate their citizens on basic hygiene… Read more »

Monica Morales
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Monica Morales

The Chinese are getting the barest molecule of a taste of what is coming and what they most likely truly deserve. However, all of we humans are culpable. But, as is always the case, some of us more than others. Take a look at the epicenter of the Corona virus. It’s most likely one of the first of a number of pandemics to come. All due to to a lack of human compassion towards our non human sisters and brothers. We’ll soon learn just how much we’re all connected.

David Cockayne
Guest
David Cockayne

Dear Dr. Andrade
I hope you will forgive my temerity in questioning the propriety of your somewhat astringent criticism of Nobu’s grammar and spelling in what we may reasonably take to be not his native language.

My dear, it just isn’t done.

Nobu
Guest
Nobu

Hi David, I appreciate your sentiment towards my apparent lax of the English grammar. However i do need to point out that it is very difficult for me to write on this discussion board from a mobile phone as i cannot even scroll back to see what i previously wrote. And also rather clunky when it comes to correcting errors. So all in all i m not that focused on grammar at all. Just simply want to get my message across and as long as people understand my comment, then purpose is served as far as i am concerned. Also… Read more »

Lena Mcguire
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Lena Mcguire

Slaughter houses in the west are not much different from the yulin festival, you say? Do they go out and steal loved pet cows in the west do they? Maybe you need to do more research before you write an article on the topic, most of the dogs consumed in the yulin festival and through out the year, are stolen pets

Bryaun
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Bryaun

I’ve made the mistake of watching Yulin festival videos of dogs being boiled alive while onlookers laugh and throw them back in the pot when they escape. It’s barbaric. I stand against cruelty in my own country too so this isn’t about me being culturally biased. By saying “it’s not the food, it’s the hygiene” you are saying “ it’s cool, steal exotic animals from the rainforest, it’s cool, steal domestic animals for public torture” . You can also write about my grammar, I could give 2 💩’s.

Marilyn Horne
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Marilyn Horne

NOBU. Spoken like a true hero for animals! They don’t NEED to torture cats, dogs. other animals if they HAVE to eat them. They can do a FAST Kill if necessary. Nothing like watching 3 low life barbaric china men torturing a small, helpless dog. The torture makes the meat more “masculine ” for the 3 barbarians so they can be big and strong and torture more little animals in the future.

Monica Morales
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Monica Morales

I agree. No way for any decent human being to in any way defend the Yulin dog festival. Nothing hidden from the Chinese public there. Unlike slaughter houses in the west. But so much being exposed now. Cameras everywhere. Videos on the internet. Those who can’t talk are beginning to be seen. Many people becoming vegan as a result. The only reason people eat animal flesh, wear their fur and skin and drink the milk that’s for THEIR babies is because they can’t defend themselves. They have no weapons against us. If they could, then we humans would find many… Read more »

M Switzer
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M Switzer

It’s not just what the Chinese eat but, more importantly, the horror of how they slaughter animals, inflicting maximum protracted torture and suffering so that the meat will taste better. How can this be overlooked? We have a long ways to go in the West, but the horrific and unimaginable cruelty of the videos I’ve seen coming out of China have caused psychological trauma. Truly they seem a race apart. However, I am heartened to understand that the younger generations seem to exhibit more compassion, empathy, and concern for the suffering of others, including animals.

Gabriel andrade
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Gabriel andrade

The videos and reports that I have seen from slaughterhouses in Western countries are not much better

Bryaun
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Bryaun

I am vegan so I have no part in any of the cruelty however, are the cows skinned alive/boiled alive for public display and entertainment? That’s hell on earth right there. The youth of China and Korea want no part in the cruelty that is The dog/cat meat trade. It will eventually be a thing of the past but in the meantime, the Yulin festival tarnishes China’s reputation. Take it or leave it. It’s up to China to fix that. If I tortured animals for public entertainment and stole exotic/endangered animals it would tarnish my reputation as well. It’s that… Read more »

Chris
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Chris

Deluded or disgustingly ignorant or perhaps emotionally bankrupted to believe Slaughterhouses in the West are not much different from the Yulin festival.

Charmaine
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Charmaine

Coronavirus can be transmitted from a dog to a human, you know what eating a dog is so so sick. Karma at work china, just keep your diseases at bay and yes I am vegan

Jess
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Jess

Chinese are disgusting and should be just nuked by the us .. and you Gabrielle are fking stupid just don’t write again – dogs are human companions and the fact is you should be boiled and skinned alive – fucking CUNT

Nancy Byron
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Nancy Byron

As an animal lover involved in rescue for many years, try as I might, I cannot curb the feeling of karmic justice this outbreak infuses me with. As loathsome as it is to me, Asians do in fact have just as much right to eat dogs as Westerners do cows and other livestock, which, sadly, includes lambs and calves. The barbarity with which they dispatch them though, (and I have seen enough videos to rob me of sleep if I live to be 1,000), flies in the face of decency. Indeed, I get the impression they flaunt this barbarity as… Read more »

Heather Wavish
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Heather Wavish

Yes I feel you. A hardened people without
mercy for any kind.

Nobu
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Nobu

I have also seen chinese people boiling turtles alive as well! Its just so heartbreaking when i hear the struggles of the turtle inside the boling pan. I really cannot honestly justify such an act of cruelty. And what’s more disturbing was this was in an ordinary household with middle class family. Though i did say that bats and eating of other wild animals should not be basis of discrimination, however i do have to point out bats have a unique immune system that allows for different viruses to exist within the bats body. Therefore eating of bats can definitely… Read more »

Yulin
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Yulin

Nancy. God Bless You for saying everything I have wanted to say so admirably! I too believe they do it to spite the West. They also keep bears tied up so they can’t move and declaw them and take out their teeth. They then put a tube in their bile duct so they can get the bile to make themselves healthier. BS I say. I so hope the lowlife that do these things get wiped out. I have prayed to God for this and he is taking care of it!

