By J.V. Jayme
The pandemic of the novel coronavirus, more commonly known as COVID-19, has undeniably made a massive impact. In a span of a few months, it has put a great strain on the economic, political, and social life of the world’s population. Now, with major cities in a state of lockdown and many of us having to go through the ordeal of self-isolation, it becomes all the more pressing for us to look at how we arrived at this point.
With a global death toll has reached upwards of 112 thousand, the deadly novel coronavirus has paralyzed the entire world,. In times this time of crisis, demagogues and politicians have come out of the woodwork. As world leaders scramble to hide their shortcomings in handling the COVID-19 pandemic, many have resorted to making use of a convenient scapegoat: China.
Some of these criticisms and condemnations focus on the Chinese government and its failure to warn the world of the outbreak in Wuhan. Others take a more insidious form, often exoticizing and blaming the Chinese people and the supposedly widespread habit of consuming wildlife. The worst xenophobic and racist elements have even started calling COVID-19 as the Chinese Virus which has only fueled anti-Asian racism. (Asmelash, 2020)
Of course, to provide a counter-narrative to the anti-China rhetoric is not to resort to an apologist position. The Chinese government’s silencing of doctors and scientists who first detected the signs of this highly contagious disease and its downplaying of the death toll certainly deserve our collective condemnation. The same can be said about its latest ban on research regarding the origins of this deadly pandemic. All of this added fuel to the fire.
This is not to say that there has been an absence of rational and scientific insight about the crisis. Recently, renowned conservationist and environmental activist Dr. Jane Goodall spoke up and gave her thoughts on the coronavirus pandemic. She stated this latest pandemic should serve as a warning and a wake-up call for humanity. She goes to say that the crisis is a consequence of the pervasive human disregard for nature and animals. She encourages us to rethink how we interact with the natural world. (Diprose, 2020)
The detrimental role of human exceptionalism and speciesism in ecology is all but undeniable. After all, numerous studies have shown that there has been a spike in diseases jumping from animals to humans primarily due to the widespread destruction of forests (Einhorn, 2020) However, there is still a need to probe further. Moreover, we need to set a discourse that will not devolve into debates of identity and cultural differences. We must also take into account the dynamic historical processes and the broader social structures at work if we are to paint a whole picture. To be more specific, we must also take into account the specific political-economic conditions that propelled China into its current position in the global market today. Here we argue that far from being a ‘Chinese Virus’ COVID-19 is essentially a product of this particular stage of history, that of late capitalism and globalization. (Liu, 2020)
By now, readers are probably well aware of how this pandemic started. The novel coronavirus being linked to China’s wildlife markets is hardly surprising. After all, this has already happened before with the outbreak of SARS in 2003. These live animal markets are filled with sick and dying animals which make it the perfect environment for the breeding and transmission of diseases. (Li, 2020)
China’s wildlife policy certainly hasn’t helped the situation either. Framing wildlife as a form of natural resource has had dire consequences for many exotic animals. It has not only wreaked havoc on animal populations, but it has also legalized the practice of wildlife farms. At the same time, it has given wildlife traders the legal authority to hide behind supposed claims of medicinal value and animal conservation. (Li, Seeing animals as a resource is a cruel substitute for real wildlife protection in China, 2016) Neither of these claims can hold water, especially now that the detrimental effects of these practices are shown in full view.
However, contrary to popular claims that the consumption of wildlife is a widespread practice in China, numerous studies have shown that the situation is more nuanced. The practice is more of a cultural outlier than the norm, (Daly, 2020). Instead, wildlife has served as a status symbol for the country’s business classes, it is also the perfect way to flaunt one’s wealth. (Liu, 2020) This then begs the question, then what fueled the demand for exotic wildlife, and by extension, the transmission and spread of the coronavirus?
Statistics suggest that globalization and its effects play a major role. Let us remember that the wildlife trade is global. While China’s flawed and ironically named Wildlife Protection Law facilitated and turned the practice of breeding wildlife into an industry, it sought to satisfy a global demand brought about by the liberalization of the economy. The prices of pangolin meat serve as a perfect example of this. From 1994 to present, its prices have skyrocketed from $14 per kilo to $600. (Liu, 2020)
In many ways, COVID-19 brings to mind the bubonic plague. The bleak analogy notwithstanding, its pattern of transmission bears many similarities to how the Black Death spread along the Silk Road in the Middle Ages. At least, the same can be said in the manner it exposes the inherent weaknesses and vulnerabilities of the 21st century’s global congregations and linkages. It also forces us to rethink our place.
Thank you for reading!
Asmelash, L. (2020, April 10). With the spread of coronavirus came a surge in anti-Asian racism online, new research says. Retrieved from CNN Philippines: https://www.cnn.ph/world/2020/4/10/coronavirus-asian-racism-research.html Daly, N. (2020, January 30). Chinese citizens push to abolish wildlife trade as coronavirus persists. Retrieved from National Geographic: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/01/china-bans-wildlife-trade-after-coronavirus-outbreak/ Diprose, K. (2020, April 11). Jane Goodall says global disregard for nature brought on coronavirus pandemic. Retrieved from ABC: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-11/jane-goodall-says-disregard-for-nature-has-brought-coronavirus/12142246 Einhorn, C. (2020, April 9). Animal Viruses Are Jumping to Humans. Forest Loss Makes It Easier. Retrieved from New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/09/climate/animals-humans-virus-covid.html Li, P. (2016, January 29). Seeing animals as a resource is a cruel substitute for real wildlife protection in China. Retrieved from South China Morning Post: https://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/1906612/seeing-animals-resource-cruel-substitute-real-wildlife Li, P. (2020, January 29). First Sars, now the Wuhan coronavirus. Here’s why China should ban its wildlife trade forever. Retrieved from South China Morning Post. Liu, A. (2020, April 10). Blaming China for coronavirus isn’t just dangerous. It misses the point. Retrieved from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/10/blaming-china-coronavirus-pandemic-capitalist-globalisation-scapegoat