How to kill (lantern) flies – day 2

Almost 2 decades ago I became a member (and later, leader) of the lighting, stage, and AV crew at Sydney Girls High School. It was there that I developed a deep deep love for duct tape. We used it with a fervour that is often only attributed to teenage girls who have discovered a new accessory — before shows, we would even make ourselves duct tape bracelets, badges, and ribbons.

Duct tape has similarly come to my rescue with spotted lantern flies. Lowe’s was clean out of Neem oil and specially made lantern fly sticky traps, so I picked up a large roll of standard black tape. I got instant results!

This was taken only about 20 minutes after I put the band around the tree.

I am astounded at how well this worked. I am also, however, sad that some lovely daddy long legs also got stuck on the tape.

The next thing I tried was vinegar in a spray bottle, because I wanted to wait until night time to do pesticides. Vinegar doesn’t kill the nymphs, or even slow them down, but in their efforts to escape the liquid they move up… and into the duct tape. So I sprayed my trees with a ring of vinegar a couple of inches under the tape.

Next, because I was feeling pretty crappy about other things this afternoon, I decided on launching a vacuum attack. We unfortunately do not have a long enough extension cable for the shop vac, but I had this backup plan.

Check out the tape band with a fly in the background.

I had limited success — the little handheld is a little too weak, and the flies are a bit too smart. They tend to hide on the other side of the branch, or simply leap off the tree (often right into my face) once they feel the suction.

Check out the red coloured late state nymph as well.

I’m going to leave these hellions inside the container to starve.

Next steps: pesticide powder (at night, and give it time to settle), shop vac, replace and repeat duct tape. I’m also curious about the history of the use of certain fly elimination methods, and may write something about them. Until then, keep up the civic duty killing spree!

How to kill (lantern) flies – day 1

I had the privilege of writing a guest blog post for the Visualising China project at the University of Bristol. For this, I decided to look into the proliferation of fly elimination campaigns in the early 20th century, which usually began around the summer months as part of each city’s cholera prevention methods. Everyone (and I mean everyone!) was expected to pick up a fly swatter, make a sticky trap, sanitise their wells, etc., to make sure that each and every pesky fly (and their larvae) was killed.

As soon as the post came out, I gleefully shared it with friends and colleagues. One directed me to look at the recent articles about lantern flies in Philadelphia and its surrounding counties. An invasive species from China (somewhat appropriate for our current political climate), they first started appearing around 2014 and now threaten the livelihood of an $18 billion agriculture and forestry industry in the region. The government says we, as responsible residents, should be killing them all!

I have spotted many a spotted bugs in my new backyard, and had not realised that they were young nymph forms of the damned spotted lantern flies I had heard about. They are all over my pine and fig trees! What if they make it to the top of the tender leaves and destroy all my figs?! What am I going to do — only have goat cheese, arugula, and balsamic drizzle on a fig-less salad?

I vowed to take action when I saw a mature fly hanging out on my beloved pea plant.


I need to do something! Luckily, I can combine the wisdom of my ancestors with that of my contemporary authorities and rid my backyard of these pets. This post is first in a series of what will become a multi-day adventure to do my part for the security and financial stability of southeastern Pennsylvania. After all, this blog is a how-to guide, and I can now demonstrate how one can really use all the advice I’ve been giving over the past year.


Step 1: READ UP

Research, research, research. I first confirmed that the nymphs I had seem were indeed lantern flies. Then I read a bunch of articles and guides: Penn State University Ag Extension, recent news, this inspiring story about a young innovative girl. The latter article even reminds me of a famed 1934 story about a group of schoolchildren in Qiaotou Village who launched a fly-elimination campaign that benefited the entire society.

Meeting to celebrate the success.png
Meeting to celebrate the success of the fly-elimination campaign. The precocious child leader announces to his elders, with great nationalistic pride, that their efforts were successful!

I needed some visual confirmation of the existence of lantern flies:

This is one of many early-stage nymphs on my fig tree. The shot took a while because it likes to run away or leap when I get too close.



In Republican China, flies were generally killed with very basic methods — swatters, traps, killing larvae in bodies of water, among other things. According to a middle school in Nanjing circa 1930, each its students could kill 20 flies easily per evening. I wondered what types of methods we could employ without getting too chemical-ly or too technical.

