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May 14

Scurrying Bao: Another Hysteria over Personal Responsibility?

Written by Nimrod on Thursday, May 14th, 2009 at 12:12 am
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Named after Running Fan, an overseas Chinese student surnamed Bao has been given the moniker Scurrying Bao (包窜窜) by angry netizens for becoming the first case of H1N1 flu in China.

The story is like this:

Bao, an outstanding graduate of University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), currently studies Physics at the University of Missouri. He was going back to Sichuan to get married. On May 7, he took a flight from St. Louis to St. Paul, then to Tokyo, and finally arriving in Beijing on May 8, where he stayed one night at a hotel.

On his trans-Pacific flight he is said to have felt feverish, had some throat discomfort, and headache.

As soon as he arrived in Chengdu from Beijing he went to a hospital to get checked out. The hospital found he likely has H1N1 after some tests and assigned his case as one of probable infection.

China being deathly cautious of swine flu (even at the risk of offending Mexico) has put him in quarantine. Unfortunately for him, he is now the focal point of over-the-top netizen vitriol such as this on Tianya and Sohu:

“Sigh, why come back at this sensitive time! You brought disaster to the motherland!”

“He is missing basic morality!”

“A traitor to the nationality!!!! Who asked you to come back at this extraordinary time???? I suspect it’s a conspiracy of the Western enemy forces, who want a Chinese to carry the virus back home!!! If this infection gets uncontrollable, I believe no Chinese will forgive you!!!!”

“Immoral, demonic victimizer, coming back at this time to harm people, what’s so outstanding about having no social ethics. If China has an epidemic at this time, he surely wouldn’t have come back. What a man, he should give a public apology to those on the same flight, at the least!”

“Who is the wife-to-be? Get a divorce quick. You can’t marry this kind of man. Knowing he caught a disease, he had to hurry to get married. In doing so he put his loved one in danger. Such a selfish and greedy man. You won’t be happy after marriage!”

Is Scurrying Bao a scumbag who didn’t take H1N1 symptoms seriously enough? Is he an innocent man amidst people driven mad by potential pandemic? Some suggest he should have alerted his flight attendants or at least quarantined himself in Beijing. How much “responsibility” is called for in such a case and how do you assuage the demand for more?


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28 Responses to “Scurrying Bao: Another Hysteria over Personal Responsibility?”

  1. Wukailong Says:

    Wow, this is fast. Thanks Nimrod!

    My colleagues had some heated discussions about this yesterday. Luckily, they are not silly enough to bring up nutty conspiracy theories about the West… I mean, in that case, Mexico should have been on the list for wanting to bring down the US.

    He certainly should have known better, but I wonder how many cases of similar behavior have occurred in other countries carrying the flu.

    Also, Beijing is getting less and less safe. 🙁

  2. Nimrod Says:

    On the side of hysterical people, though, are recent experiences with (the much more dangerous) SARS and bird flu. So they may be excused just a little bit.

    Speaking of conspiracy theories, another one floating out there says the Chinese government is using this to turn attention away from the 20th anniversary of June 4. You certainly won’t find a paucity of conspiracy theories…

  3. Ted Says:

    “Is Scurrying Bao a scumbag who didn’t take H1N1 symptoms seriously enough? Is he an innocent man amidst people driven mad by potential pandemic?”

    Har-har, assuming that’s a joke right. Although, I had a few students crying for reparations from Mexico a few weeks back. “How could they release this disease on the world!?”

    There were also some more balanced responses weren’t there? I mean, it’s not like he underwent testing, hopped on a plane, then deliberately ignored attempts to contact him like that fellow with the resistant strain of TB.

  4. Wukailong Says:

    “Speaking of conspiracy theories, another one floating out there says the Chinese government is using this to turn attention away from the 20th anniversary of June 4. You certainly won’t find a paucity of conspiracy theories…”

    Oh my. Yeah, there was also a theory that China was using the embassy bombing back in the days to suit its own needs. It seems there are many people around who believe governments willingly sacrifice their own people for nebulous reasons.

  5. S.K. Cheung Says:

    Sounds like he didn’t start feeling unwell until the trans-Pacific leg. So if people fault him for not knowing he was infected when he got on the flight without any symptoms…well, hopefully they hold themselves to similar standards in how they conduct their own lives. And it sounds like the guy went straight to the hospital when he got home…I’m not sure how much more responsible he could’ve been.

    If Chinese netizens want complete certainty, it’s time to put a bubble around China.

  6. Nimrod Says:

    Ted wrote:

    There were also some more balanced responses weren’t there? I mean, it’s not like he underwent testing, hopped on a plane, then deliberately ignored attempts to contact him like that fellow with the resistant strain of TB.

    +++++
    Some, but it has been surprisingly one-sided. All I can say is people seem really scared. Probably a bit superstitious, too.

    Also there has been a second case now brought by another overseas Chinese student from Canada. Now overseas Chinese as a group is really in PR trouble, but just words at this point… No exrement dumping yet, for example.

