Alarm Bell Ringing Loudly: Plague Epidemics in China Getting Worse and Worse in Recent Years

Zhou Tong

PureInsight | February 26, 2006

[] According to
a Jan. 13, 2006 news report from mainland China, the Chinese government
released official statistics that indicate that the plague epidemic
situation in China has gotten worse and worse since the 1990s. Cases of
plague have been reported in many Chinese counties that used to be free
from plague.

The report says that between 2001 and 2005 official statistic shows
that 206 human plague epidemics occurred in 43 counties in seven
provinces and autonomous regions, including Yunna, Guizhou, Guangxi,
Xizang, Qinghai, Gansu and Inner Mongolia, in which 24 people have
died. Animal plague epidemics have occurred in 278 counties of 14
provinces and autonomous regions including Yunnan, Guangxi, Guizhou,
Zizang, Qinghai, Gansu, Xinjiang, Sichuan, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia,
Hebei, Shanxi, Liaoning and Jilin. Plague cases have been reported in
13 counties that were formerly free from the plague.

The reports states, "At present, some areas in inner China where the
plague used to be dormant have started to see active cases again. The
scope of the animal plague epidemic has gradually expanded. The plague
epidemic is approaching major cities with dense populations. As
transportation in China is improving daily, opportunities for spreading
plague epidemics to distant areas have increased."

The report says that at present China's plague zone covers 1,150,000
square kilometers in 286 counties and cities of 19 provinces and
autonomous regions. Every year plague epidemic testing is done in
between 400 and 420 counties in 24 provinces, autonomous regions and
cities. About 1,200 plague monitoring centers have been established,
covering about 150,000 square kilometers.

In China's history, there are several instances where the plague
epidemic had spread in large areas and resulted in massive numbers of
deaths. During those times, the Chinese society was turbulent with the
political situation being especially unstable.

During the last years of the Ming Dynasty, the plague epidemics occurred one after another all over the country.

In 1633, a plague epidemic suddenly appeared in Shanxi Province. According to Shanxi Diary of
Wanli Time, severe plague epidemics occurred in Yuanqu, Yangcheng and
Qingshui cities during that year, where "dead bodies were buried one
after another." Severe plague also occurred in Gaoping and Liaozhou
cities, where "the death toll was enormous."

In 1634 and 1635, a plague epidemic broke out in Xing County, which was
located in western Shanxi Province close to the Yellow River. A poem
describes the suffering, "Heaven has dropped an epidemic on us. One
gets it in the morning and dies in the evening. Whole families have
died overnight. Common folks have fled with horror, and the entire city
has become empty."

In 1637, the plague epidemic spread all over Shanxi Province. In 1641,
"The epidemic has spread widely. Nobody dares to visit the ill and dead
to express condolences. A famine has also broken out."

The Diary of a Famine Year
of Neihuang County of Henan Province recorded what happened in 1640
along both sides of Huang River, "Wind blew hard, crops all died.
Houses were empty. People ate chaff and elm skins. The famished looked
yellow with the entire body covered in edema. Epidemic developed and
half the population died." In 1641, the epidemic broke out all over the

In 1641, the plague epidemic suddenly spread widely in the Wujiang
region (which covered the southern part of Jiansu Province and northern
part of Zhejiang Province). Numerous people died during the epidemic,
resulting in an astonishing death toll. There was a prominent family in
the region with several dozen people in the family. One family member
caught the plague. Within days, everyone in the family was infected
with the disease. In the end, all of them died. Wujiang Diary said, "Whole families lay dead, with nobody left behind."

In Hebei Province, Beijing City and Tianjin City, severe epidemics also
spread widely starting in 1640. In Damingfu County, "The epidemic has
spread widely, with 80% to 90% of the population dead." The next year,
the epidemic entered Beijing. History of Ming
said, "Several major waves of the plague epidemics broke out between
March and October." In 1644, when Luo Yangxing, the Military Affairs
Director of Tianjian City talked about Beijing's epidemic, he said,
"Last year the plague epidemic spread in Beijing widely with bodies
lying all around. Nine out of ten houses were empty. Some families all
died, and nobody was left behind to arrange the funerals." The epidemic
caused more than 200,000 deaths.

In April of 1644, Li Zicheng's army conquered Beijing, and the Ming Dynasty ended.

At the end of the Qing Dynasty, the plague epidemic broke out in
northeastern China. It started in October of 1910. It first appeared in
Harlar City, and then spread toward Qiqihar City and Harbin City. In
Harbin City, the local population at that time was less than 20,000.
5,272 people, or more than a quarter of the city's population, died in
the plague. It then spread to Dunhua, Ermu and Yanji areas of Jilin
Province between January and February of 1911.  In Yanji County
alone the death toll was 323. The epidemic then crossed Jilin Province,
quickly spread to Liaoning Province, and covered dozens of counties in
the province. The measure taken to stop the spread of the plague at
that time was to seize the houses of the infected and burn them down.
Even the soldiers and army officials who went to carry out the task got
infected and died. Over a period of just several months, between six
and seven thousand people in the area died from the plague. According
to the telegram report from Xi Liang, the governor of the three
Northeastern Provinces, the plague epidemic spread to 66 counties and
the death toll was more than 40,000. Moreover, according to historic
material, the total death toll of the plague epidemic in Northeastern
China was about 60,000.


As time went on, the plague epidemic gradually spread to inner China.
It reached Zhili and Rehe City, Shandong, Henan, Anhui, Hubei and Hunan
Provinces. The first cases of plague in Beijing appeared in December of
1910 at the Sanxing Hotel at the outskirt of the city. Wang Guilin, a
tourist from Fengtian City, and Yu Wenwei, a student who was visiting
Beijing from Tianjin, first got sick. From there, it gradually spread
to every corner of the capital.  


On February 12, 1912, the last Emperor of theQing Dynasty, Pu Yi,
abdicated the throne. The Qing Dynasty ended, and the world entered the
era of the Republic of China.

Epidemics, like other heavenly disasters such as droughts, floods,
plagues of pests, windstorms and earthquakes, play an important part in
human life and human history. It plays a major role in the world's
society, social order, social changes, and important events. Looking
back at history, we can see that, the resurfacing of all kinds of
plagues and frequent heavenly disasters as well as the decline of
social morality in China during the past few years indicate that China
is in the middle of yet another major change in history..

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