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Models of fly traps and swatting tools from 1934

I came up with a list of 4 types of things that we could do:

  1. Scraping egg sap from tree trunks: this should have been done earlier in the season, but based on my research the flies had probably laid their eggs before we even moved in! Still, it could be a worthwhile endeavour to do some scraping.
  2. Tree bands: I’m a fan of sticky traps for insects except that one time a bird got caught in one of my fly traps… but I figure putting a thin band around the trunks of the trees (with the sticky side out) will do some good!
  3. Spray the hell out of them: I blasted a few with my mosquito repellent (mozzie elimination — quite possibly the title of another blog post) but it seemed to do nothing. The internet says try Neem oil, liquid detergent, or white vinegar in water solution in a spray bottle. Easy enough!
  4. “Mechanical solutions”: swat them, step on them, suck them up with a vacuum… brutal but effective.



With no duct tape and no Neem, I had to make do with what I have on hand. Having moved house a few months ago, I found a huge store of packing tape, and decided this would do for now. I wrapped some branches and tree trunks, stick-side out:


I scraped some of the sappy parts of the lower parts of this tree trunk using some plastic:


And of course I squashed a few (the “mechanical method”, says a professor at PSU) and drowned a few more in a bucket.

After about an hour, I went back to check on the progress to see if any of them were caught.

First victims?

I watched as a few of them got close to the edge of the tape band, put a leg or two on it, and then move away. The tape clearly wasn’t sticky enough but it did prove to be a decent deterrent for the nymphs to move further up.

In a plastic display case

A few got trapped under the tape instead of on it. I’m fine with that too.

I watched for a long time, taping up gaps when necessary, squashing a few that were under the tape. I finally gave up staring at them and went back inside the house when one decided to leap off the trunk and right into my face, forcing me to let out a loud yelp to the confusion of my dog and my husband.



Reporting cases of cholera to the public health administration became mandatory in many interior Chinese cities by the 1940s. Victims’ names and demographic information were carefully recorded at health stations, especially those at busy ports. Here’s an example from 1947, a 63-year-old woman who probably got sick from drinking river water:


The PA Department of Agriculture also requests that residents who spot lantern flies report them to the authorities. I did this obediently this afternoon, adding an apology for not knowing that those damned bugs were lantern flies earlier!




Off to get some more supplies — better tape, Neem oil, white vinegar, bird netting…

Oh, and we’ll definitely try a shop vacuum as well.

Updates coming soon!


How to avoid the Communistic Salivary Exchange

My biggest beef (pun intended) with Chinese restaurants in the United States is that they seem to expect their diners to eat in the least efficient, least comfortable way. Upon sitting, one is presented with a pair of chopsticks and a plate. In the time that it would take a diner eat all the grains of rice with chopsticks from that tiny little saucer plate, the restaurant could have been making 3x the income just through multiple seatings. 

I always ask for a small bowl, which I pick up and proceed to shovel the food into my mouth with chopsticks as if I was eating a bowl of noodles while squatting during a work break on my family’s farm (a more likely version of this is that I’m eating that bowl of noodles on the couch in front of the TV). Years of living in Hong Kong, however, has trained my manners so that I try my best to avoid the “communistic salivary exchange” — eating from a “common dish into which the diners indiscriminately plunge their chopsticks or spoons as they convey successive portions to their mouths”. The introduction of many of the features we associate with Chinese restaurants today — the prevalence of Lazy Susans, common “serving chopsticks” that arrive with each new dish to your table, or place settings with two sets of utensils for each diner (usually colour-coded) for serving and eating respectively — have their historical origins and also have excellent staying power. Even though many Chinese restaurant-goers would order, say, a serving of Yang Chow fried rice as an individual meal to be eaten as a “main course”, the rice arrives at the table already with a spoon plunged into it, while a pasta dish at an Italian restaurant likely would not.

Discussions and debates about how Chinese food and dining could become more hygienic largely began in the 1920s then this lovely phrase was first introduced in an article in Health magazine. As you can see from the text below, one who is more likely to use his or her own chopsticks indiscriminately is also more likely to sleep in a communal bed, be generally unclean, spit everywhere, and just, I guess, be Chinese. The practice was also associated with tuberculosis transmission, a disease associated with filth, urban squalor, and the lower classes. 

