NEW DELHI — Om Prakash relied on relatives and neighbors to tend his wheat and vegetable fields. He ate food donated by sympathizers at home and abroad. When he felt feverish, he turned to volunteer medical workers huddled, like him, near a noisy overpass for months, through heat and cold and a deadly viral outbreak.
Now, his year away from his farm and his family has finally paid off.
Mr. Prakash was one of thousands of farmers in India who used their organizational skills, broad support network and sheer persistence to force one of the country’s most powerful leaders in modern history into a rare retreat. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said lawmakers would repeal new agricultural laws that the protesting farmers feared would leave them vulnerable to rapacious big companies and destroy their way of life.
Their victory won’t help India solve the deep inefficiencies that plague its farming sector, problems that leave people malnourished in some places even as grain in other parts is unused or exported. But it showed how a group desperate to preserve its hold on a middle-class way of life could successfully challenge a government more accustomed to squelching dissent than reckoning with it.
fast-tracked citizenship for some groups but excluded Muslims, were plagued by violence.
The effort isn’t over yet. The farmers have vowed to continue their protests until the government submits to another demand, that it guarantee a minimum price for nearly two dozen crops. Rather than retreat now, they sense an opportunity to push even harder on a prime minister who is nervously watching his party’s poll numbers dip in a string of states with elections next year. The government has said it will form a committee to consider the matter.
India’s farming system still needs to be fixed, a fact that even many of the protesting farmers acknowledge. Initiated during a time of widespread starvation in the 1960s, the system created centralized markets where farmers could sell their crops. Some of the proceeds are funneled back to farming communities though infrastructure projects, pensions and programs providing free technical advice on matters like seed and fertilizer.
in debt. With city and factory jobs hard to find in a country still struggling with poverty, many farm children emigrate to find a better life.
Mr. Modi’s laws were aimed at bringing more private money into agriculture and making it more receptive to market forces. Mr. Singh, the protest leader, said many farmers would prefer subsidies over a wider range of output.
“The root of the agricultural issue in India is that farmers are not getting the proper value of their crops,” said Mr. Singh. “There are two ways to see reforms — giving away land to the corporations, the big people, the capitalists. The other is to help the farmers increase their yields.”
The movement started in Punjab, home to a large community of Sikhs, the religious group, and some of the country’s richest agricultural land. The protest leaders leaned on both to organize and finance their yearlong demonstrations.
farmers rode tractors over police barricades into New Delhi, leading to the death of one protester. Political analysts declared the movement dead. But organizers retreated behind the barricades, and resumed their peaceful protests through the harsh winter, a devastating wave of the coronavirus, a scorching summer and into the fall.
rammed into a group of protesting farmers, resulting in the deaths of four protesters along with four other people, including a local journalist. The son of one of Mr. Modi’s ministers is among those under investigation in connection with the episode.
That incident, which came after the protesters decided to shadow campaigning B.J.P. officials to draw cameras, may have been a turning point. The B.J.P.’s poll numbers soon dropped in Uttar Pradesh, where the deaths took place. Party officials began to worry that they could lose the state in elections set for early next year.
A day after Mr. Modi’s surprise announcement, the mood near Singhu, a village in the state of Haryana that borders the capital, was somber. Religious music and political speeches blared from loudspeakers across the makeshift village of bamboo huts, where people hawked T-shirts and flags that said, “No farmers, no food.”
Outside one of the huts serving free vegetarian lunch, Mr. Prakash, the farmer, described sleeping though cold weather and rain next to a busy road, leaving his farm in the care of his brothers’ children.
Mr. Prakash, who lives off his pension from 20 years in the Indian Air Force, does not need the farm to survive. Instead, holding on to the seven acres he and his siblings inherited from their parents ensures they can maintain a middle class life in a country where the vagaries of the economy often suck people back into poverty.
Mr. Prakash said that the family farm had supported his ambitions, and that he wanted the same for his children.
“To save our motherland,” he said, “we can stay here another two years.”
At night in the refugee camps, with only a thin tarpaulin wall as protection, Mohammed waits for the men to come and kill him.
In less than a month, assassins have killed at least eight people in the Rohingya refugee settlements of southeastern Bangladesh, silencing those who have dared to speak out against the violent gangs that plague the camps. As with Mr. Mohammed, the militants threatened their victims before they killed, leaving their targets in a perpetual panic.
“I am living under the knife of a fearful and depressing life,” said Mr. Mohammed, a community organizer whose full name is not being used because of the documented risks he faces. “I came to Bangladesh from Myanmar because I would be killed there. Here, also, there are no guarantees for a safe life.”