  7. The Baz Says:

    This is ridiculous. H1N1 is no more dangerous in any way than the flu many of us get every year. At this time there is absolutely no evidence that this strain is
    1) more deadly, or
    2) more contagious
    than any other flu.

    This flu was hyped by the media until they got the public in a frenzy of fear. There is nothing to fear, but fear sells newspapers and ads on television.

    Wake up everyone! The “swine” in swine flu is the media which will push any lie in order to sell stories.

  8. Charles Liu Says:

    So is on-line free speech too free in this case? Is Jacky Chan right after all?

    Even in America free speech has limit, like not incite violence, offence, you know – the “river crab” kind of stuff.

  9. heiheianan Says:

    The mob mentality has undone many a golden bow. Whenever I read stuff like this, I think of the Salem Witch Trials, McCarthyism, and what happens in rural Africa at times, where the villagers turn on someone for bringing bad forces into their midst. But I especially think of “Things Fall Apart” by Achebe and “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, where people use group demonizations to exorcise their own fears, doubts, and shortcomings.

    I know that often, for whatever reason (topic for a good article or 100, ha) the comments section tends to attract the loudest, most vulgar and extreme posters, but even so…

    And you know what? Had he cancelled his wedding, leaving his bride stranded, the mariachi band with no place to play, and all those fat delicious cash-filled envelopes a’waiting, he would be equally despised for not returning to support the mom-tierra and his blushing bride in a time of need, instead choosing to stay in America while the resolute countrymen of the homeland faced pending porcine death! Oink, sir, Oink indeed!

    But what the netizens fail to realize is that for a Sichuan man, Missouri is a culinary purgatory, neither here nor there. Better to die among the 辣 then to live among the blah, says Bao! 打报,大包!加油!!!

  10. Raj Says:

    So is on-line free speech too free in this case? Is Jacky Chan right after all?

    No, it isn’t too free and no Chan is still wrong. You can’t have laws on politeness on the internet. You’d have to ban all forums, chat rooms, etc (and then stop Chinese internet users going to foreign ones).

    It is the responsibility of the administrators to deal with abusive/unpleasant comments – I’ve noticed that they often let things slide on Chinese forums unless it’s about domestic politics, criticism of the Party, etc. All they need is a proper conduct code and to enforce it.

  11. heiheianan Says:

    @Charles Liu

    IMO, the freedom Jacky Chan was referring to wasn’t speech related, and certainly not directed towards bright, well-educated (physics!!!) men like señor Bao. It was meant for the poor and teeming masses, that embarrassing reminder of times gone past.

    Jacky Chan might feel the same way about much of the rest of the residents of Missouri though. I definitely feel they have too much freedom. Ditto for Texans.

  12. yo Says:

    @Nimrod,
    While I like getting to know the Chinese netizen community better, I think we should have some standards on what to report; we don’t need to know about every whacho/weirdo who has too much time on their hands, sharing their worthless opinions 🙂

    @Raj
    “It is the responsibility of the administrators to deal with abusive/unpleasant comments ”
    It’s not, in the U.S. at least, admins and sites are not liable for abusive or unpleasant comments made by the users.

  13. Raj Says:

    It’s not, in the U.S. at least, admins and sites are not liable for abusive or unpleasant comments made by the users.

    I wasn’t talking about liability – “responsibility” has a wider meaning. E.g. we all have a responsibility in making our streets safe, but there’s no legal liability if we don’t.

  14. Charles Liu Says:

    “responsibility” – right on Raj. Our collective observance of freedom limited by law is what’s making our streets safe and harmonious.

    We Americans are more down with “river crab” than the Chinese.

  15. XCai Says:

    I am an immigrant, but it seems people back home take the internet way too seriously. Anyone can say anything online, and given the huge Chinese internet population, all sorts of stuff gets said. In China, people sometimes take online words as seriously as if someone had said it in real life. This is because of a strong internet vigilantism culture stemming from national pride, and a bunch of angry youths who think it amusing to act like this. Is free speech to blame? Of course not. People can say what they want online, the issue here is not to take it too seriously.

    Regarding the flu victim, it can hardly be his fault unless he intended to catch the flu and bring it back to China, and I kinda doubt that. Given how many Chinese there are, it’s a miracle there’s only 1 person after all this time with the flu. Once again, some Chinese netizens are probably watching which country has it worse by the numbers, refreshing the charts constantly like some kind of competition. It may sound strange to foreign ears, but this kind of thing is very prevalent on Chinese internet.

  16. Wukailong Says:

    @Charles Liu: “We Americans”

    Too bad for you. We others are not, necessarily… 😉

  17. Mick Says:

    Why is the Chinese government alone in the world in encouraging this fear and paranoia about a bout of flu? They wouldn’t be trying to deflect their citizens’ attention and anger away from something else more sensitive, perhaps. There is nothing to fear from this H1N1 flu unless, like all other kinds of flu, you are already frail and sick. Smoke and mirrors.

