Reflections on COVID-19

This website features the work of 19 humanities and social science scholars who have joined forces to assess the many changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, while also utilizing historical research to seek ways of coping with this crisis. Under the guidance of Chen Hsi-yuan, Research Fellow at the Institute of History and Philology, and in collaboration with Paul R. Katz, Distinguished Research Fellow at the Institute of Modern History, our website showcases aspects of research conducted by Academia Sinica that open new frontiers beyond coronavirus testing and vaccine development.

Epidemics and Rites of Affliction: Plague Expulsion Festivals in Modern Taiwan

This essay explores religious responses to epidemics in modern Taiwan, while also making comparisons to China and the West. It reveals that people viewed outbreaks of contagious disease as a form of divine punishment, and performed rituals to atone for wrongful deeds that had provoked the wrath of the gods. Based on studies of plague expulsion festivals performed in Taiwan from the Qing dynasty to the present day, this essay contends that such practices can be considered "rites of affliction" because they consist of religious remedies to social problems.

The Distance Between “Us” and Medieval Chinese Stories of Disease

How distant are we from medieval Chinese stories of disease? Regardless of the era we live in, people share a common sensibility shaped by collective experiences of coping with epidemics. Based on narratives of disease from the Wei-Jin, Northern and Southern Dynasties periods, this essay examines how people responded to emerging epidemic crises, especially in terms of coping with the pain and fear of losing family and friends.

Impacts of Physical Distancing Policies in Different Countries on Slowing the COVID-19 Pandemic

During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, non-pharmaceutical intervention (NPI) was the only public health approach for reducing transmission, controlling the pandemic and lowering the disease burden. Apart from personal protection, physical distancing policies were adopted by nearly every country. Due to differences in the pandemic's severity, as well as cultures and regulations, the stringency of such policies varied significantly in different countries. Residents' compliance with such policies can be measured by aggregated human mobility data from mobile devices and telecom data. People's compliance with and adoption of different policies can both affect the spread of COVID-19 and have a protective effect against other infectious diseases.

Stigma and Risk Management for People Undergoing Home Quarantine
During COVID-19

To prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, approximately 360,000 people (counted until October 2020) who entered Taiwan from overseas or with suspected local exposure to an infectious source were required to undergo 14-day home quarantine. Apart from sacrificing their personal freedom, such individuals have frequently been criticized in the court of public opinion as being "selfish" and "detrimental" to society's needs by causing "infection control breaches". This study features interviews with 42 individuals who underwent home quarantine in order to better understand their experiences of stigmatization as well as their strategies for managing the risk of infecting others while attempting to distance themselves from any disreputable moral identity.

Pandemic of the Century: Revisiting the 1918-1920 Spanish Influenza Outbreak in Colonial Taiwan

This study revisits the Spanish Influenza pandemic in colonial Taiwan from the dual perspectives of public health and social history. Drawing from official archives, medical journals, news reports, literary works, and popular songs, as well as photographic and statistical records, we examine the impact of this crisis on the colonial government, medical professionals, and the local populace. The Spanish Influenza pandemic caused massive fatalities in Taiwan both in terms of numbers and death rates during two major waves between 1918 and 1920. The range of responses, including policy debates, quarantine measures, media representations and people's reactions offer vivid testimonies of how this pandemic affected daily life and collective mentalities, thereby constituting an interesting contrast to our contemporary experience of COVID-19.

Treading a Thin Line between Epidemic Hotspots and Human Rights: The Legal Problems of Digital Footprints

Established to aid in the prevention of COVID-19, epidemic hotspots help people avoid places of cluster infection, but at the same time make their digital footprints known to the government for further tracking. This paper examines the government's management of digital footprints and this policy's potential infringement of human rights; more importantly, it advances specific arguments about what the law can do to prevent human rights from being contravened when the government leverages data and digital technology in the name of pandemic prevention.

