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Is China culpable for Covid-19?

13 May 2020 / 19:34 H.

SOME Western governments may follow the lead set by the United States to attempt suing China over its failure to stop Covid-19 at the source. What’s the issue here? It’s not, as Donald Trump lately argued, that China dragged its feet in warning the world. In fact, the US president was heaping praise on China’s quick responses in January and February after the initial hiatus in December.

A claim for reparations may perhaps be justified on grounds that Covid-19 started in China. But that’s opening a Pandora’s box. The H1N1 pandemic in 2009 started in the United States and claimed more than 150,000 lives worldwide. That’s a lot of compensation America has to pay out.

Still, should China ponder whether it is in some ways culpable? On two points it is likely culpable. On the first point, China has known for 20 years that coronaviral diseases are caused by pathogens jumping from animals to humans. The 2003 SARS coronavirus epidemic that affected 26 countries began in Guangdong, southern China. It was directly tied to wildlife practices. To stop SARS, the Chinese government banned wildlife hunting, trading and consumption. But unsurprisingly the ban was lifted just three months after it was imposed, thereby laying the blood-soaked path to Covid-19.

This was a colossal failure of governmental responsibility. Why unsurprisingly? Because the Chinese regime, like any populist government in the world, seeks approval from citizens. Beijing gave in to consumerist demands to bring wildlife back on the dinner table, and it will cave in this time again because of claims that voracious meat-eating is a 5,000-year-old Chinese cultural tradition and bush meat is good medicine for sick people.

The oft-quoted maxim is that Chinese people will eat any creature that has its back to the sun.

If this is true, it means that China has turned its back on the ethics of its own civilisation in favour of decadent meat-eating practices that shore up a multibillion-dollar animal slaughter industry.

This is the second point why China is likely culpable for Covid-19.

The roots of traditional Chinese medicine are herbs and not pangolins illegally shipped from Malaysia. Chinese culture rests on a foundation of three religions: Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism.

Confucianism distinguishes between animal slaughtering and meat eating. The Works of Mencius, a Confucian holy book, states in Book 6 that a ruler’s performance is judged by his ability to supply any deficiency of seed during ploughing time, and to assist in reaping the crop. There is no mention of livestock, although Mencius acknowledges the practice of meat-eating. In Bk3, Part 1, Ch4, a minister of agriculture is cited who “taught the people to sow and reap cultivating the five kinds of grain.” Again no mention of livestock.

The distinction between animal slaughtering and meat eating is vital, as almost at the beginning of the Works of Mencius you find these two verses: “Beasts devour one another, and people hate them for doing so” (Book 1, Pt1, Ch4, v.5). “So is the superior person affected towards animals, that, having seen them alive, he cannot bear to see them die; having heard their dying cries, he cannot bear to eat their flesh” (Bk1, P1, Ch7, v.8).

Taoism is similarly anti-slaughter. The Writings of Chuang Tzu, a Taoist holy book, extols the intimate links between animals and humans. “Yes, in the age of perfect virtue, people lived in common with birds and beasts, and were on terms of equality with all creatures, as forming one family” (Bk9, Pt2, Sect2 v. 2). Chuang Tzu also condemns wildlife hunting. “The knowledge shown in the arrangements for setting nets, and the nets and snares themselves, is great, but the animals are disturbed by them in the marshy grounds” (Bk10, Pt2, Sect3, v.4).

All Buddhists in China are familiar with the advice of Buddha in Nirvana Sutra (Ch4: The Nature of the Tathāgata, Pt1): “Any meat that is clearly present should not be eaten; to eat it constitutes a transgression. I am now proclaiming this rule eliminating meat eating. To eat meat is to cut out the seeds of your own great compassion.”

The Karaniya Metta Sutra and Metta Bhavana contain these words: “Having seen that all beings like oneself, have a desire for happiness, one should methodically develop loving-kindness towards all beings” and “As a mother would risk her own life to protect her only child, even so towards all living beings one should cultivate a boundless heart.”

Compassion towards all living beings including the animals drives Chinese culture. It is why China developed plant-based fake meats 1,500 years ago. Has China dumped its own civilisational values in its rush to embrace the consumerist lifestyle? This is a major question the Chinese government and meat-eaters who claim to follow Chinese culture must ponder.

The writer champions interfaith harmony. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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