In the world’s largest single refugee encampment, life is becoming unlivable. Already, Rohingya Muslims had to flee ethnic cleansing in their native Myanmar, ending up in a sprawl of shelters that ranks among the most tightly packed places on earth. Now, among the warrens of tents clinging to denuded hills, militants search for recruits, drug traffickers roam and kidnappers prey on women and children.
Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, or ARSA.
Mohib Ullah, a fellow Rohingya community leader, was killed by gunmen in late September. His fear intensified after seven men associated with an Islamic school that had stood up to ARSA militants were shot and stabbed to death.
Bhasan Char, a flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal that human rights groups have called a floating prison. ARSA has less sway there.
In October, U.N.H.C.R. and Bangladesh signed a memorandum of understanding paving the way for 80,000 or so Rohingya to be transferred to Bhasan Char, on top of the 20,000 who have already been moved there.
Among the first to be resettled on Bhasan Char were Rohingya Christians, a persecuted minority within a persecuted minority. Rohingya Christians in the camps have been kidnapped, police reports have documented.
Last October, one of the Christian families, since relocated to the island, sought protection from the United Nations after ARSA militants threatened them with abduction.
The family was given refuge for one night in a U.N.H.C.R. safehouse near the camps but was ordered to leave the next day by Bangladeshi staff, two family members said. With nowhere to go, a relative, Abdu Taleb, helped them on a bus to escape the ARSA militants who were menacing outside.
The escape plan failed, according to a police report filed shortly after the incident. The militants boarded the bus and abducted Mr. Taleb and the family. Mr. Taleb and the male head of the family were held in a dark place for nearly four months, where he said the militants tortured them, pulling out one of his teeth.
From Bhasan Char, where he now lives in a barrack surrounded by the sea, Mr. Taleb said he was finally at peace.
“I came in search of safety,” Mr. Taleb said. “I found security.”
he told The New York Times in 2016, shortly after winning his election, trying to flick off the accusations. He promised to show results within six months.
After more than four years in office, he was gunned down in his home early Wednesday at the age of 53. He left a wife and three children.
In his last year in office, as protests grew and he declined to step down, he had to defend himself in other ways: “I am not a dictator,” he told The Times in February.
So who was he?
Mr. Moïse was a former chamber of commerce leader when he ran for president. Few people had heard of him as he emerged as a leading candidate. They dubbed him “the Banana Man.”
He won a majority of votes cast in a crowded field where few people bothered to cast ballots.
In interviews, Mr. Moïse often recounted how he grew up on a large sugar plantation and could relate to a vast majority of Haitians who live off the land. He was raised in a rural area in the north but attended school in the capital, Port-au-Prince. He said he learned how to succeed by watching his father’s profitable farming business.
“Since I was a child, I was always wondering why people were living in such conditions while enormous lands were empty,” he said. “I believe agriculture is the key to change for this country.”
He ran a large produce cooperative that employed 3,000 farmers.
During his time in office, Mr. Moïse was often accused of being a strongman who tried to consolidate power. He tried to push through a new Constitution that would have given his office more power and presidents the ability to seek more terms in office. Those plans were derailed by Covid-19 and rising insecurity.
In a dispute over when his term should end, he declined to step down and ruled by decree as the terms of nearly every elected official in the country expired and no elections were held. He was accused of working with gangs to remain in power.
Even his critics agree that Mr. Moïse used his power in office to try to end monopolies that offered lucrative contracts to the powerful elite. And that made him enemies.
“To some he was a corrupt leader, but to others he was a reformer,” said Leonie Hermatin, a Haitian community leader in Miami. “He was a man who was trying to change the power dynamics, particularly when it came to money and who had control over electricity contracts. The oligarchy was paid billions of dollars to provide electricity to a country that was still in the dark.”
Simon Desras, a former senator in Haiti, said Mr. Moïse seemed to know that his battle against the wealthy and powerful interests in the country would get him killed.
“I remember in his speech, he said he just targeted the rich people by putting an end to their contracts. He said that could be the reason for his death, because they are used to assassinating people and pushing people into exile,” Mr. Desras said in a telephone interview, as he drove through Haiti’s deserted streets. “It’s like he made a prophecy.”
The first shots rang out after 1 a.m.
For what some witnesses described as a half-hour, explosions echoed through the streets of the leafy, mountainous neighborhood that was home to President Jovenel Moïse and many of Haiti’s most affluent citizens.
At first, some nearby residents thought it was one of the twin terrors that plague the nation: gang violence or another earthquake.
But by dawn, as people huddled around radios and listened to television reports, the news slowly emerged that the president was dead.
As people waited for the government to provide them with an update on how it would move forward, that shocking news was one of the few things that was certain.
