SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) is an animal virus said to have spread from civet cats to humans first in the Guangdong province of southern China in 2002. The SARS epidemic affected 26 countries and resulted in thousands of deaths.
In a 2003 article from The Irish Times, we notice similarities between Defoe’s depiction of the 1665 Plague to the SARS outbreak in China. The spread of rumors and apprehension of the epidemic resemble the way people responded to the news of the Plague.
Another similarity is that the SARS epidemic brought Chinese businesses to a halt and had a tremendous impact on the Chinese economy, much like how the Plague affected businesses in London. In fact, one of the most memorable facts about this incident was the way the Chinese government intervened. The government is said to have withheld information about the spread of the disease from the public to preserve the international image of the country. The convener’s post discusses how the limits of authority is a strong theme in Defoe’s writing. The Chinese government’s response to the SARS incident somewhat resembles this as it prompts us to question what the “common good” is. Was the government right to protect the Chinese image and thus its economy instead of being truthful about the occurring deaths?
Here is the link to the article from 2003,
Wow — not only is this an interesting comparison case, the article itself is a great example of plague literature. Look at how self-reflexive it is, even in citing literary precedents (including Defoe) and embodying a cacophony of competing voices. I’m struck here by the emphasis on truth-telling. This will become an important feature of other texts we read. It’s important in relation to governments, of course, but in what other contexts has an emphasis on truth-telling already become apparent in our course?