In a now deleted Instagram post, the CDC posted the cover of the May 2020 issue of their Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID) journal. Instagram users immediately took notice of the image on the cover, which featured a Chinese military badge from the Qing Dynasty. The caption pointed out the multiple animals depicted on the badge, including bats. The CDC faced backlash for the use of this image and was accused of encouraging racism and the association of COVID-19 with China and Chinese people.
Much of the backlash comes from the timing of this image. COVID-19 began to spread in China and as a result, Chinese Americans (or any Asian Americans who might pass as Chinese) have faced widespread racism. Furthermore, the U.S. government has been criticized for using China as a scapegoat amidst the pandemic, and officials including President Donald Trump have also faced backlash for referring to COVID-19 as the "Chinese Virus." This constant association of COVID-19 with China has put Asian Americans at risk, leading to an uptick in racist incidents and hate crimes. The CDC's use of a piece of Chinese art faced backlash because it similarly associates both China and Chinese culture with COVID-19. The post is not outwardly racist, but many have viewed it as a microaggression. At the very least, the use of this particular image was certainly bad timing considering the current situation of Asians in America.
The caption of the post drew some criticism as well. This caption draws attention to the animals depicted, such as a leopard, birds, and bats. The CDC explained the cultural symbolism of these animals before detailing diseases that originated from and can be transmitted by these animals. The organization pointed out that bats, in particular, are responsible for SARS before stating that COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2. While this information is factual, the main issue is, once again, the timing. Much of the racism faced by Asian Americans revolves around this idea of Chinese people eating bats or "bat soup," and Asian Americans have been mocked by being accused of eating bats and spreading the virus. Showing an image of Chinese art with bats on it, then following up an explanation of the significance of bats in Chinese art with the role of bats in disease transmission may not be the best idea when anti-Asian racism has become so prevalent. Many Asian Americans have also taken issue with the CDC's taking apart of cultural symbols and associating them with disease. In any case, the CDC may not have intended to be outwardly racist, but using Chinese art in this way while Asian Americans are still seeing a rise in anti-Asian racism is irresponsible and insensitive. I can understand that the CDC likes to use art on the covers of its EID journals, but, once again, this was not the right time to use this particular image.
While the CDC has deleted its initial post, the EID journal with the same cover is still available online, with the full explanation of the cover image. The CDC is also still facing some criticism from Instagram users, who noticed that the CDC's recent Instagram post about COVID-19 safety features an image of what appears to be Chinese takeout. While the CDC's intentions in using these images is unknown, there is reason for concern among Asian Americans when an organization like the CDC that is seen as reputable may also be contributing to the association of Asians with COVID-19. Asian Americans are in a precarious position, and the CDC should at least be a little more sensitive to the current reality of the Asian American community. These posts may seem small and inconsequential, but they do have the potential to perpetuate the idea that Chinese and Asian people can be blamed for the current pandemic.