Health 1, no. 2 (June 1924)

But the Chinese rates of tuberculosis, according to contemporary observers, was not just among the poor. It wasn’t until the early 1930s, when the Chinese Anti-Tuberculosis Association got underway with its agenda to reform eating habits that proposed ways to eliminate the saliva-based flavouring agent in shared dishes really gained traction, both in China and in overseas Chinese establishments. The Association was established in 1933 not by a government but influential Chinese medical professionals, who began to consider whether the particularly Chinese characteristic of communal eating (共食 gong shi) had caused the dizzying numbers of tuberculosis infections, even among wealthier, younger people. Its leader and founder, Malayan-British Wu Lien-teh, had written years earlier about a “Hygiene Chinese Dining Table”, on which diners would be able to serve themselves from shared dishes on a moving table top with designated serving utensils. Other medical professionals proposed having each diner carry two sets of utensils (one for eating, and the other “hygienic chopsticks” for serving), or having all food portioned out to individual servings before each meal began. Not all members of the Chinese elite were on board with these new proposals: perhaps every meal could be portioned out onto individual serving platters before all the diners begin to eat, wrote famous female doctor Lu Liuhua. On the one hand, “communal eating is unavoidably a public health issue” in the busy, modern world, but the practice would inconvenience those who were overly polite or late to the meal, and would actually undermine the beauty of Chinese cuisine, in which each dish was to be enjoyed separately!

Other medical professionals were sceptical that such a practice was really such a potent form of TB transmission. Still, designated serving utensils were included in virtually every guide about eating and cooking from the 1930s onwards. Writers in the mid 1930s even linked dining reform to the survival and reinvigoration of the Chinese nation: without dismantling communal eating norms in favour of splitting food into individual portions or enforcing the use of hygienic chopsticks, not only would picky Chinese diners not get enough nutritional hygiene, but the nation would also generate more food waste. This would, of course, directly undermined Chiang Kai-shek’s New Life Movement (launched 1934), for which Chinese citizens were expected to embrace ancient virtues of propriety and righteousness in every aspect of their lives. New Life principles stated that eating should be “to sustain life” — in other words, not for triviality or entertainment, and definitely not to facilitate the transmission of a deadly affliction. Dining habit reform gained traction because it was so heavily tied to other nationalistic virtues at the time, and, certainly, made attending a Chinese banquet more appealing and civil-seeming to Western audiences.

Of course, this blog is a self-help guide and I have not forgotten that I still need to tell you what to do. Since we, in 2020, all still want to eat, sustain life, prevent diseases, and enjoy Chinese food, I have made up a handy little guide for the savvy diner to make the most out of a communal meal. (Keep this in the back of your pocket, because when you next find yourself sitting down to a meal at a restaurant, you may actually not remember what to do for lack of practice.)

DO – ask for a small bowl in which you can place a little rice and a bit of a dish, and then refill when needed. This way you can eat each dish individually instead of trying to arrange then all on your little saucer like a buffet plate. A small bowl also keeps your food way warmer.

DO – pick up your bowl! Bring it closer to your mouth! There is a handy little foot along the bottom that is perfect for holding onto and not burning yourself.

DON’T – (on a related note) pick up your plate and bring it to your mouth. This is weird. In fact, don’t eat off your plate at all. Use it to discard bones, shells, and any random aromatics like star anise and peppercorns.

DO – ask for a spoon, especially if you don’t particularly like the idea of shovelling food into your mouth using chopsticks. Spoon each carefully-curated bite of dish-and-rice mixture onto your tongue and enjoy the fact that you won’t be chasing down or wasting any small grains of errant rice.

DO – share food. Order and eat a mix of vegetables and meat. Be omnivorous and embrace variety, like the housewives and cooks of 1920s China were expected to do. [to be continued in a later blog post]

DON’T – stick your chopsticks in the communal food. Since we are living through times of a pandemic, I say better be safe than sorry. Keep your own salivary chopsticks to your own bowl and your own mouth. Embrace the Lazy Susan, the serving utensils, and everything our ancestors did to try to prevent us from getting tuberculosis, even though it was unclear if their methods were successful. 

DO – remember the little ditty in the poster below. It’s another one of the Council on Health Education (a YMCA affiliate organisation based in Shanghai since 1915) “Health Habits” charts, designed to be posted on the walls of classrooms and homes.

Broadcasting health page 38

Happy hygienic eating!


