Inaugural Address Delivered At The Opening Of The International Plague Conference, written by Wu Lien Teh
How long does it take public health officials in China to pat themselves on the back about how they have successfully addressed a pandemic threat? You might be forgiven for thinking that this sort of thing has only happened in 2020. Alas, it has not. This very short address is about fourteen pages long or so, and makes part of the much longer discussion of a plague that came from marmots and affected China and other parts of Central Asia during 1911. Shortly after the plague was stopped, thanks in part to the use of railway cars to segregate people to avoid the spread of the disease, the limited range of marmots that were susceptible to the disease (although this factor is not discussed), a major Chinese official who is otherwise obscure to history made claims about the effectiveness of Chinese public health efforts that does sound like it comes out of 2020’s far less believable rhetoric. And apparently there was an entire conference in China dedicated to praising and studying these methods, including burning dead bodies as a way of reducing the spread of diseases as well that mirror contemporary Chinese approaches to public health.
To answer the initial question of this review, the opening address to the International Plague Conference in Mukden, in Manchuria, was given on April 4, 1911. This is only two months after the plague reached its final Chinese city in early February of the same year. It took less than two months for a lucky break on the part of Chinese officials to have a plague outbreak that did not cross international borders and become a global pandemic for said officials to pat themselves on the back and consider themselves to be authorities whose example was worth following and who had the well-being of their citizens in good hands. Not much has changed in the last 109 years as this remains the approach in real time of contemporary Chinese public health officials. Whether or not these historical examples can be believed, or whether we can just be fortunate that Manchurian groundhog plague is far less deadly than the Wuhan bat flu, it is certain that patterns of Chinese public health behavior have remained consistent over the course of the last century, along with the tendency of Chinese public health authorities to tout their own expertise to an international audience that was hopefully as skeptical than as it should be at present.