As the morning went on, videos circulating on WhatsApp painted an ominous scene — a formation of SUVs arriving on the street and spilling out armed men in military formation. One announced in Creole and English over a loudspeaker, “This is a D.E.A. operation.” The legitimacy of the videos could not be verified.
A State Department spokesman said the D.E.A. claims were “absolutely false.” The agency has a long history of operations in Haiti, and some suggested that the attackers might have been resorting to a ruse to get officers guarding the president to step aside.
The interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, offered few details, aside from a rather cryptic comment that some of the attackers were speaking Spanish.
A businessman who lives in the same neighborhood as the president said he had been woken in the night by the sound of explosions around 1 a.m. Other residents said they had heard shooting between 1 and 1:30 and that it had lasted about an hour.
The normally clogged streets of the capital were ominously empty on Wednesday.
Banks and stores were shuttered; university classrooms vacant; the ti machann — market women — who normally line the shoulders of roads selling their wares were conspicuously absent.
Lines formed at some depots, with people stocking up on water — which is normally bought by the container in poorer areas — in case they end up hunkered down for a long time. Others huddled at home, calling one another to check on their safety and ask for updates. In some middle-class neighborhoods, people huddled on the sidewalk sharing their fears for the country’s future.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen now — everything is possible,” one man said while speaking to neighbors.
Jenny Joseph, a university student from the suburb of Carrefour, said the country would have to be on the alert. “Things are hard and ugly now,” she said. “For the next few days, things will be crazy in Haiti.”
The main two-lane road up to Pèlerin, the suburb where the president lived, was blocked by green camouflage-speckled trucks.
The president had a high level of protection. He regularly traveled with a large motorcade of more than a dozen armored cars and police guards. Many wondered how it was possible that assassins entered his home.
Advisers to Mr. Moïse told The New York Times that the country had closed the airport and many other points of entry early Wednesday as they tried to hunt down the team of assailants who assassinated the president.
Harold Isaac and Jacques Richard Miguel contributed reporting from Port-au-Prince, and Dieu-Nalio Chery contributed reporting from New York.
Jovenel Moïse had been struggling to quell growing public anger over his attempt to hold onto power despite the opposition’s insistence that his term had expired.
Mr. Moïse had been ruling by decree for more than a year. Many, including prominent jurists, contend that his term ended in February. Haiti has been rocked by protests against his rule, and also has suffered a surge in gang activity.
The opposition said that Mr. Moïse’s five-year term should have ended on Feb. 7, five years to the day since his predecessor, Michel Martelly, stepped down. When Mr. Moïse refused to leave office, thousands of Haitians took to the streets, setting trash and tires on fire as they demanded his resignation.
In response, the government announced the arrest of 23 people, including a top judge and a senior police officer, who the president said had tried to kill him and overthrow the government.
“The goal of these people was to make an attempt on my life,” President Moïse said at the time. “That plan was aborted.”
Mr. Moïse insisted that he had one more year to serve, because his term did not begin until a year after the vote that brought him to the top office amid accusations of electoral fraud.
Leonie Hermantin, a Haitian community leader in Miami, said people across the diaspora, however divided they may have been about Mr. Moïse, were united in their shock and despair.
“We don’t want to go back to ways of the past where presidents were eliminated through violence,” she said, adding, “There’s no one celebrating.”
The protests this year were part of broader unrest, with heavily armed gangs clashing on the streets and attacking police stations.
“While exact numbers are still unclear, preliminary estimates suggest that thousands of people have fled their homes and sought shelter with host families or settled in informal shelters,” the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said last month in a report on the situation.
President Biden said Wednesday that he was “shocked and saddened” by the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti and the shooting of the leader’s wife, Martine Moïse. The sentiment from the American leader, whose administration has vowed to put a renewed focus on Haiti, came even as it faces difficult questions about U.S. policy goals and actions.
“We condemn this heinous act,” Mr. Biden said in a statement. “I am sending my sincere wishes for First Lady Moïse’s recovery.”
Representative Andy Levin, a co-chair of the House Haiti Caucus and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the assassination “a devastating, if not shocking, example of the extent to which the security situation in Haiti has unraveled.”
“For months,” Mr. Levin, a Democrat, said in a statement, “violent actors have terrorized the Haitian people with impunity while the international community — the United States included, I fear — has failed to heed their cries to change course and support a Haitian-led democratic transition.”
The committee’s lead Republican, Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, likewise condemned the killing, saying in a statement that “there must be a full investigation and appropriate accountability for his murder.”
While the United States and other nations have long supplied Haiti with much-needed aid and financial assistance, including helping the country recover from a devastating 2010 earthquake, Western powers have also exerted an overwhelming influence over the country’s political destiny.
The United States occupied the country from 1915 to 1934, and a series of coups in the 20th and 21st centuries were backed by Western powers.
