Category: Contexts

Plasma economy & plasmapheresis

Plasma Economy in China in the 1990s

As we all found out by reading Lianke’s Dream of Ding Village, in the early 90s, the Chinese higher-ups stared a campaign called the Plasma Economy to encourage locals to sell their blood and thus boost their income. Easy money, isn’t it? Go, sit, give your blood, come home with new red silk jacket. Completely painless, at least for the short term. In the long term, millions of people who sold their blood got infected with HIV and hence sentenced to inevitable death.

The blood-selling business was founded on plasmapheresis, a procedure that separates the cellular elements from the blood and then returns the remaining liquid back into the organism. More illustrative description is provided in the image below.

Plasmapheresis Diagram

Since the campaign was such a boom and resources were scarce (and blood heads did not really care much about the health of others), needles were reused, containers recycled and blood mixed together before being returned back to the patients. In all that mess, diseases spread like crazy. In this case, HIV/AIDS infected more than 40% of those who sold their blood. Millions of people died for money, money stained with blood.

And for those infected, life was not easy. The government refused to accept the existence of the epidemic while people were dying like moths. Instead of being sent into hospitals, people were being sent into jail.

And last but not least, what you get if you google Plasma Economy:

Keep reading!



Plasma Economy


Historical Background of the AIDS Scandal in China

Hi guys!

I just want to share with you guys some of the historical context for Dream of Ding Village. Author Yan Lianke is a Chinese writer and HIV/AIDS activist who is known for his satirical writings which in turn have gotten many of his works banned in China.

The novel we are reading is based on real events that happened during the mid 1990s.  The Henan Province was where many of the biotech companies that needed plasma focused their attention on. An estimated 40% of the 3 million people (mostly rural Chinese) who participated contracted AIDS! This plasma campaign did not really have any safety or health standards and consistently used unsterilized tools and reused needles. Therefore, Henan province is currently one of the highest areas of AIDS patients in China.











(Henan is yellow part in the middle)

The government until now was not helpful in the AIDS crisis. It consistently denied the alarm that AIDS was a problem in the Henan province, let alone China itself. When it became apparent that HIV was killing hundreds of thousands of rural Chinese in Henan, officials started to close down blood banks to cover up. Even current national statistics today say there are only half a million of people infected with HIV yet the real number is estimated to be much higher. When citizens started to notice people dying all around them, most had no idea it was HIV, they thought it was just some sort of secret disease or “fever.” That was another way for officials to cover their tracks: not educating the public of what was going on.

While today China has been more open about addressing the AIDS issue, it is still a touchy subject. Some of the major problems are the lack of medical awareness of the virus, inadequate investment in prevention work, and •provincial secrecy and cover-up.

Hope you find this helpful with reading Dream of Ding Village.

Best regards,



Sources: here, here, and here.

Camus in xtranormal!

As Evgenija mentioned in her post,  Professor mentioned in class about the nazism theory behind the novel, and it relation to the world wars but we never had the chance to talk about it. I attached a video made in xtranormal, that aims to describe the philosophies of Albert Camus. There is also some comparison between his other novel Stranger and the Plague. It brings up some interesting ideas about Albert Camus not believing in God and blaming the religion. Do watch it!

Watch the video here.

Wait, the plague is not really a plague?


Before wrapping up the discussion for our lovely The Pague by Albert Camus, a little conspiracy. Professor mentioned in class about the nazism theory behind the novel, but we never had the chance to talk about it. Well, here I place the question: Is the plague in the novel really a plague? Towards the end of Chapter IV, Tarrou talks about him having had the plague before. Is it really a plague he is talking about? He after all is concerned with the right to take the lives of other people. Could that mean the right to murder a whole nation just because they were of certain ethnicity? What does Tarrou’s death at the end signify then? What about his desire to become a saint? How does one become a saint? Well, I hope this will keep you occupied beside exams.  Have a deathly reading 🙂

Autobiography, Spanish Flu

While I was researching interesting things related to the novel, “Pale Horse Pale Rider,” I came across some articles that this novel was somehow autobiographical. It said:

“It simply divided my life, cut across it like that. So that everything before that was just getting ready, and after that I was in some strange way altered, really,” said Katherine Anne Porter about her nearly fatal encounter with the Spanish flu. “It took me a long time to go out and live in the world again.” Years later, in a thinly disguised autobiographical novel, she laid out not just her own traumatic run-in with death, the pale rider, but also a rare literary account of the 1918 flu pandemic in the United States and the unprecedented human loss.