Expertise, Identity, and the Fight against COVID-19: Clinical Narratives of Frontline Healthcare Workers in Taiwan

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has reverberated throughout the world. In the face of this contagious and unknown virus, frontline healthcare workers have been the first to bear the brunt of combatting this disease. Driven by their commitment to the medical profession, these brave men and women are exposed to a high risk of infection despite being clad in personal protective equipment. Moreover, they have to face the psychological pressure of being isolated from their families, and some have even prepared their own wills, just in case.

The Pandemic of Inequality: COVID-19 and Income Distribution in Taiwan

How did COVID-19 shape income inequality in Taiwan and the world? This essay introduces scholarship on the links between the pandemic and income inequality. The "great leveling" theory argued that the pandemic might reduce income inequality by damaging wealth accumulation by the rich, who were usually elder and at higher risk of infection, while the "social vulnerability" theory argued that the pandemic increases income inequality by harming poor people forced to work in unsafe conditions. On the other hand, "health inequality" theory claimed that income inequality shapes the pandemic's prevalence by undermining public health resources for the poor. During the COVID-19 pandemic, social surveys in Taiwan showed that during peak prevalence around June 2020, income inequality increased because employers and the self-employed lost their businesses or were laid-off. Fortunately, careful control of the disease and government subsidies successfully mitigated the impact on lower classes' income and reduced income inequality to levels predating the pandemic.

Cross-Country Comparisons of the Social Impact of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted governments worldwide to enact different quarantine and social distancing policies, which, combined with the outbreak itself, have brought huge changes to people's quality of life, mental health, social interactions, and political attitudes. At the same time, due to different control measures implemented in various countries, people also face tensions between the pursuit of personal freedom and public health. Starting from Taiwan, our research team overcame language barriers to collect 9,236 responses from people around the world during different phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this preliminary study, we compare people's responses in different quarantine situations, as well as for different countries and regions.

Your Money or Your Life? Economic Impacts of COVID-19

COVID-19 has become one of the most severe plagues to disrupt human life during the modern era. The pandemic has made a huge impact on all countries throughout the world in terms of safety, healthcare systems, politics, society, and the economy. In this paper, I look at the impact of this epidemic from an economic perspective by discussing the following topics: 1) Current developments of the pandemic in various countries; 2) The pandemic's impact on the overall economy, household consumption, and labor markets; 3) The effects of various economic policies. Finally, I will discuss what the new post-pandemic normal might look like.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf and the Scapegoat: Social Fables and Panics during COVID-19

The global experience of COVID-19 in 2020 can provide us with a sense of déjà vu about social fables. Fables are usually defined as stories conveying moral lessons. If we consider ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’ and the ‘Scapegoat’ as two fables that illustrate Taiwan's social responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, what kind of moral implications can we learn from them? My essay examines this question through the "Taiwanese trapped in Wuhan" incident that took place between January and May. Its goal is to prompt us to engage in critical reflections about the impact of epidemic policies on equality and social justice in the post-COVID-19 era.

Balancing Human Rights and Rule of Law during Times of Plague Epidemic Prevention — A Reflection on Philosophy, History and Technological Epidemic Prevention

The electronic fence 2.0 system, commonly known as "Skynet", was officially launched on the last day of 2020. However, this system has aroused suspicions from the public and human rights groups, who fear that the government will engage in excessive monitoring in the name of epidemic prevention, and demand that the boundaries between epidemic prevention and human rights be reconsidered. What exactly is "public"? Whose interests does this collectiveness represent? When there is a conflict between collective interests and individual rights, how should we strive to find an appropriate balance between the two? Rethinking the principle of the rule of law during epidemics by stressing the importance of legal reservation, clear authorization, due process and minimal infringement can provide an opportunity for liberal and democratic societies to find the proper equilibrium between epidemic prevention, human rights, and the rule of law.

Historical Records of Taiwan's Fight against COVID-19

COVID-19 has caused tremendous damage to public health and economies across the globe, and will be remembered as a pivotal event in the history of medicine and world history. Because Taiwan has done exceptionally well during the pandemic, its accomplishments deserve to be fully documented. This essay provides a synthetic academic study of Taiwan's successful fight against COVID in order to supplement the numerous accounts already provided by individuals, the mass media, and various organizations. Its contents consist of two parts. The first analytically reviews available records and accounts of Taiwan's efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, while the second presents the author's own research on this topic based on interviews with key actors and organizations.

