Volume 14, Issue 3


Sep 1, 2020

“An Exhibition of Aquatic Products at Ueno Park, Tokyo” 東京上野公園水産博覧会

Cover Designer



Gyozan Nakajima (中島仰山)
1883; 50×37.5㎝

Expert’s Comment

As a pandemic, COVID-19 can be recognized as the latest in a series of global viral threats dating back to the early twentieth century, when Spanish flu swept the world and killed tens of millions. East Asia was not immune from this pandemic, nor did its people have adequate knowledge to cope with the virus. Even so, they equipped themselves with an item of modern everyday technology—the face mask. Medical anthropologist Christos Lynteris (2020) points out that Asian people’s belief in wearing face masks is neither superstitious nor an overestimation of the mask’s utility in defending against illness—they learned it from their fight against plague in 1910 and 1911, and it became a bodily and cultural habit. He takes this further and points out a divide:

In the West, the image of Asian people with masks is sometimes wielded, deliberately or not, as a signifier of otherness. But in East Asia, the act of wearing a mask is a gesture that communicates solidarity during an epidemic—a time when a community is vulnerable to being divided by fear, between the healthy and the sick.

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