[1/27/20] – Chinese Quarantine

Over 20 million Chinese people are currently quarantined to curb the spread of a never-before-seen strain of the coronavirus. Public health officials in Wuhan City are comparing their efforts to stem the flow of people and things in and out of Wuhan City to wartime measures. Public transit is completely shut down. Businesses are closed. Families who are sick and those that are well are being separated and isolated. Images and videos of military personnel wearing masks and ordering around citizens of Wuhan City have surfaced online. So far, 570 people have been infected and 17 have died. Wuhan City is the epicenter of the outbreak, and other areas are being quarantined as more cases are confirmed in different locations. Does this justify the government’s response to the emergence of this disease? Where do we need to draw the line between public safety and individual sovereignty? In this week’s Lecture Spark, we explore the social construction of an epidemic. Specifically, we discuss stigma and symbolic interactionism. We also point to the media and other agents of the government in spreading information (and, in some cases, misinformation) about the disease, those most effected, or both.

Instructors, click on the link below to download this week’s lecture for use in your classroom. The deck contains a writing prompt, a debate question, as well as other assessment questions.

Download the PowerPoint Lecture Spark for Chinese Quarantine

Learning Objectives

LO1: Explain how the labels of social stigma create barriers to care for people who are sick.

LO2: Discuss the dynamic nature of social norms as they bend and flex to accommodate different social contexts.

LO3: Analyze the practice of quarantining a city from multiple sociological perspectives.


No exit: China locks down second city as it steps up virus battle

Huanggang has become the second Chinese city to go into lockdown following the closure of Wuhan, as authorities step up efforts to halt the spread of a new coronavirus that started in December and has now killed 17 people and infected 571. “Without a special reason, city residents should not leave Wuhan,” the central city’s special command center to combat the virus said on Thursday, according to state media. Hours later, state media in neighboring Huanggang, a city of some six million people, said it was imposing a similar lockdown. The moves are meant to “effectively cut off the virus spread, resolutely curb the outbreak and guarantee the people’s health and safety,” the notice said, according to the official Xinhua news agency. Stations and the airport in Wuhan were closed from 10am (02:00 GMT) with buses, the metro system, ferries and long-distance shuttle buses also suspended in the city. All public gatherings were cancelled in the city of 11 million residents. Al Jazeera’s Scott Heidler has more from China’s capital Beijing. Adrian Brown has more from Hong Kong.

Coronavirus: China warns against travel to virus-hit Wuhan – BBC News

Chinese authorities have urged people to stop travelling in and out of Wuhan, the city at the center of a new virus outbreak that has killed nine. Those living in the city of 8.9 million people have also been told to avoid crowds and minimize public gatherings. The new virus has spread from Wuhan to several Chinese provinces, as well as the US, Thailand, and South Korea. There are 440 confirmed cases, with the origin a seafood market that “conducted illegal transactions of wild animals”. “Basically, do not go to Wuhan. And those in Wuhan please do not leave the city,” said National Health Commission vice-minister Li Bin in one of the first public briefings since the beginning of the outbreak.

How China is reacting to the deadly coronavirus outbreak

On Jan. 23, China enacted travel bans for the central Chinese city of Wuhan in an effort to contain a coronavirus outbreak. Read more: https://wapo.st/2GfGGud.

Discussion Questions

From a symbolic-interactionist perspective, what would a lived experience of being quarantined be like? How might the process of being cut-off from your social world have deleterious effects on your social development…and knowledge of self?

From a conflict perspective, what groups are most likely to suffer the greatest losses due to this quarantine? How might one’s social class ranking, or wealth, or education, influence the resources they are offered to survive?

From a functionalist perspective, what are the manifest and latent functions of healthcare agencies and the government in response to an outbreak that could become an epidemic? What might we have to sacrifice in order to obtain these resources?

How might the hegemonic power of the media be used to enforce laws and regulations surrounding being quarantined? What do you think the goal is of most of the reporting provided this week? What message(s) are they sending about the disease, potential carriers, and the place of origin? How might these emerging narratives contribute to attitudes toward Chinese people?

Why might social norms need to change in the event of an epidemic, or pandemic? Specifically, what types of folkways and mores are created or changed in an effort to stop the spread of disease? What are the limits of the ethics of preventing a catastrophic global outbreak?


Social epidemiologists is the study of the distribution of health and illness in human populations.
Which of the following issues related to this topic would they be most interested in researching?
a. Media response to the outbreak
b. Use of military force during quarantine
c. Spread of the novel coronavirus through human interactions at the airport.
d. All of the above

_______ that regulate social attitudes and behaviors in an effort to maintain social control are sometimes suspended when catastrophic events occur.
a. Social norms
b. Social facts
c. Social folkways
d. Social mores

A symbolic-interactionist would be most interested in researching which of the following research questions related to this topic?
a. How does the government work to control this outbreak to maintain stability in society?
b. What populations are most disadvantaged through the process of distribution of resources during the outbreak, and why?
c. How does the media work to maintain the social control of the populations under quarantine?
d. What types of decisions do families make when they are preparing themselves to survive the quarantine?

Photo credit: Barnaby Chambers/Shutterstock.com

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