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From Guilt to Sickness, Part I: Looking for Plague in All the Right Places


In late 2012, I was invited to a ceremony memorializing WWII Japanese biological weapons attacks on a village near Yiwu in Zhejiang Province. The ceremony would be attended by a group of Japanese researchers whom I would follow throughout the province on their investigation of Japanese germ warfare. This is my production diary:

I’m flying directly from Taiwan to Shanghai. To me, this is still amazingly convenient, as I remember when there were no direct flights between Taiwan and the Mainland. China and Taiwan share the policies of “mutual non-recognition” of sovereignty and “mutual non-denial” of jurisdiction—the perfect attitude one should have toward anyone really.

The aircraft is full of middle-class Chinese tourists loaded with Taiwanese junk gifts, some of which are actually made in China. Are these tourists stupid or do they not care? Just asking this question makes me aware of how conscious I am of these Chinese tourists. I feel superior to them—smarter, more cultured, better. But whenever I hear people denigrating them, especially in Europe, I get angry, as if they were insulting me.

I’m staying in a business hotel in a suburb of Shanghai. I don’t know much about the area other than that it’s in Minhang and near a huge sauna complex and what seems to be a red-light district. Black BMWs and Mercedes are parked chaotically all over the hotel lot. Typical Chinese businessmen walk with purpose while workers squat and loiter in the alleys. I wander around dreading the near future: carrying a lot of equipment, squatting over dirty toilets, lack of sleep. To me, traveling means carrying heavy things from place to place.

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