Other references:

Lu Liuhua, “Tantan weisheng kuai de libi [discussing the advantages and disadvantages of hygienic chopsticks]”, Weisheng Yue Kan June 1934, 22—23

Sean Hsiang-Lin Lei, “Habituating Individuality: The Framing of Tuberculosis and Its Material Solutions in Republican China”, Bulletin of the History of Medicine 84, no. 2 (summer 2010): 248–279. 

Wang Zude, “Weisheng Changshi: Gongshi zhi erxi [the evil custom of communal eating]” Xinshenghuo zhou kan [New Life Weekly] 1, no. 14 (1934), 12.

How to get a hundred uses out of one bar of soap

If you’ve been using Amazon Fresh or Instacart or some other type of shopping/delivery service for your groceries, you have no doubt encountered that really annoying first-world problem when your favourite brand of [insert item here] is sold out and there are no good substitutes. You know you shouldn’t go to the store and browse, nor do you actually want to change into something that’s not pyjamas. But the dishes in the sink are starting to pile up, and you’re beginning to smell, and you’re almost out of rubbing alcohol…

Enter the “Germicidal Soap” from this advertisement in a 1924 issue of Health magazine, China’s premier bilingual hygiene- and health-related journal produced for popular consumption. An imported product, the soap was available at “all dispensaries” — “Western medicine dispensaries” in the Chinese version of the ad.


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Health, Shanghai, 1924

The Parke Davis Germicidal Soap had been sold widely throughout the United States since at least 1915. Throughout the decades, one could see this product being marketed to pretty much any segment of the population with little time to spend on cleaning — working mothers, factory labourers, soldiers… The ad below, from an American paediatrics journal from 1915, even confidently asserts that the soap can be used as a disinfectant for surgeries.

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Archives of Pediatrics, 1915.

“You can use germicidal soap every day of your life” begins to sound more like “You SHOULD use germicidal soap every day of your life” when we read the two advertisements together and consider that it saves both time and energy.

But best part about this soap? There are only 17 uses listed on the advertisement! That means there are still 83 unlisted ones that YOU can discover! After all, the world is currently looking for miracle cures for a whole range of environmental, financial, and livelihood problems.

You can actually buy the soap in its original box, manufactured by Parke, David & Co in Detroit, at this link. Unless this website goes viral in the next few days, I can promise you that this is one item for which you won’t need to find a substitute.

How to exercise in isolation

If you’re unhappy about the closure of your gym, exercise classes, or other group activities, and are looking for a wholesome way to stretch to improve your posture, why not try out these instructions from 1934, accompanied by helpful diagrams? If you have been spending way too much time curled up (or slumped) on the couch bingeing tv shows, or just plain not getting out of bed, or trying to use your coffee table as a WFH workstation, you may be feeling that your lifestyle changes are taking a toll on your posture.

Follow these exercises to test yourself and make your back straight! To begin, sit on the floor and try to touch your toes. Then move yourself onto your stomach, then your back, and keep your legs as straight as possible. If you’re feeling extra confident, you may want to find a wall to lean against, making sure that your entire back is flush. Start with both knees bent, and slowly straighten them while keeping your back straight against the wall. This is how one can experience good posture. This guide is a cost effective, socially distanced way to stretch out all those crummy shoulder and back aches.

Source: Weisheng banyue kan, Shanghai, 1934

How to get admitted to a hospital

With the 2020 election nigh and the overwhelming healthcare debate flooding our news feeds, and Covid-19 making its pesky way around the world, there’s a lot of talk about where one should — or can — go in case of a medical issue.

We’ve all heard the devastating stories of those stricken with coronavirus and yet are not able to be admitted to a hospital. I’ve got some (bad?) news — one couldn’t, either, in 1918.


These rules are from the hospital of the Peking Union Medical College, the premier institution for medical education and treatment in all of China. Opened in 1917, the medical school was a project of the Rockefeller Foundation’s China Medical Board. Undoubtedly one of the finest medical institutions, the attached hospital took referral cases from physicians — mostly foreign, and connected with missions — working around China.

In an early brochure for prospective patients, the hospital clarified:

“… [this hospital] is designed for the treatment of accident cases, acute and sub-acute diseases, and maternity cases. Patients suffering from contagious and incurably chronic diseases, insanity, and delirium tremens will not be admitted.”