Like the setting in the novel, Katherine Anne Porter has lived in the early 1900s. During World War I, Porter was a reporter in Denver, where she met a lieutenant, whom she fell in love with. Furthermore, “Pale Horse Pale Rider”is a short story that reflects her experience during World War I, when the dreadful Spanish flu killed about 30 million people. Porter, herself, also was diagnosed with the 1918 flu pandemic, which nearly killed her. While generally, it is important to know the author’s biography in order to enhance our understanding of the novels or writings that the author wrote, I think knowing the biography of Porter is very interesting and significant because “Pale Horse Pale Rider” is an account of her life experience in 1918. These are three short biographies of Porter, which you can take a look at. Two of them relate mention somethings about the novel itself too: Biography1, Biography2, and Biography3.

I also thought that having some knowledge on Spanish Flu is crucial too because our course is “Contagion.” 🙂 This link is an article that gives an overview of the influenza. And, here are two short video clips that you can watch about the 1918 flu pandemic:

Spanish Flu Video 1

Spanish Flu Video 2

* Alarm! The sound of the second video might get you depressed or scared, or maybe not. Personally, when I watched the second video alone in my room, the sound scared me a little bit.

p.s. I tried to embed the video, but it didn’t work. I worked for it for an hour and 30 minutes T^T and even asked Ali and Evgenija’s help, but it just doesn’t work.

The Changing Experience of Time

   In the book The Culture of Time and Space, Stephen Kern explains how certain technological, artistic, cultural and medical currents shape the experience of time and space. One of the chapters in this book focuses on World War One. He describes how the perception and experience of time change for the soldiers. With the development of the Standard World Time soldiers had to wear watches in order to be at the right place and time. As they were on the battlefield, soldiers lost track of time. The soldiers believed that had to overcome the present to live in the future, which was a reconstruction of the past. The pace of the war has also changed because of technological advancements. Everything was faster; soldiers were moved to the battlefields quickly, and they were given advanced weapons to protect themselves.

   The novel Pale Horse, Pale Rider depicts these ideas clearly. We see Adam wearing a hand watch as military equipment. He also, explains that his mother doesn’t  him to become a pilot because it is more dangerous. His mother does not recognize how fast military technology changes, and in fact it was both physically and psychologically safer for her son to serve as a pilot. Furthermore, we find Adam trying to get through his present situation with the army, so he could have a peaceful future with Miranda.

    Throughout the novel, we see how the concept of time changes for Miranda in parallel to her emotions. When they did not think of the plague or the war (when they perhaps “isolated” themselves) time seems to be longer. Later, when the doctor and interns take Miranda to the hospital time moves fast as she is nervous and uncomfortable. We also see a significant change in the experience of time, at the very end of the novel when Miranda is depressed and seems to have all the time she wants but nothing to do.

Every day is like Sunday

I stumbled across this “pocket history” of the plague in London, 1348-1665, produced by the Museum of London, and the line “One eyewitness said that London became so quiet that every day was like a Sunday” made me think of Morrissey’s apocalyptic anthem from the start of my Cold War college years. Enjoy.

For Defoe-related material from previous years’ courses, see this convener’s post as well as one about the novel’s medical content — especially concerning competing beliefs about the plague’s origins. Also see this one about how to situate Defoe’s work in the history of the novel as a genre. If you browse back and forth around these posts you’ll find other useful content. Here’s a round-up with links to some of the best additional posts on Defoe assembled over the last couple years.

