Western society once labeled China the “Sick Man of Asia” for its inability to control or defeat epidemics that ravaged its population in past centuries.Next Thursday, medical historian Marta Hanson will examine how the roles now are reversed as the U.S. leads the world in the number of cases and deaths from COVID-19.
Hanson is associate professor of East Asian medical history at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. In her talk, she will discuss how the caricature of the “sick man of Asia,” spread by newspaper headlines and political cartoons, provided China motivation for a campaign leading to national change within its state, medical and public health infrastructures. She’ll also talk about the role of traditional Chinese medicine in treating COVID-19. She answered some questions about her work in an email interview with Inland 360.
In your work you argue that the roles are now reversed, the U.S. is now “Sick Uncle Sam.” How do you define this sickness?
Hanson: “I define it as the highest amount of cases and deaths due to COVID-19 in the world.
(The causes being) cynical, anti-public health and science, misleading and misguided ‘guidance,’ downright pandemic-exacerbating actions from the Trump administration, a broken healthcare system and inadequate health insurance coverage for average Americans.”
Why do you argue that accepting this moniker would be a helpful step forward for the U.S.?
Hanson: “Accepting the ‘sick role’ could open policy makers to looking more broadly at a wider range of institutional, public health and therapeutic interventions from other countries in the world. Even from region to region in the U.S., response is so uneven from a state-to-state level without a federal-level unified ‘Uncle Sam’ approach of fighting this together. Thus, all the conflict over wearing masks because of ‘individual rights,’ and such, over collective responsibility.
How does treatment of illness in China differ from treatment of illness in the U.S.?
Hanson: “Overall, it’s a more integrated medical approach to treatment. They don’t just rely on biomedical treatments but also integrate Chinese traditional herbal remedies to help patients alleviate symptoms. They DO NOT claim that Chinese medicine will cure (COVID-19); but rather that it helps the patients endure and survive it.”
Herbal formulas are adjusted to the pattern of symptoms the patient has — not like a western pharmaceutical directed at one bacterial or other cause. The ingredients are understood to work synergistically — not independently. Formulas are adjusted according to the patient’s changing condition.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “From Sick Man of Asia to Sick Uncle Sam: The Case of Traditional Chinese Medicine and COVID-19”
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. Sept. 10.
OF NOTE: The online talk is sponsored by the University of Idaho East Asian Studies. A link to join is available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.