In fact, it wasn’t until 1924 that the hospital’s board considered the possibility of adding an infectious disease ward. The American Legation stationed in Beijing was also for this possibility: while Chinese residents of the city could go to the infectious disease hospital run by the metropolitan police, there was essentially very little a foreigner could do if he or she were to come down with diphtheria, plague or cholera. The in-patient wards of the hospital and the medical school itself also had its fair share of infectious disease outbreaks, including a meningitis outbreak in April 1925.

Was the hospital uniquely incapable of treating infectious diseases? The PUMC did have several other clinics, including at the Peking Health Station, that would gladly vaccinate outpatient visitors or give them advice for taking care of a cholera case. Could it be the case, then, that in the early twentieth century most infectious diseases were seen as “preventable”, but not necessarily “curable”? A tuberculosis patient, for example, was often told to rest and get plenty of sunlight.

However, looking at this following gourmet menu for first and second class patients at the PUMC hospital, it becomes clear that perhaps the hospitals unwillingness to open an infectious disease ward actually has something to do with class:


If you had to get surgery on your leg at the PUMC hospital following an accident, you may be dining on roast mutton for dinner or fresh fish for breakfast! This sumptuous meal was no doubt unavailable to most, and certainly not helpful for anyone actually suffering from diphtheria. At the Shanghai-based Harvard Medical School Hospitals, those who preferred Chinese meals could pay one tael of silver less per day for their stay.

Then, after you were discharged, you may be set home with a letter asking you to write down a few comments about how the hospital could have done better and make your stay more pleasant. Here are some highlights from a reply from a man named Tuan Teng-Lung in May 1924, with some suggestions “merely for the promotion of social welfare”.

    • Masks for patients… a special person should be assigned to the entrance or near the registration office, whose duty it is to find out which patient has contagious disease, and give that patient a mask to cover mouth, which may be collected when the patient leaves.
    • Punishment on patients… whichever patient has made false accusations is to be punished by decreasing his visiting hours, and in a more serious case, he may be given a dish less than he is entitled to have… patients who are very irritable and of bad temper may be discharged at their own wish.
    • A public letter box to receive commendable as well as criticizing letters… by the side of which are hung a pencil and a roll of plain paper. Patients may drop letters in it, either recommending or criticizing servants in terms of their services rendered… the more pleasant the patients feel the sooner they will get recovery, and the more expenses you will save by discharging them earlier.

It looks like one may also need a certain amount of funds, a sharp grasp on the English language, and proclivity for writing product reviews to get admitted to such an institution. This gives us a good framework on what needs to be done to get admitted to a hospital, but also leaves us some food for thought about the roots and foundations of this seemingly capitalistic hospital model.

Were (are) infectious disease hospitals and wards automatically institutions for the lower classes? Is there something remarkably degraded about the lifestyle and/or wealth of a victim of influenza, as opposed to cancer or a broken leg?

Source: Rockefeller Archive Center, Sleepy Hollow, NY.

How to eliminate spit

I had the privilege of finding out earlier this month that I won a graduate student prize from the Association of Asian Studies for a paper I presented last year on the prohibition of spitting in the Shanghai International Settlement. Among my primary sources were the juiciest, LOL-worthy commentaries and letters to the editor in some of Shanghai’s newspapers from the 1910s to the 1940s. The writers, often under pseudonyms, bickered among themselves about the best ways to eliminate spit from the sidewalks of their cosmopolitan city (which was conveniently only made possible by its reliance on low cost Chinese coolie labour). The foreign residents in Shanghai had money, land, and a truly functional democratic process, but they were frustrated that they could not exercise their autonomy over the cleanliness of their city streets. Very little — legally — was done to really stem the phlegmy flows during this time, but the public, especially those who had the unfortunate experience of having been spat on, sure liked to talk about it.

Perhaps the esteemed Association felt that the various pieces of advice and complaints, given by all manner of Shanghai residents to the government, the press, and each other, were on point and timely. Spit still remains a problem in the 21st century, and very few governments seem capable of actually enforcing a thorough ban. Is it time for the public to take charge?

