Asia

Coronavirus and Quarantine

Health education poster, Hong Kong. Photo by Shawn Smallman

As I write these words nurses in Hong Kong are on strike to protest the fact that the Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, will not close the border to China. To be clear, the executive has sharply restricted entry to Hong Kong, closed most crossings, and forbidden entry from the most affected Chinese state, Hubei.  But there are still strong calls for a complete border closure coming from within Hong Kong’s medical community.  Similarly, the United States has restricted flights from China to U.S. citizens only; some U.S. airlines had already canceled service to China. All such quarantine measures are controversial.

On social media, such as Twitter, and in the press, a number of experts have denounced all quarantines as being not only ineffective but also in violation of WHO guidelines. These authors worried about panic overcoming good judgement, the economic costs of restricting travel, the stigma imposed on those from affected areas (Chinese in particular, but also all Asia), and the importance of upholding International Health Regulations. These are valid and important points. Some authors have also pointed to studies based on computer models showing that quarantines are ineffective with highly contagious respiratory diseases.

Recently the tone has shifted in the discussion, as it has become clear that some cases of the virus are being spread asymptomatically. The number of cases has grown quickly. Some apparent facts (such as no human to human transmission) that seemed true in mid-January are no longer true. So the stridency of the debate about quarantine has declined, but the debate continues.

So is there any role for quarantines to manage such a pandemic? And is there some other way to make a judgement that relies less on computer models? I would suggest that looking at the past history of respiratory pandemics, such as the 1918 influenza pandemic, might be useful. Can history suggest particular circumstances in which quarantines may work? …

Coronavirus podcast

Window of Chinese medicine store in Hong Kong, China. Photo by Shawn Smallman

There is so much discussion of the coronavirus epidemic in the media that it can be hard to find reliable information. One good source of measured, thoughtful information is this podcast, “Coronavirus Infections—More Than Just the Common Cold,” which is an interview with Anthony, S Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease. You can also find this podcast on Stitcher and other podcast platforms. To listen to it on Apple podcasts, please search for “JAMA Author interviews,” and go to January 27, 2020.

If you are interested in learning more about live markets, you can read my work here. And this blog posts discusses quarantine and nCoV based on some historical context from the 1918 influenza pandemic.

Shawn Smallman, 2020

Market Sign, Hong Kong. Photo by Shawn Smallman

 

 

The South China Sea

Are you looking for an online resource that students might use to quickly understand the South China Sea dispute between China and its neighbors? You could do much worse than this brief video that was shared on Twitter. I know that we sometimes think of Twitter as the host for emotional oversharing, Russian bots and disinformation campaigns, but @9DashLine and @SCS_news are good feeds to follow if you want to keep abreast of the latest information on the South China Sea issue.

Shawn Smallman, 2020

Ghosts of China

 

Temple dedicated to the goddess of the Sea. Located on Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. Photo by Shawn Smallman

Every year I do at least one post about international folklore, such as a haunted house in Hong Kong, because I love the mysterious. This year, since I am studying Mandarin, I want to explore the idea of the ghosts in this language itself. The idea of the ghost is key in Chinese culture. One of the nation’s major holidays is the Hungry Ghost Festival (中元节) on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month. It’s a date to honor your ancestors, while also being careful to propitiate any wayward spirits. But what kind of ghosts might you fear meeting?

Ghosts across cultures

The Old Burial Ground at the Boston Commons. Photo by Smallman

I’ve long loved Japanese ghost stories, ever since I came across the stories of Lafcadio Hearn. As the epitome of modernity, with its vast urban metropolis of Tokyo, sophisticated infrastructure, and advanced education, you might expect that these supernatural traditions would be fading in Japan. After all, Hearn recorded his stories in the nineteenth century. Instead, the traditions are evolving, as Christopher Harding has described in an article, “Ghosts on the Shore.” In the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami, ghosts didn’t disappear, but their role changed, as they comforted the living. Harding’s well-written and thoughtful piece is worth reading, particularly to hear the thoughts of one Zen priest who has an interesting take on the divide between the living and the dead. …

China, Hong Kong and cyber espionage

Poster at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

In 2017 I spent some time in Hong Kong and Macau, and had the opportunity to speak to a number of academics. One of the most frequent questions that they asked me was whether people in the United States were following events in Hong Kong. I had to tell them no. There were so many major political debates taking place within the United States itself that events in Hong Kong hadn’t drawn much attention. That has changed now.

Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1999, under a “one country, two systems” approach. In recent years, however, people have become increasingly concerned about their independence. For example, in 2015 five booksellers in Hong Kong went missing. At least one of the men later claimed that he had been kidnapped for selling books critical of China’s leadership. This context shaped how people in Hong Kong viewed a proposed law to allow the extradition of Hong Kong’s residents to mainland China. The bill was presented in April, and provoked massive protests by June. Even after Hong Kong’s governor withdrew the bill in September the protests continued to escalate. This issue has come to embody the fears of most people in Hong Kong that they will lose autonomy. For this reason, one of the protesters’ demand is for complete suffrage in the selection of their leaders, along with amnesty for those who have taken part in the protests, and an independent investigation of what they view as police brutality. …

How China views the Americas

How people in different nations view each other is shaped by history, film, propaganda and the media. Of course polling data and surveys are key tools to get at popular perceptions globally. Still, there is also a simpler tool that yields surprising results: web search queries. Warner Brown has an interesting article, “Mapped: Chinese Stereotypes of the Americas,” in Foreign Policy. It provides a look into which questions Chinese people think of when they think about the Americas. Who know that Argentina had sunk a Chinese fishing boat? Or that Suriname was on China’s radar?

Shawn Smallman, 2019

China’s Population in Global Context

This map allows us to understand China’s growing power from not only a financial but also a demographic standpoint. It’s also just fun to see which country has an equivalent population to a Chinese province. As someone who grew up on Canada, it was interesting that Canada’s population is roughly equivalent to that of Shanxi. And Germany’s population is roughly equivalent to that of Sichuan. Of course, in the long term China faces a future defined by a declining population, so this map lacks some context.

Shawn Smallman, 2019

Diet and Global Health

What is the single most important factor in shaping global health in the developed world? Interestingly, it does not appear to be access to the most technologically sophisticated medical technology. In the chapter on health in our textbook, I start by saying: “Chile, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Guadalupe, Hong Kong, Israel, Malta, Martinique, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates are a diverse set of nations and territories. Yet they all have one fact in common: their citizens live longer than those of the United States, as do the citizens of many developed countries (Smallman and Brown, 2015, p. 236). Lee Miller and Weilu have an article titled “These are the World’s healthiest nations” in Bloomberg (February 24, 2019) which looks at global health statistics. The methodology looked at a number of factors -not only life expectancy- to rank countries. The top five countries were Spain, Italy, Iceland, Japan and Switzerland. There are many such rankings, and each one has methodological questions or choices. But all such national rankings of health can leave you questioning what you think you know, particularly about the role of diet in health. …

Wet Markets and Avian Influenza

Map of Hong Kong by Shawn Smallman, Apple pencil in Procreate

This week I had an article published: “Wet Markets and Avian Influenza: Public Policy Decisions in Hong Kong.” Because the Journal of International and Global Studies is open source, you can read the article by clicking on the link above if you are interested. You can also read the abstract here:

After the emergence of H5N1 avian influenza in 1997 Hong Kong implemented a sophisticated system to regulate live poultry markets. While this system is well designed and thorough, it also has limitations. The rise of H7N9 avian influenza (which is typically acquired through contact with poultry, including in live markets) makes this an appropriate time to revisit the ethical and practical issues related to this trade. Based on data from field observations of live markets in Hong Kong, and interviews with experts in the field, this paper recommends that the government of Hong Kong create a committee to examine the pros and cons of ending live poultry markets in this Special Administrative Region.

Shawn Smallman, 2018

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