[REPORT FROM BEIJING]Revenge of the beastsOn June 4, 1989, a student who was demonstrating in Tiananmen Square said he had an important announcement; many Chinese and foreign reporters came over to cover the news, wondering if he were going to immolate himself to protest the government crackdown.
But the student shouted and said that he would begin a 24-hour hunger strike to make democracy happen. The foreign journalists were perhaps disappointed, but the Chinese reporters were in shock, because eating is such an important daily ritual for Chinese.
In some parts of the country, especially in Guangdong province, the emphasis on food is even higher. There is a saying in China to describe the ideal life: born in picturesque Suzhou, wearing silk outfits from Hangzhou and enjoying food from Guangdong province.
The Guangdong cuisine, however, is now being criticized in the press because the region was the origin of SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome. While more analysis is needed, it appears that the SARS virus may have jumped the barrier between other animals and humans.
The Chinese press said that Chinese people are infected with SARS because they will eat anything.
Another proverb says that Chinese eat everything that stands, flies and swims, except desks, airplanes and submarines.
SARS might have broken out because southern Chinese people with big appetites recklessly overhunted wild animals.
The first SARS-infected person was reported in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong; he was a chef at a restaurant whose specialty was wild animal cuisine. Other SARS patients were also cooks at wild animal restaurants.
It is very well-known that Guangdong people love cooking animals that live in the wilderness, such as monkeys, rats and lizards. They praise such food as healthy food from the wild world. On Lunar New Year’s Day in 2001, the year of the snake, restaurants in China had a slogan that you would be healthy after eating a snake in the year of the snake.
Then wild snakes almost disappeared from Guangdong province. In Shenzhen, 10 tons of snakes were slaughtered and cooked daily. That amounts to about 10,000 snakes a day.
“SARS might be revenge by wild animals because the Chinese have killed so many animals to enjoy a natural and wild taste,” a wild animal protection activist in China said.
Some Chinese who made huge amounts of money after China’s economic development also wanted to show off their assets by enjoying expensive and rare wild animals at their dinner tables.
It might be jumping to conclusions, but the outbreak of SARS might encourage the Chinese to protect wild animals better than they have in the past.
by You Sang-chul
The writer is the Beijing correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.