If you’re dealing with an epidemic of phlegm coating your city sidewalks, perhaps you may want to take a look at some of these suggestions, helpfully separated by theme. See if you can find the possible racial slur. [all emphasis mine]





 “Another point… is spitting in the tramcars. This objectionable habit, evil in its effects, is far too common. It is not confined to the Chinese; Europeans are also guilty. Whether first or third class, no distinction is made. Chinese, of course, are the worst offenders, and nothing seems to check them. The conductor ought to be empowered to eject any passenger from a car who is guilty of expectorating. It would be far more effective than a thousand notices prohibiting spitting.” — “Spread of Disease” June 2 1915:

“I have been on the unfortunate just outside no less than three times, the last time on the Bund at 8.55 this morning, and it seems a pity that such unhygienic and disgusting practices should pass without a protest. The notice “no spitting allowed” refers to not only inside but out of the trams. If this rule were more vigorously enforced, and some punishment, say “chucking out” the offender were imposed and insisted upon, surely there lies at hand a simple and effective remedy. It is sad to observe that not only our Chinese friends are guilty of this breach of matters. Foreigners also should refrain. Though careful, we cannot expect the Chinese to comply with the rules that we do not observe.” — Usque ad Nauseum, “A Nasty Habit”, September 22, 1917


It is a question of education rather than legislation. There are countries where the spitting habits worse than in China. Right in Shanghai, great progress has been made during the last 10 years. Thousands of visitors to this city can bear testimony tot he fact that spitting is scarcely seen in hotels and big store here.” — Dr. Wu Lien-teh, June 7, 1933.

“Peoples of the outer world may not at first be able to understand the necessity for such a movement but they will do so when they realize that it is to correct old evils that Gen. Chiang is now taking action along a psychological and educational line.” — “Various phases of ‘New Life'”, December 20, 1934.

“A two-week exhibition… under the auspices of the Anti-Tuberculosis Association of China. The musical program included choral singing of the “Anti-TB” Song”, which brings home the message that anti-tuberculosis activities should not overlook the danger to the public of spitting in improper places, and stresses the fact that a strong nation requires a strong and healthy people.” — October 6, 1935.

“… while foreigners are apt to regard spitting itself as objectionable on aesthetic grounds, the truth is that where a race is subject to nasal or other catarrh, spitting into a suitable receptacle [spittoons] makes the act as clean a practice as that followed by those who do not spit. This is the severely scientific attitude towards the subject and it does not, of course, take into account the feelings of those who find spitting objectionable to the ear as well as to the other senses.” February 26, 1936.

“Perhaps [the previous letter writer] is actually suffering from the August heat, or is he just a little squint-eyed? In my previous letter re the subject of spitting I suggested that the [Shanghai Municipal Police] collect 20 cents from offenders as a penalty for spitting on pavements, and I still believe this would be a lucrative source of revenue…” August 24, 1938.

“It is realised that the enforcement of the spitting Bye-law will be difficult… public enlightenment as to the unhealthiness of this habit through health campaigns will continue. The introduction of a Bye-law for application in cases where the necessity arises is most desirable.” — April 9, 1941.


“I think that this spitting is scandalous too; but I regret the moderation of your correspondent ‘Resident.’ I would go a step further and deprive the Chinese of the right to breathe on The Bund or anywhere else where I am near for the aroma of garlic discharged by some of them, not only through wide nostrils but also through open capacious mouths, is becoming insufferable.” December 14, 1914.

Apparently it is not against Chinese etiquette to make these horrible noises and to spit indoors, but in the interests of public health it is time they learnt differently.
If, instead of a campaign against men and women walking together in the streets, the Chinese authorities were to concentrate on attacking the spitting habit, some good might be done. No wonder consumption is rife in China, with everyone spitting all day long.” — July 20, 1934

“It is said that native upbringing is either literally or traditionally based on the Confucian Canon, but I doubt if it advocates full and hearty expectoration in public. Yet a common sight in Chinese restaurants, hotels, etc., is an abundance of spittoons for the customer’s convenience.” — June 1, 1938.

“The collection of a 20 cent fine on the spot is hardly a difficult matter, as my understanding of the Chinese is he would rather stump up on demand than to “lose face” by having a very curious crowd of fellow-countrymen gazing upon him.” August 31, 1938.


“Outside of the fact that it is a dangerous disease spreader, spitting on floors, on streets, or in other public places wastes a very useful secretion of the human body.
Therefore, for your own health’s sake, don’t spit. Don’t lick postage stamps if there is any other way of moistening them. And don’t moisten your thumb to turn the leaves of pages or to count paper money.” — Dr Morris Fishbein, “Save Your Saliva”, February 26, 1934.


