Becoming Modern after SARS. Battling the H1N1 Pandemic and the Politics of Backwardness in China′s Pearl River Delta

Katherine A. Mason


This article traces the early evolution of the H1N1 pandemic as it played out in China′s Pearl River Delta in the spring and summer of 2009, as local public health professionals there tried to contain the virus when their American counterparts did not do so. My informants′ difficulties in escaping their perceived status as a source, rather than a victim, of dangerous viruses; their use of disease control tactics that were portrayed abroad as excessive, unscientific, and unsophisticated; and their fatalism about reforming their local system of governance; all frustrated their ambitions. At the same time, the gulf between their reactions to H1N1 and the reactions across the Pacific suggests the need for a more serious global debate about what local places in all parts of the globe should and should not be prepared to do in the name of pandemic preparedness.


SARS; H1N1; pandemic; China; preparedness