Transparency of Disease Information and Citizens' Evaluations of Infection and Control Policies

Thanks to its transparency in providing disease information, the Taiwanese government has not only successfully prevented the spread of the COVID-19 but also earned citizens' trust in its infection prevention and control policies. Such trust induces citizens to obey guidelines and regulations, which in turns results in the containment of this disease. Based on an online survey conducted in Taiwan in December 2020, this study finds that transparency in disease information helps Taiwanese citizens to evaluate the risk of being infected and improves their evaluation of the government's performance in combating COVID-19.

Pandemics and Literature:
Representations of Plagues
in World Literature

Given its huge impact upon people of all walks of life around the world, COVID-19 is regarded as one of the most serious global crises since World War II. A close look at natural and human history reveals the pervasiveness and recurrent nature of pandemics. This essay offers a brief introduction to some of the most eminent representations of plagues in world literature: Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron (1349-1353), Daniel Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year (1722), Edgar Allan Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" (1842), Albert Camus's Le Peste (1947), and Jose Saramago's Ensaio sobre a Cegueira (1995).

Protecting Oneself or Others? The History of the Face Mask and Taiwan-U.S. Differences in Mask Wearing

In the context of Taiwan's much-celebrated success in enacting measures to control the COVID-19 pandemic, and especially the universal wearing of face masks, Taiwanese citizens find themselves wondering: Why, after suffering from a grueling pandemic for an entire year, does the U.S. CDC still emphasize that mask-wearing is "primarily intended to reduce the emission of virus-laden droplets" from the person wearing the mask? To understand the historical roots behind the Taiwan-U.S. differences in viewing the function of face masks, this essay traces their role in the history of epidemics during the past century: from the Manchurian Plague (1910-1911) to the Spanish Flu (1918-1920), SARS epidemic (2003), and current COVID-19 pandemic.

Open Access to Knowledge during Public Health Emergencies

The COVID-19 crisis has reshaped social norms and revealed global institutional shortcomings, creating fertile ground for structural changes. This paper investigates access to public health information, disease statistics, and research datasets, emphasizing the efforts of individuals, communities, and non-profit organizations (NPOs) in the pursuit of open access to knowledge. In addition, it examines scholarly publication, digital lending, and content repositories among universities, research institutes, and NPOs, especially in relation to public access to scientific knowledge. This paper also highlights the importance of research data facilities and mutual data sharing, as well as the critical role of research institutions in digital repository stewardship. Finally, it considers Academia Sinica's facilitation of public knowledge access.

To Lockdown or Not to Lockdown? Restrictive Public Health Measures during the 1918-1920 Influenza Epidemic in Taiwan

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, restrictive public health measures have generated considerable debate, controversy, and even hostility. This study adopts a historical perspective to examine the debate over whether to close schools, cinemas, and theaters, as well as prohibit public gatherings during the 1918-1920 influenza epidemic in Taiwan. Despite highly persuasive efforts, the medical profession's proposals encountered opposition from a variety of sources, and were not adopted by the colonial government. Both then and now, the legitimacy of public health interventions can be determined by a wide range of factors, from scientific knowledge and the biological nature of pathogens to various political, ideological, and economic considerations, as well as cultural conceptualizations of disease and health.

The Fear of Immigration and Contagion: British Surveys of Leprosy in China during the Nineteenth Century

During the early nineteenth century most European medical men maintained that leprosy was a hereditary disease, but the appearance of leprosy in hitherto uninfected areas such as Hawaii during the mid-nineteenth century raised fears that this disease could be contagious. Chinese coolies were blamed for spreading the disease, and China was considered a source of leprosy. In this paper, I argue that racism and anti-immigration sentiments were significant factors in shaping Western medical views on leprosy during this time period. Thus, the history of leprosy during the nineteenth century provides an important lesson during the COVID-19 pandemic, when discrimination against immigrants, and especially those from Asia, has reached frightening proportions.

To everything - turn, turn, turn
There is a season - turn, turn, turn
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time you may embrace
A time to refrain from embracing