Cbcbcbcb
Guest
Cbcbcbcb

Darling your article is shit and try so much to be politically correct. Lets face it, its their karma. And soon you will have your karma for being politically correct wannabe.

Jen
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Jen

Yes, other cultures eat all kinds of animals. What is most disturbing and needs to stop is that the Chinese torture the animals that they kill for meat as they think this makes the meat taste better. This is inexcusable and they need to get out of the dark ages and have compassion for all animals. Boiling and blow-torching man’s best friend is just heart-breaking, cruel, and and anyone who thinks it isn’t probably just needs a good case of coronavirus to see the light…not to mention that what they eat in China is extremely unhygienic!!!!

Vijayata singh
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Vijayata singh

I am vegetarian and I don’t I can ever understand that why people eat animals , we have a lot given by earth to eat which has taste and purity , I know that even eating plants is not justified but at least they don’t bleed , I know it’s very argumentative and never ending thing but still why to kill those who can feel pain.Did we ever feel about that pain and where their sufferings will go!

Heather Wavish
Guest
Heather Wavish

A population correction is not a bad thing for the earth. It has happened many times before with complete civilisations disappearing. Just a reminder humans aren’t in control. We will all face death. Where we go after that is what matters.

dammika
Guest
dammika

they way killing those dogs+cats at the Yulin festival is heartbreaking. Why do you want to throw live animals to the boiling water or burn animals alive? its not a human act.

ramon
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ramon

bats snakes dogs cats etc are unclean animals and should not be eaten – BIBLE

Bryaun
Guest
Bryaun

fact: Exotic animals being stolen from the rainforest and throughout Africa are transported to Asia and slaughtered live in unsanitary conditions. Not only should this be a crime but it’s also just asking for an outbreak of disease. Don’t even get me started about stacking stolen cats and dogs off the street into tiny Cages and torturing them to increase the “chi” energy. Not only is this barbaric and cruel but it’s a recipe for disease. I’ve travelled throughout Asia and have a lot of love and respect for it’s culture but when a part of a culture is highly… Read more »

jennifer nickerson
Guest
jennifer nickerson

First of all, we don’t stab and torture our livestock in front of a crowd while people jump in. The dogs are then boiled alive. The residents of Yulin are not far from serial killers. Check the pictures before you write such an ignorant article.

ramon
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ramon

The holy book only approved animals that chew the cud to be eaten, pigs are also unclean but we eat them though they posses serious risk to weak people.

Kyla
Guest
Kyla

Lack of hygiene and cruelty is the problem with China and not only them. I agree we should be open to any culture even perhaps to cannibalism one day too but not to cruelty .

gabriel e andrade
Guest
gabriel e andrade

Cannibalism is a hard pill to swallow, but I do struggle to find a moral reason to oppose the non-violent variety (i.e., eating those who had natural deaths). Yet, non-violent cannibalism is not without its dangers. Kuru in New Guinea was a deadly epidemic that came as a result of cannibalism.

dammika
Guest
dammika

At western countries throw live animals to boiling water? or remove legs when that animal is live? or burn the animal and making fun of it? first, learn to respect what you going to eat. act like a human and don’t act like lower than human.

Miguel Quifes
Guest
Miguel Quifes

Open to cannibalism? Good luck with that dahmer. Thank god most people are not sick enough to buy into that. I have a chinese girlfriend and even she criticizes some of the dietary practices in China. She even mentioned that her parents worked at hospitals where some ppl wanted to conserve placentas from women who gave birth so they could make placenta soup. I don’t care what you say but that is just flat out disgusting. And most people in the west would agree with that. So the bottom line is that we should NOT be open to these distasteful… Read more »

David Cockayne
Guest
David Cockayne

What moral panic?

Nancy Byron
Guest
Nancy Byron

To my earlier point –

Communities around China order residents to get rid of their pets – or risk having them CULLED – amid fears that animals could catch coronavirus

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7952487/Communities-China-threaten-cull-residents-pets-coronavirus.html

Ruling
Guest
Ruling

Greetings, Gabriel, great article. In Panama, a local lawyer made such a nasty comment in Twitter about the Chinese rapid construction of the new Wuhan hospital that it prompted the First Chinese Ambassador to Panama to reply this: “En toda mi carrera diplomática, no recuerdo haber oído en ningún lugar público una expresión de tanta ignorancia y crueldad”. The lawyer´s tweet was: “Siendo los creadores del virus es lo menos que podían hacer”.

Nobu
Guest
Nobu

https://youtu.be/9GOnRuRUAz4

Found this video of a snake and pidgeon hotpot… not very appetizing at all…. i think i m going to think about becoming a vegetarian after watching this lol. Also the absolute lack of hygiene is astounding…. for anyone whos got the stomach to watch….. von a petite

Penny Johnson
Guest
Penny Johnson

Dr Gabriel Andrade is ignorant. Does he know the Chinese purposely torture animals by boiling them alive, burning them alive and cutting them up alive because they believe torturing the animal will make the meat taste better? I do not see any mention of this in the article. A person who went to a wet market in China said the cries of the mammals were unbearable and heartbreaking as they were being killed.