From Irish Fever to Chinese Flu: the racialisation of epidemics

A unique poetry evening on 3 December will consider the ways in which nations and their people are stigmatised by disease.

Date: 29 October 2020

London Met’s newly launched Global Diversities and Inequalities Research Centre (GDIRC) is set to host a unique evening of poetry and discussion, considering the way in which nations are stigmatised by disease.  

From Irish Fever to Chinese Flu, the Racialisation of Epidemics will take place in the context of a developing research project by the GDIRC, which will compare responses to immigrants in the light of ‘Irish Fever’ and COVID-19.

It is common knowledge that one particularly savage strain of influenza was labelled as ‘Spanish flu’. Less well known is the ascription to syphilis of the moniker 'the French disease'. The virulent strain of typhus that killed thousands in Ireland and Britain in 1847 was, in those days, dubbed the ‘Irish Fever’. Latterly, Donald Trump made another such association stick in certain circles when he called COVID-19 the ‘Chinese flu’. What Trump did was not new. It happened in 2020 and it will happen again. Moral panics that arise from new, terrible experiences of disease are made worse by nationalist and racist overtones, and by the apportioning of blame. 

In their research into this phenomenon, project leads Professor Don MacRaild and Professor Louise Ryan will bring social science research together with cultural reflection. This poetry reading, which they will introduce with a reflection on disease and the immigrant over time, is part of their interdisciplinary consideration.

Professors MacRaild and Ryan will be joined on the evening by three poets:

  • Ian Duhig FRSL

    Ian has won several prizes for his poetry, including the National Poetry Competition twice and a Cholmondeley Award and is a former International Writer Fellow at Trinity College Dublin. Ian is also a social activist with a background in homelessness that sharpens his awareness of health issues among the vulnerable. He is currently working with Leeds Irish Health and Homes on a publication chronicling various creative responses to Covid-19 in that city.
  • Anna Chen

    A writer, poet and broadcaster, Anna has written and presented programmes for BBC Radio 4 and presented an arts series, Madam Miaow’s Culture Lounge, at Resonance FM. Her stage shows include Anna May Wong Must Die!, The Steampunk Opium Wars and I, Imelda. Her first poetry book, Reaching for My Gnu, is published by Aaaargh! Press. Her new collection, Chi Chi's Glorious Swansong, is due out later this year.

  • Kit Fan

    Kit’s second collection As Slow As Possible was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and The Irish Times Poetry Book of the Year.  Diamond Hill, his debut novel about Hong Kong, will be published by Dialogue Books/Little, Brown and World Editions in May 2021. He was a winner of a Northern Writer's Award and the POETRY magazine's Editors Prize of Reviewing.
A medical mask hanging from a dashboard mirror
When?3 December, 7 – 8.45 pm
Where? Online

The event is open to all - please register to attend via Eventbrite.