I awake* to find numerous dispatches from Canadian and Canandian-friendly sources pointing out that a group of students from Canada has been placed in quarantine in China strictly because of their nationality -- not because they've come from flu-infected areas or fit any other rational criterion for quarantine. This is happening in the northeastern** city of Changchun, a regional industrial hub with a population about the size of New York's. According to the CBC account,

Chinese officials in Changchun pulled the group aside after their plane landed in the northeastern city on Saturday, according to Martin Deslauriers, a Quebecer who is part of the language exchange group.

An official came on board and asked all the Canadian passengers to present themselves, Deslauriers said. Health officials then took them to a room at the airport to have their temperatures taken, he said. No one in his group had a fever, but they were still informed they would be placed in quarantine, he said.

And there they'll be for seven days. The story suggested that some students were disgruntled but others were considering it as much an adventure as an ordeal.

Policy point: At one level, this is as arbitrary as the more widespread quarantining of Mexican passport holders, discussed in many posts here -- and more obviously nutty. Canadians? Is it because they come from someplace close to Mexico? If so, isn't there some other big country right in between those two? What about all its citizens? Therefore, by this train of reasoning, the case shows the unprincipled power of the Chinese state etc.

But I am more struck by the additional element of illustrating how uneven, inexplicable, and anything-but-thorough the application of that power can be. For one thing, this appears to be policy free-lancing on the part of the local authorities. The story quoted its student interviewee thus: "Deslauriers said the students have been told by officials that the quarantine is a provincial measure and not part of a national plan by the Chinese government."

And, it's a "quarantine" that appears to be in the tradition of "quarantine theater," like the "security theater" so familiar at airports around the world. The students have to stay inside the hotel -- but apparently the staff that serves them comes and goes normally! Now, if any of those staff members held a Canadian passport... I hope everyone keeps feeling fine.

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* Although there is a coals-to-Newcastle superfluity in linking to anything on Andrew Sullivan's site, the video he posted today exactly depicts how every day of my life begins. This is a lot of the reason I have avoided holding "normal" jobs.
** China's northeastern region -- known in Chinese as 东北, or "EastNorth" -- is the part of the country that first came under Japanese control in the 1930s when it was known to the outside world as Manchuria. Within China today, Manchuria is not an in-favor term; 东北 is the way to go.

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