Old Habits

Prasso, Sheridan
February 2004
New Republic;2/16/2004, Vol. 230 Issue 5, p38
The author reports on conditions and attitudes prevalent in Guangzhou, China, that encourage the spread of SARS. Even though Beijing ordered the extermination of thousands of civet cats and rats to stem the reemergence of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in China this winter, the Guangzhou market reminded me that the unhygienic practices of South China are unlikely to be cleaned up anytime soon. In fact, most people here simply don't believe their habits have caused SARS. Instead, many blame Americans--namely U.S. biological warfare against China. This conspiracy theory is probably a minority view, but it's part of a larger ethos. By pointing the finger elsewhere, vendors and customers rationalize a refusal to clean up fetid markets or stop eating wild animals. The irony is that, across other major cities in China, the government has instituted massive cleanliness campaigns. Of course, Hong Kong and Shanghai have large tourism industries, which could be impacted by SARS.But, in Guangzhou, which has little tourism, there is no such organized campaign. Guangzhou's residents are primarily Cantonese Chinese; they speak a different dialect than Beijingers and live 1,200 miles from the capital.


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