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Exercise 9: Historical Omniscience

Write about an even set well in the past, twenty or one hundred years ago. Write from above, as if by means of researched opinion (but I suggest you do little actual research). By this I mean write about several historical characters or an interesting event, imagining any POV you want.

For this exercise, I’m taking a break from writing out my nascent Cyberpunk/Chinese mythology mash-up to write about an actual historical event: the outbreak of Black Death in San Francisco Chinatown during the early 20th century. Since the exercise specifically advocates against doing research, it’s entirely possible that I’ve gotten some details wrong.


The plague that hit Chinatown illustrated the double standards that the country had adopted when it came to immigrants from the East. Soon after the first deaths occurred in the slum, Chinatown was walled off, its residents trapped inside and forbidden from going in and out. Supplies had to be sent it via delivery carts, but with a neighborhood of thirty-thousand at its peak, no amount of relief could be sufficient. Confined to the claustrophobic conditions of the densely-packed slum, tensions undoubtedly ran high, and residents would certainly have noticed how the quarantine wall conveniently bypassed white-owned sections of the slum, either to keep from angering more established residents or because the political bosses in City Hall had a financial stake in the aforementioned buildings.

The draconian restrictions imposed on the residents of Chinatown did little to endear them to the white government authorities. Nor did the double-standards of treatment do much to alleviate that distrust. The situation deteriorated to the point that when a vaccine was developed against the plague, the majority of Chinatown residents revolted against its adoption. One lone advocate was Ng Poon Chew, a Cantonese minister turned newspaper editor who had long advocated for the rights of the Chinese. Normally critical of San Francisco’s authorities, he took a brave risk by choosing to throw in his support with public health advice, advocating that the Chinese follow government orders to take the plague vaccine. Unfortunately for Chew, the backlash from his own people was incredibly severe. After years of discrimination and distrust, the Chinese would not to consent to the same authorities that had treated them as second-class citizens. Even a Chinatown fixture like Chew was unable to persuade them otherwise. In fact, Chew was branded as a sellout and eventually forced to reverse his position, becoming a staunch opponent of the vaccination campaign.

The plague did eventually wane on its own, but not before many preventable deaths took place. Had the city instilled more confidence among the Chinese population earlier, perhaps its health advice would have been heeded, and the crisis averted far sooner.

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