  18. Charles Liu Says:

    Mick, NYC just closed more school:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30752930/

    Are they encouraging fear and paranoia? Does this mean our government is trying to deflect our attention away from waterboarding and Afghanistan Massacre?

    I really don’t think it’s the Chinese government, rather the over-the-top netizen vitriol – very much like how people on the streets cussing me out for being North Korean (I’m American) during the North Korea nuke thing.

  19. Mick Says:

    How many people in America died last year with the influenza strain H3N2?
    Was it a) 100? b) 1000? c) 10,000? d) 40,000?

    How many have died this year so far from the H1N1 strain?

    3.

    Does the CDC think the spread of infection warrants use of face masks in public or closing schools if there is a suspected case?

    No.

  20. Charles Liu Says:

    Mick, neither does the Chinese:

    http://news.baidu.com/ns?word=%D6%ED%C1%F7%B8%D0+%B9%D8%D1%A7%D0%A3&tn=news&from=news&ie=gb2312&bs=%D6%ED%C1%F7%B8%D0+%B9%D8%D1%A7%D0%A3&sr=0&cl=2&rn=20&ct=1&prevct=no

    No school in China has been closed due to N1H1 (whle we have closed hundreds of school in NYC and Texas.) Your accusation against the Chinese government simply doesn’t stand up to the facts.

  21. Michael Says:

    China’s nominated WHO director, Dr Margaret Chan, has all the [lack of] skill of a Hong Kong civil servant, which is what she was before taking up the post. She does everything in an inflexible mechanistic ‘tick box’ fashion, regardless of the true situation. Instead of showing leadership and initiative she parrots inane warnings about global catastrophe. When pulled up about them, she says we must do this “or I fail”. It’s not about you, Margaret.

    “[UK health minister] Alan Johnson to Chan at the WHO Assembly this week: “I would like to propose that you have more flexibility in that rather than follow a mechanistic process.”

    Johnson was backed by New Zealand, Switzerland, and the head of the Pan American Health Organization, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report.

    AFP reported that the WHO advised vaccine manufacturers that making seasonal flu vaccine should still be their priority.

    In other words, enough of the hysteria. H1N1 flu is a serious public health threat, but on a scale of priorities, there are much more important things to worry about.

  22. Charles Liu Says:

    WHO is a WORLD organization; can’t hardly blame HK or China. It’s like blaming Japan for Judge Ito.

  23. barny chan Says:

    Michael Says: “China’s nominated WHO director, Dr Margaret Chan, has all the [lack of] skill of a Hong Kong civil servant…She does everything in an inflexible mechanistic ‘tick box’ fashion…she parrots inane warnings about global catastrophe.”

    You’re actually being far too kind to the absurd Margaret Chan.

    Her handling of the SARS crisis in HK as the city’s Director of Health verged into the realms of criminal incompetence. Not only was she blankly complicit in China’s attempts at covering up the extent of the epidemic, in HK itself she oversaw a forced drugs regime on those infected that killed more people than it saved. Even within the desperately face-saving culture of HK she ended up being censured by the Legislative Council for her sheer incompetence. Had she still been in office she would have been forced to resign, but, by then, she was with the WHO who, incredibly, promoted her to the top job.

    One of the high(low?)lights of her tenure at the WHO was in alienating frontline healthworkers in the developing world by attacking the use of generic drugs and siding with the profit-obsessed multinational pharma corporations. Chan is a figure who brings shame both on China and the WHO.

  24. Nimrod Says:

    Bao has been released from the hospital.

  25. MutantJedi Says:

    I’m glad and not surprised that Bao is leaving the hospital quite alive.

    The harsh commentary on Bao from the usually reserved and considered masses otherwise known as netizens was uncalled for and was certainly lacking in even basic human empathy. The Internet is a medium that tends to amplify the voices of the fringe. And the fringe is a group easily frightened. That fear is taking its cue from the government.

    It seems that the government is acting as though overreaction mends past under-reactions. We didn’t act quickly enough with the milk scandal, SARS, etc so we’ll over compensate with the next big thing. The next big thing seems to be A(H1N1). As foreign teachers we received a bottle of bleach to clean our floors – precaution against the Swine Flu. The school is considering canceling the summer program – precaution against the Swine Flu.

    Should A(H1N1) be taken seriously? Of course. Reasonable, science based, precautions should be implemented. Panic doesn’t help.

    Of course, if the netizens were concerned about needless loss of life or diminished capacity, there are plenty of causes to champion in China. Smoking, seat belts, and bicycle helmets swiftly come to mind. As a teacher of Junior Twos, I’ve seen more than a few scars shining through the closely cropped heads of boys.

  26. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To MJ:
    nice post.

  27. Charles Liu Says:

    Second SKC (wow hell has froze over 😎 The Chinese will need to sort this out themselves, on ther own accord. We the inventor of the automibile dd not require seatbelt until recent decades, and I can stll find used office furniture with cigarette burns from the 80’s.

    In all due times, I suppose, they too will change for the better.

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  1. Global Voices Online » China: Blaming the first H1N1 patient

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