Scapegoat mechanisms

We talk fairly casually about the notion of the scapegoat — a being forced to bear the burdens of a larger group’s sins or flaws, ritually sacrificed or exiled in order to restore social balance — and certainly this is a useful term for us as we think about social responses to epidemics. One of the fundamental questions people tend to pose in epidemic settings is: who has caused this plague? And if a specific entity or group of people can be identified, what then?

The Encyclopaedia Britannica has this concise entry on “pharmākos” that may serve as a useful starting point for more specific definitions of terms:

pharmākos, in Greek religion, a human scapegoat used in certain state rituals. In Athens, for example, a man and a woman who were considered ugly were selected as scapegoats each year. At the festival of the Thargelia in May or June, they were feasted, led round the town, beaten with green twigs, and driven out or killed with stones. The practice in Colophon, on the coast of Asia Minor (the part of modern Turkey that lies in Asia) was described by the 6th-century-bc poet Hipponax (fragments 5–11). An especially ugly man was honoured by the community with a feast of figs, barley soup, and cheese. Then he was whipped with fig branches, with care that he was hit seven times on his phallus, before being driven out of town. (Medieval sources said that the Colophonian pharmākos was burned and his ashes scattered in the sea.) The custom was meant to rid the place annually of ill luck. The 5th-century Athenian practice of ostracism has been described as a rationalized and democratic form of the custom. The biblical practice of driving the scapegoat from the community, described in Leviticus 16, gave a name to this widespread custom, which was said by the French intellectual René Girard to explain the basis of all human societies.

Following these leads, here’s the relevant passage from Leviticus 16:

Leviticus 16

The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the LORD.
The LORD said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.
“This is how Aaron is to enter the sanctuary area: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.
He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on.
From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.
“Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household.
Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.
He is to cast lots for the two goats–one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat.[1]
Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering.
But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat.
“Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering.
He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the LORD and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain.
He is to put the incense on the fire before the LORD, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the Testimony, so that he will not die.
He is to take some of the bull’s blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover.
“He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it.
In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the Tent of Meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness.
No one is to be in the Tent of Meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel.
“Then he shall come out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it. He shall take some of the bull’s blood and some of the goat’s blood and put it on all the horns of the altar.
He shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times to cleanse it and to consecrate it from the uncleanness of the Israelites.
“When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat.
He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites–all their sins–and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task.
The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert.
“Then Aaron is to go into the Tent of Meeting and take off the linen garments he put on before he entered the Most Holy Place, and he is to leave them there.
He shall bathe himself with water in a holy place and put on his regular garments. Then he shall come out and sacrifice the burnt offering for himself and the burnt offering for the people, to make atonement for himself and for the people.
He shall also burn the fat of the sin offering on the altar.
“The man who releases the goat as a scapegoat must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp.
The bull and the goat for the sin offerings, whose blood was brought into the Most Holy Place to make atonement, must be taken outside the camp; their hides, flesh and offal are to be burned up.
The man who burns them must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp.
“This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves[2] and not do any work–whether native-born or an alien living among you–
because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins.
It is a sabbath of rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance.
The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest is to make atonement. He is to put on the sacred linen garments
and make atonement for the Most Holy Place, for the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and for the priests and all the people of the community.
“This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.” And it was done, as the LORD commanded Moses.
  1. [8] That is, the goat of removal; Hebrew azazel; also in verses 10 and 26
  2. [29] Or must fast; also in verse 31

And here’s a summary of the work of René Girard on the subject:

When violence is at the point of threatening the existence of the community, very frequently a bizarre psychosocial mechanism arises: communal violence is all of the sudden projected upon a single individual. Thus, people that were formerly struggling, now unite efforts against someone chosen as a scapegoat. Former enemies now become friends, as they communally participate in the execution of violence against a specified enemy.