“I often think that if Chinese people spit, it may be because we have no other way to air our grievances. I myself want to swear loudly and lob a mouthful of spit every time I think about how Chinese people have suffered under foreign invasions and from internal aggression. But in America, where [ironically] this freedom does not exist, I can only write an essay to vent.” — C. Y. LEE, 1947.

How to make your own face mask

I was planning to make this post the next in the series of “how to prevent plague”, but this advice seems to be more generally useful these days. If you find yourself with a shortage of surgical masks, you may want to check out this diagram from the third volume in the Report on the Shanxi Plague, published and compiled by the Shanxi provincial government in the wake of the 1917-1918 pneumonic plague epidemic. Unlike its bubonic counterpart, pneumonic plague resembles a respiratory disease and can be spread from person to person. Within a couple of days of infection, the disease can become even more deadly if the victim then develops pneumonia.

By the time the epidemic came to the northern city of Datong in December 1917, doctors had already dealt with it on a much larger scale in Manchuria in 1910–1911. They could easily test for the disease, looking for the yersinia pestis bacterium in a sick person’s sputum. They had created a vaccine that would increase a person’s immunity, and the Shanxi provincial government worked quickly to establish a military cordon for quarantine and close off its main walled cities. But the disease still spread to two different counties and a few dozen villages in the south and south-west of the province by February of 1918, and all manner of personnel were dispatched to control the ongoing outbreak — missionary doctors, police, military personnel, and some “burial squads” that may or may not have been made up of “volunteers”. Luckily, the outbreak came to an end in March with a total of 2,667 deaths. Shanxi’s governor Yan Xishan was praised for the efficacy of his plague control measures, and the publication of this three-volume report, as I read it, was a celebration and reaffirmation of his hegemonic administration in north China during the early Republic.

The following diagram is was posted in village centres and given to local elites and business owners throughout southwestern Shanxi. Medical personnel and police would demonstrate how to create one of these masks simply from white cloth. You’ll find that this 1918-style mask is a lot longer than the ones that we can buy (or currently can’t buy) at the shops — it goes all the way up to the top of your forehead and includes two holes for eyes about two inches down from the top. It should be as wide as one’s face, and the two straps are used to secure the mask behind one’s head.

山西疫事報告書, vol. 3 1919

Below is a photo of a group of medical professionals in their full gear about to get to work. The man in black I presume to be a Dr. Li, sent by the Peking Union Medical College to Datong in early 1918. Doctors and around 100 plague hospital staff were set up in an old Chinese courtyard mansion, and they not only treated patients but also conducted testing and bacteriology work.

Moreover, they were role models! For those of you who have criticised Carrie Lam for admonishing those who choose to buy/wear masks, or the Chinese government officials at press conferences who do not seem to care about putting one on, consider the considerable authority of these Datong-based plague control experts. Residents in Datong did not have the internet or Youtube tutorials to show them how to use a face mask, but they had these spiffy-looking gentlemen (one guy even has goggles!), standing proudly against the walls of one of China’s oldest cities. Pneumonic plague would soon be eliminated from this area (albeit for the time being) but would the lessons about hand washing, mask wearing, and getting vaccinated be permanently internalised?

A doctor and his team in Datong, February 1918. Morgan Papers, Presbyterian Mission Archives, Philadelphia

*If you really are feeling sick, please get off WordPress and go see a doctor. In 2020, there are better things you can do to help yourself than cutting up a bed sheet.

How to eat cheaply yet well

Spoiler alert: today’s advice may contain vegan and gluten-free friendly elements. No animals were harmed its conception.

Do you feel like you need to detox after the holidays? Is your wallet currently a bit lighter than you’d like because of all the shopping and gluttony? Are you apprehensive about whether wartime food provision conditions are on the horizon? Haven’t decided on a New Year Resolution?

Today’s health tip comes from the Nutrition Improvement and Promotion Committee of Chongqing’s Health Bureau in 1941. From 5 to 8 May 1941, Chongqing’s residents found themselves swept up in the colourful, informative “Nutrition Advancement Movement”. During these days, people could watch a play, visit a model kitchen display, and even throw their hats in the ring for a cook-off for prize money. As they wandered through the streets of the wartime capital city, they would also inevitably become familiarised with this poster:

Source: Files of the Ministry of Health, Academia Historica, Taipei

The “Foreword” at the top right-hand corner of the page reads, “during wartime, the way we eat must follow one principle: we must spend little money, and eat well. To nourish bodies and maintain health we do not need expensive foods. Rather, there are many excellent common foods, which are also excellent nourishing foods.”

