The recent outbreak of COVID-19 in Taiwan has highlighted the important roles that collective wisdom and action have played in battles against epidemics throughout history. Following Academia Sinica's launch of the "Reflections on COVID-19" website this year (2021), its companion result is being published today (July 15), a book entitled Reflections on COVID-19. This work features 19 articles by 20 humanities and social science scholars, whose work contributes valuable knowledge to aid Taiwanese society during this critical period.
As Academia Sinica President James C. Liao explained, "Acquiring knowledge is the sole means of conquering fear." To marshal our forces and take action in the face of this and future epidemics, we must do more than determine how a virus spreads and evolves; we also need to rethink the relationships between people, society, nations, and the environment. While writing this book during the past few months, Academia Sinica scholars have responded to society's need to better understand and reflect upon the sociocultural aspects of this epidemic from a range of different perspectives.
The driving force behind this volume is co-editor Paul R. Katz, Distinguished Research Fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Modern History, who recruited 20 Academia Sinica humanities and social science scholars to join the "Humanities and Social Science Perspectives on COVID-19 Rapid-Response Grants" project. Together, they utilized their expertise to critique current events and reflect on legal developments (including through surveys and data analysis), as well as provide new insights from the study of literature and history.
Dr. Katz points out that COVID-19 is not simply a disease, but also a social issue. "Based on a dialogue between history and the present, the lessons we learn from the past can help us respond appropriately to COVID-19's challenges for Taiwan and the world, and gather resources to face the next pandemic."
On the Front Line -- The Balance Between Plague Prevention and Human Rights
For example, Tsai Yu-yueh (Institute of Sociology) relates the oral histories of 28 health care workers and how they struggled to cope with the stigma of disease, psychological pressures, and dangers of infection. Dr. Tsai's colleague Tseng Fan-tzu (Institute of Sociology) illustrates the challenges facing people and their families under quarantine, while Chang Ku-ming (Institute of History and Philology) analyzes the success of Taiwan's national mask initiative in 2020 through interviews with representatives of the Ministry of Economics, armed forces, postal service, and mask manufacturers.
During a pandemic, how might we best delineate the boundaries between the rule of law and human rights? Lee Chien-liang (Institutum Iurisprudentiae) explores this issue through the state's control of people's "digital footprints." Ho Chih-hsing (Institute of European and American Studies) examines tech-driven health policy tradeoffs between individual rights and public interests in the context of world history, while Wu Wen-chin (Institute of Political Science) did an online survey of Taiwanese citizens and found that health data transparency helped shape opinions of pandemic policies.
How does social distancing become a social norm? Chan Ta-chien (Research Center for Humanities and Social Sciences) assesses the efficacy of social distancing policies through data on population flow and infection from 17 countries. Liu Shao-hua (Institute of Ethnology) investigates how panics caused by the outbreak of the pandemic in Taiwan led to systemic responses of social scapegoating and stigmatization.
Global Lessons from the Pandemic
COVID-19 has become the severest epidemic in modern times, disrupting healthcare systems, politics, society, and the economy. Lin Thung-hong (Institute of Sociology) examines the complex interaction between the pandemic's spread and the wealth inequality gap, while Yang Tzu-ting (Institute of Economics) analyzes the pandemic's challenges to the global economy, as well as the possible emergence of new economic models. Lee Hsuan-wei (Institute of Sociology) draws on international surveys to illustrate the psychological impact of pandemic policies and isolation on society. Chuang Tyng-ruey (Institute of Information Science) discusses the problem of open knowledge access during public health crises.
Historical Lessons Reveal Modern Solutions
Reflections on COVID-19 features 7 articles that utilize historical research to explore how people dealt with epidemics in the past. Two articles by Wu Yu-chuan (Institute of History and Philology) and co-authors Ku Ya-wen (Institute of Taiwan History) and Chang Lung-chih (Institute of Taiwan History) consider the 1918-1920 outbreak of Spanish Flu in Taiwan during Japanese colonial rule in terms of government policy, public health crises, and the social impact of the disease. Li Shang-jen (Institute of History and Philology) scrutinizes the English medical community's debate on whether leprosy was an infectious disease. Lei Hsiang-lin (Institute of Modern History) traces the "revival" of face masks throughout history since their use during the Spanish Flu and 1910-1911 Manchurian Plague, examining historical differences in the culture of wearing face masks in Taiwan and America.
Literature reflects life and the human condition; epidemics reveal human strength and frailty. Shan Te-hsing (Institute of European and American Studies) analyzes how Western writers from different eras and literary traditions characterized people's responses to severe plague conditions. Liu Yuan-ju (Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy) returns to the stories of medieval China, exploring thousand-year-old narratives about disease.
Religion and rituals are powerful forces that can help relieve the suffering caused by epidemics. In his chapter, Paul R. Katz compares cults to plague-fighting deities known as the Royal Lords (wangye) to related Western phenomena, while also considering how allowing the staging of plague expulsion festivals might best be balanced with epidemic safety measures, and raising new issues for our consideration.
Chen Hsi-yuan, the book's co-editor, described the volume as a collaborative effort, spanning a thousand years of history and scaling outward from Taiwan to Asia to the entire world. He hopes that, in the face of the rapidly changing pandemic, this work can serve as a stepping-stone to further research in a wide range of unexplored areas.
Reflections on COVID-19 and its website represent Academia Sinica's first attempt at joint physical and virtual publication. The book goes on sale today, available at all major online and book retailer stores across Taiwan.
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Reflections on COVID-19
Publication information: https://gpi.culture.tw/books/1011000945
Book retailers: Sufen Bookstore (02-2652-1876), Tonsan, Books.com, Eslite Books, King Stone
Reflections on COVID-19 website: https://covid19.ascdc.tw/en