As the globe deals with the new coronavirus emanating from the heart of China, it is well to reflect on how we can’t fool Mother Nature.
All indicators point to the Huanan Seafood Market in the city of Wuhan as the epicenter of this virus. The first victims worked there amid cages of live animals, including exotic creatures like bats and reptiles. Many Chinese view wildlife as we would vitamins. In fact, Chinese doctors have been treating coronavirus patients with Western medicine and supplements like rhino horn extract and traditional herbs. Eating exotic isn’t the problem. It’s demanding a fresh kill. Confining live birds, mammals, and reptiles under the same roof within inches of each other is a recipe for biological disaster. But China never learns.
Quarantine is derived from the Italian quaranta = 40. That’s how many days Venice and other Italian seaports kept suspect ships from docking once they entered the harbor. This practice came out of the Black Death in 1347. “In men and women alike at the beginning of the malady, certain swellings, either on the groin or under the armpits…” So wrote Italian poet Giovanni Boccaccio author of The Decameron describing Bubonic Plague. The book was published in 1353 after the Black Death had killed off one-third of Europe, an estimated 20 million people. It was about a small group of Florentines who sought refuge in the country away from the plague. To pass the time, they told stories to each other over a ‘ten day’ period (decameron in Greek).
The plague began in Messina, Sicily with the arrival of some ships from the Black Sea – a transfer point for Chinese goods. Were we to use the same logic as Native Americans, who blame Columbus for bringing smallpox to the Americas, the Chinese would carry the Mark of Cain for decimating our ancestors.
However, Western medicine eventually cured smallpox. Chinese traditional medicine has yet to cure anything of significance. Nor has Chinese culture completely adapted to modern food standards.
It is a fact that most flu emanates from China, whether it’s Asian Flu, Bird Flu, SARS, and now coronavirus. Again, this often deadly ailment erupts from poor animal husbandry – not just in unsanitary markets but in individual households where chickens, ducks, and pigs are raised and butchered within obscenely confining spaces.
One of the reasons President Trump wrung a pledge from Communist China to buy our farm products is because of a devastating disease among China’s pigs – a mainstay of its cuisine. The disease infected 300 million pigs last year, all died or were killed. The government had to release stockpiles of pork from its strategic reserve to stave off civil unrest. Our pork will make China eat again!
China rivals Africa in disease production – AIDS and Ebola were born in Africa – but to be fair, the epidemic among Chinese pigs is called African Swine Fever. With a global economy, microbes are on the loose as never before. If it took some ten years for the Black Death to reach Italy from China, it takes only a few hours to transit oceans and continents today.
A little known backstory to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 had something to do with Bubonic Plague. The act closed immigration from China and was arguably racist. However, Asia had a well-deserved reputation for disease. In 1855, plague broke out in China and eventually killed about 15 million people, mainly in India. In 1894, the plague hit British Hong Kong. In 1899, it reached Honolulu.
During these years, Chinese immigrants were flooding California and the west in the wake of the Gold Rush and the building of the transcontinental railroad. They worked cheaply – “coolie wages” – and with few complaints. However, just as Italians brought the Mafia, Chinatowns became infamous for their criminal Tongs running prostitution, gambling, and opium dens.
But just when Americans began recognizing their own bigotry and the Exclusion Act was to expire, Bubonic Plague broke out in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1900. Not only were Chinese vices appalling but now their risky sanitary habits as well. By 1904, 119 people had died of the plague. Chinese illegals were deported. But then…
The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 destroyed all the city’s records as well as unsanitary Chinatown. Chinese illegals could now falsely claim they were born in the USA.
For once, Nature worked in their favor! – JLM