To learn what these foods are, all you would need to do is to learn a nursery rhyme. (Or you can read and remember the 5 simple rules written right under the Foreword — but they don’t rhyme so are obviously inferior.) Most of the “verses” are directed at a generically-named female individual (e.g. “Aunt Wang” and “Little Sister Li”) who presumably has some responsibility in sourcing food or cooking for their families. Once everyone gets on board with these shopping, cooking, and eating habits, life will improve:

  • Substitute expensive eggs with cheaper tofu! Bonus: you wouldn’t even need to go shop for it every day.
  • Eating brown rice will help your body to stay healthy and your feet to not be swollen. Grow, harvest, and eat your rough grains (buckwheat, sorghum, millet, and co.), but remember not to overcook the nutrition out of them.
  • Like lard? Meh. Ditch it in favour of peanut, sesame, or any other kind of plant oil. Who needs lard when you can spending the money on multi-coloured vegetables instead?

and perhaps the most miraculous, coveted thing may happen to your family as you follow all this advice:

  • You can actually raise a “fat child”! “Mother” should go to buy some bean dregs, mix them with flour to make a dough, and bake into a “bean dregs pancake”.


Source: Files of the Ministry of Health, Academia Historica

The Health Bureau has helpfully supplied us with a recipe for this miraculous pastry. It only requires 8 ingredients + water: bean dregs, flour, sugar, salt, wheat gluten, oil, calcium lactate, and baking soda. While this recipe may not launch you to fame in a cooking competition TV show, it’s easy enough to give it a try and see if you suddenly feel healthy and ready for impending international military conflict.






P.S. If you have enjoyed this song, its teachings, and would like the opportunity to meet like-minded friends, you may also consider attending the (or hosting your own!) singalong, scheduled for the afternoons of May 5 to May 8, 1941. For extra reading materials, including a set of three “New China Recipe Books”, hang tight and watch this space.



How to Prevent Plague #1: advice from the Shanxi Hygiene Agency in 1910

The first instalment in an ongoing series of tips for plague prevention comes from a missionary medical station. In 1910 Dr. Willoughby A. Hemingway*, a medical missionary in Shanxi, China, wrote a report of the preparations for plague taken by the eager communities of Taikuhsien (Taigu County). Having received reports of plague in Manchuria, the progressive magistrate Judge Lin, sent by the imperial government as an administrator, seemed “ready to take advice in regard to prevention methods. He issued a very satisfactory edict ordering any suspicious deaths to be reported to the Mission Hospital, also recommending the cleaning of houses and sunning of bedding, as well as killing of rats… rewards were offered for all rats killed, and orders were issued to prepare temples outside the city for segregation camps.”

Others, specifically the local elite scholar class, however, seemed to be reluctant to take the advice of these foreign missionaries. They, wrote Hemingway, “had fatalistic ideas as to the necessity of occasional pestilences to keep down too rapid increase of population.”

Hemingway and his team were undoubtedly frustrated with what felt like efforts to thwart their work. Although optimistic that Chinese officials were undergoing a “change of attitude”, members of these gentry class did constitute a barrier. It was fortunate, therefore, that the 1910-1911 epidemic of pneumonic plague (which ultimately had a death toll between 50,000 and 60,000) did not reach Taikuhsien as the county would not have been properly prepared to handle its destruction.

But whether or not one holds a fatalistic view of pestilence, no individual wants to be a victim of plague. So how did these local elites, using their wisdom “from the classics”, suggest to prevent plague? A group calling themselves the “Shansi Hygiene Agency” distributed the following instructions:

  1. Paint all door frames with resin which has been mixed with camphor, arsenic, and sulphur.

  2. Burn in all rooms a mixture of resin and fragrant sandalwood, powered.

  3. Dink enough sesame oil to cause nausea.

Those with some medical knowledge may agree with Hemingway that these measures seem insufficient, to say the least. Perhaps they should be thought of less as measures of prevention and more as aids for denial — feeling nauseous in a smoky, stinky room may distract any human from the actual pains of dying from chest pain, fever, and spitting up bloody sputum.


Source: 1910 Annual Report of the Shansi Mission, American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, Oberlin College Archives.

*Yes! Ernest’s uncle!