China and Inner Asia
Singapore University of Technology and Design, Singapore
Soon after the emergence of Covid-19 in Wuhan, China, China's public health agencies pointed to a wholesale foods market--where a variety of wild animals were allegedly sold--as a possible source of viral spillover from animals to humans. Although doubts later emerged about the market as point of origin, the setting of this hypothesis within a broader rationality of zoonotic risk had significant social repercussions: during 2020, China banned the farming of wild animals for food, and moved to close all live animal/poultry markets, both framed as measures to reduce risk of future disease emergence. This paper examines a longer history of virological, veterinary and health governance in China in order to explain how animals as food became a contested site of pandemic risk and regulation. Looking primarily at the history of pandemic and avian influenza science and governance from 1950s to today, including the intersections between global health and Chinese science, the paper explores how 'liveliness' (sale of live animals, rather than slaughtered meat) and 'wildness' (variously defined) became understood as the key risk qualities of animal foods. The paper follows transformations in the governance of animal food markets at the crossroads of changing epidemic science and consumption practices in post-Reform China.