Animal Studies Journal


[Review] Liz P.Y. Chee. Mao’s Bestiary: Medicinal Animals and Modern China. Duke University Press, 2021. 288 pp. The COVID-19 pandemic has secured its place as a 21st century global public health disaster. It has killed more than 6.2 million and infected close to 500 million people worldwide (Worldometer). Acknowledging Wuhan’s wildlife market as the ground zero of the pandemic and the devastation caused by SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) 17 years earlier, China’s Communist authorities made the long overdue decision on February 24, 2020 and outlawed wildlife breeding and trade for the country’s exotic food market (National People’s Congress of China). This decision was commendable. Yet, breeding of wildlife for the exotic food market was only one of the five-piece captive farming operation that generated a revenue of $78 billion a year (Ma Jianzhang et al.). What the Chinese authorities have retained is captive breeding for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the third largest component of the country’s controversial industry. Called a ‘national treasure’, TCM, in the minds of many, brooks no questioning (see for example, ‘Xi Jinping Calls’). Liz P.Y. Chee’s Mao’s Bestiary: Medicinal Animals and Modern China (Duke University Press, 2021) steps in this minefield with questions not about the efficacy of TCM but about the drivers of its faunal medicalization in the last seven decades.