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Empires of PanicEpidemics and Colonial Anxieties$
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Robert Peckham

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9789888208449

Published to Hong Kong Scholarship Online: September 2015

DOI: 10.5790/hongkong/9789888208449.001.0001

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Slow Burn in China

Slow Burn in China

Factories, Fear, and Fire in Canton

(p.35) 2 Slow Burn in China
Empires of Panic

John M. Carroll

Hong Kong University Press

In Chapter 2 John Carroll argues that considering instances of near panic, missed panic, or panic manqué, may illuminate the conditions needed to produce panic. Carroll is concerned with Western preoccupations about fire in pre–Opium War Canton: worries that extended to anxieties—perhaps even to periodic fear—but failed to ignite into full-blown mass panic of the variety examined by other contributors in the volume. Fire has a long history of conceptual intertwinement with panic, as it does with disease. Conflagration, disease, and panic were certainly conflated in Hong Kong in 1894, when the panic triggered by bubonic plague “spread like wild fire.” In the mid-twentieth century analogies of “fire, flood and red fever” were central to the post–Second World War Truman Doctrine, where US insecurity was emphasized and the spread of world communism imagined as a metaphoric convergence of infectious disease and raging fire. A major theme in Chapter 2 is the way in which localized crises served to heighten cultural and racial differences. In the context of quasi-colonial Canton, fires raised questions about the nature of Chinese state and society, the use of public and private spaces, and the compatibility of East and West.

Keywords:   Panics, Diseases, Fire, Colonies, Policies, Government, History, Empires, Technology

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