Girard calls this process ‘scapegoating’, an allusion to the ancient religious ritual where communal sins were metaphorically imposed upon a he-goat, and this beast was eventually abandoned in the desert, or sacrificed to the gods (in the Hebrew Bible, this is especially prescribed in Leviticus 16).The person that receives the communal violence is a ‘scapegoat’ in this sense: her death or expulsion is useful as a regeneration of communal peace and restoration of relationships.

However, Girard considers it crucial that this process be unconscious in order to work. The victim must never be recognized as an innocent scapegoat (indeed, Girard considers that, prior to the rise of Christianity, ‘innocent scapegoat’ was virtually an oxymoron; see section 4.b below); rather, the victim must be thought of as a monstrous creature that transgressed some prohibition and deserved to be punished. In such a manner, the community deceives itself into believing that the victim is the culprit of the communal crisis, and that the elimination of the victim will eventually restore peace.

In what ways can Oedipus’ outcome be understood in similar terms? Girard certainly thought so. Oedipus was his chief example of how this process works; in treating Oedipus as an innocent victim of his society’s effort to rid itself of plague, he aims to undo Freud’s dominant understanding of the Oedipus myth.

Image above: William Holman Hunt, The Scapegoat, 1854.


Human Being, or Being Human?

Following the recent trend of unusual narration in our studied texts, Sinha’s Animal’s People depicts the story of the fictional, poor city of Khaufpur, India following a poisonous chemical leakage, all of which is narrated through the taped voice of the protagonist, Animal. Interestingly, the protagonist himself is an unconventional character, as he repeatedly claims, “Je suis un animal” (40).

The protagonist endures his name and status as a devastating effect of the “Kampani’s” chemical leakage. As one of the survivors from the catastrophe, Animal experiences the toxic effects of the poisonous chemicals six years after the explosion, when his spine becomes deformed and forces him to walk on all fours, like a dog. The change in his physical form also causes him to change in his attitude towards others and himself. The relationship he has with his name provides insight to his character. Although he adamantly demands to be called “Animal,” he does not allow people to treat him as inferior. Rather, he stands his ground, which is displayed in the way he protects himself as a response to the attempts to tease him. Animal seems to be torn between the two worlds: human and primitive. This is reflected in the following passage:

““My name is Animal,” I say. “I’m not a fucking human being, I’ve no wish to be one.” This was my mantra, what I told everyone. Never did I mention my yearning to walk upright. It was the start of that long argument between Zafar and me about what was an animal and what it meant to be human” (23).

It almost seems as though Animal has to convince himself that he does not want to be viewed as a human. This behavior goes hand in hand with the jealousy he felt for everything that was able to walk, paralleled with his desire to be able to walk upright. Animal also succumbs to primitive, instinctive desires, and often justifies his decisions by reassuring himself that he is not human (87). Thus, before he meets Nisha and Zafar, he lives on the street performing elaborate scams until he agrees to work as a spy for Zafar. Even so, Animal’s success as an information scouter is mostly due to his ability to extract meaning from people’s unspoken thoughts and feelings, as well as through unfamiliar words. His subhuman (or arguably, superhuman) ability to read others and communicate with both people and animals (like his dog, Jara) suggests he is neither fully human nor beast, but is living in limbo between the two categories.

What does it mean to be human? What is the distinction between humans and animals? How does Animal’s instinctive perception of the world reflect his more-than-human nature? What does the title, Animal’s People, suggest about the division between man and beast?

The oral nature of the narration enhances Animal’s animalistic characteristics, as some of the words are transcribed with incorrect spelling, such as when he agrees to spy for Zafar and says, “Namispond! Jamispond!” (26) (translation: the name’s Bond, James Bond). Also, the text is embedded with sounds and words from various languages, including “Inglis” (English), Hindi, and French. The rapid switching between languages, which can often be confusing, contributes to the authenticity of the book. The mixture of dialects and sounds reflects the rough language of animals, an idea that is highlighted by Ma Franci’s inability to understand other languages after the poisonous chemical leak:

“On that night all sorts of people lost all kinds of things, lives for sure, families, friends, health, jobs, in some cases their wits. This poor woman, Ma Franci, lost all knowledge of Hindi. She’d gone to sleep knowing it as well as any Khaufpuri, was woken in the middle of the night by a wind full of poison and prophesying angels. … But there was a further twist to Ma Franci’s madness, when she heard people talking in Hindi or Inglis, or come to that in Urdu, Tamil, Oriya, or any other tongue used in Khaufpur, she could no longer recognize that what they were speaking was a language, she thought they were just making stupid grunts and sounds” (37).  

