This project investigates the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the regulation of wet markets in central China. Based on expertise in the anthropology of human-animal relations in various societies and in the ethnography of the reconstruction of daily life and disrupted habitats after a disaster in central China, it assesses how Chinese authorities will regulate the economy of wet markets and how retailers and consumers will react to these measures around the area of Wuhan, which was the place of emergence of this new coronavirus transmitted from bats to animals sold for human consumption. We document the animal species sold on these wet markets, the uses made of their body parts and the economic and symbolic values attached to these animals and their body parts in Chinese traditional medicine. Our aim is to understand how Covid-19 has changed the perception of zoonotic risks in the urban areas where consumers can buy wild animals, and to compare them with bushmeat markets in central Africa after Ebola, wild animal markets in South America or “organic markets” in Europe. As the demand for “natural food” increases in parallel to the demand for food safety, this project will show the economic and symbolic role played by these markets in parallel to the food industry, whose vulnerabilities have been shown by recent environmental crises.
We have worked collaboratively on the social anthropology of zoonoses and animal diseases, following a common hypothesis on the human factor in the spread of pathogens between species. Our hypothesis was that representations of the border between species play a role in the transmission of zoonotic pathogens, and that these representations vary around the globe in correlation with techniques of management of dead bodies and forms of perception of wild animals. We proposed to compare the perception of animal diseases in different locations in order to formulate general tendencies in the representations of species borders. Zoonotic outbreaks are good starting points for comparative anthropology because animal diseases reveal latent troubles in the representation of relations between humans and animals. To explain a new disease, humans invoke a series of beings and rethink the distinction between species. We have taken three cases as sites of comparison: brucellosis, anthrax and foot-and-mouth disease in Mongolia, Hendra in Australia and tuberculosis in Laos.