How is language/speech related to being human? How does language work as a distinction between people, and between humans and animals? What aspects of a language reflect the people who speak it, and how do we perceive people who speak a foreign language (compare with Arthur Mervyn)? What is the significance of language in terms of delivering a story, particularly Animal’s?

Aside from language, the question of sexuality and lust arise as other aspects of being alive and being human. Although Animal constantly dehumanizes himself, he develops feelings for Nisha even though he knows he has no chance with her. Despite his inner voices of reason, his love and desire for her grow to such an extent that he is willing to do anything to impress her and take care of her (47).  Also, when he spies on the “Amrikan” (American) woman, Elli, who moves to Khaufpur and prepares to open up a free medical clinic, he accidentally sees her bathing – the first time he sees a woman naked. He involuntarily lusts for her, which causes him to dream about his desires and his beloved Nisha:

“Often I’d dream of making love with I won’t say her name. I never told anyone because if people got to know, what would they do, laugh at me, pity me? “Animal, don’t have those kind of hopes.” … Animal mating with human female, it’s unnatural, but I’ve no choice but to be unnatural. Many times I would dream that she and I were in love, sometimes we were married and naked together like in the movies having sex. In such dreams was my back straight? Did I stand upright? No and no. I was exactly as I am now and it did not matter. Such dreams! I woke from them shaking with hope. This frightened me, I despise hope” (78).

Time and time again, Animal reacts to Nisha and Elli with uncontrollable lust. In tape nine, Animal sits in between Nisha and Zafar at the town meeting to discuss the opening of Elli’s clinic, and the physical presence of Nisha causes “the monster down there [to stir]” (124). He struggles to hide and subdue “the unruly beast” which “immediately starts to rear and buck, damn that f***ing thing, it has no respect.” Thus, Animal’s lust is itself given animal-like characteristics, which further complicates the definition of the human essence. The fact that he is able to differentiate love from lust reminds us of his more ‘human’ side.

Is love a human characteristic, or is it a natural instinct? If lust, love, and jealousy, and hope are all aspects of being human, what does this indicate about human nature? How does this answer the bigger question on what it means to be human?

Since in this novel, the disease is entirely caused by man-made means, it offers a new insight into the issue of responsibility in the face of an epidemic. Moreover, it allows for an analysis of the inherent problems behind the disease, much like how Dream of Ding Village introduced the question of the role of government vs. individuals in the propagation of and response to the spread of AIDS. As explained by Animal’s narration, the employees and managers of the “Kampani” are accused guilty in the aftermath of the factory leak, but for eighteen years, they never make an appearance in court (52). In fact, they also fail to pay the costs for the recovery efforts and for the victims of the leakage, placing the Kampani’s selfish needs before the poor citizens of Khaufpur (112). Khaufpur’s own government fails to respond appropriately to the catastrophe, as minimal action is taken by the (ironically named) Minister of Poison to alleviate the victims’ suffering (131).

What is the role of the government in Animal’s People, and how does its (in)action compare with the Chinese government in Yan’s Dream of Ding Village? In what ways is the government criticized and satirized by the Khaufpuris? What is the significance of politics and business within the context of this novel? How does the issue of politics relate to the issue of foreigners vs. insiders, in terms of the “Amrikan” presence in and influence on the town?

Hopefully this post and the questions posed above help us to begin delving into the complex fabric of this fascinating text. Happy reading!

– Azmyra, Laura, Maisie, and Sharon