France, in particular, has long had a difficult relationship with Haiti, a former slave colony that it ruled throughout the 18th century, turning it into an extremely lucrative territory. Anti-French sentiment is common in Haiti, where the first visit by a French president was not until 2010.
France’s foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said in a statement that he was “shocked” by Mr. Moïse’s killing. “All light must be shed on this crime, which comes amid a very deteriorated political and security climate,” Mr. Le Drian said. He urged “all of the actors of Haitian political life” to observe “calm and restraint.”
The United Nations secretary-general, António Guterres, said through a spokesman that “the perpetrators of this crime must be brought to justice.”
He called on Haitians to “preserve the constitutional order, remain united in the face of this abhorrent act and reject all violence” and vowed that the United Nations would continue to stand with the country’s government and the people of Haiti.
The United Nations once deployed thousands of peacekeeping troops and police officers in Haiti as part of a coordinated international effort to rescue the country from its chronic bouts of political violence and instability. But the cholera epidemic that followed the 2010 earthquake — spread by infected peacekeepers — indelibly tainted the global organization in the eyes of many Haitians.
Even the U.N. secretary-general who presided during that period, Ban Ki-moon, admitted in a memoir published last month that the cholera disaster “forever destroyed the United Nations’ reputation in Haiti.”
A peacekeeping force authorized by the Security Council in 2004, known as the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or by its French acronym Minustah, was empowered to send as many as 6,700 troops of all ranks and more than 1,600 civilian police officers to Haiti.
Ninety-six members of the peacekeeping mission were among those killed in the 2010 earthquake, which by some estimates left more than 300,000 people dead. The crisis led the Security Council to strengthen Minustah’s size to as many as 8,940 soldiers and 3,711 police officers.
But many Haitians came to regard the peacekeepers as an occupying force, and one that did not necessarily protect them. The force’s reputation was further impaired by reports that a Nepalese contingent may have introduced cholera to the country through poor sanitation — reports that were later confirmed by independent investigations.
Mr. Ban eventually acknowledged some responsibility, but the U.N. successfully rejected claims for compensation sought by aggrieved Haitians. A U.N. trust fund established under Mr. Ban to help Haiti cope with the cholera epidemic’s aftermath, which was supposed to total $400,000, has only a fraction of that sum.
Minustah’s mandate was terminated in 2017 with a transition to a much smaller mission, known as the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti or its French acronym, Binuh. But the mission, which is confined to the capital, Port-au-Prince, has struggled. None of its aspirations — helping Haiti achieve good governance, the rule of law, a stable environment and promotion of human rights — have shown any significant progress.
Helen La Lime, a former American diplomat and Binuh’s chief, summarized the worsening conditions afflicting the country in a report last month to the Security Council:
“The deep-rooted political crisis which has gripped the country for the better part of the last four years shows no sign of abating,” she said. “A political agreement remains elusive, as the rhetoric used by some political leaders grows increasingly acrimonious.”
Stéphane Dujarric, a U.N. spokesman, said Wednesday that Ms. La Lime was in “constant contact” with the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, and that she was calling “on the Haitian people to ensure calm.”
Mr. Dujarric said Binuh was in the process of accounting for its 1,200 staff members in Haiti, which includes about 200 from other countries, and he was advising them to “stay in place and in a safe place.”
Haiti has suffered a series of devastating events in recent years, including a devastating magnitude-7.0 earthquake in 2010, a powerful hurricane in 2016 and, most recently, the coronavirus pandemic. Political turmoil in recent months led to thousands taking to the street demanding the removal of President Jovenel Moïse, who was killed in the early hours of Wednesday.
Not long after Haiti’s president was shot to death by assassins who burst into his home, the country’s interim prime minister announced that he had declared an “état de siège” — a state of siege.
To many people around the world watching with alarm as events unfold in Haiti, the term was unfamiliar, even baffling.
But things grew a little clearer when the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, published details of the order in the official government journal, Le Moniteur.
Haiti is now basically under martial law. For 15 days, the police and security members can enter homes, control traffic and take special security measures and “all general measures that permit the arrest of the assassins” of President Jovenel Moïse. It also forbids meetings meant to excite or prepare for disorder.
There is one wrinkle. Or two, really.
Only Parliament has the power to declare a state of siege, said Georges Michel, a Haitian historian and constitutional expert. But Haiti at this moment has no functional Parliament. The terms of the entire lower house expired more than a year ago, and only 10 of Haiti’s 30 Senate seats are currently filled.
“Legally, he can’t do this,” Mr. Michel said. “We are in a state of necessity.”
There are actually a few other wrinkles.
Mr. Joseph’s term as interim prime minister is about to end and, in fact, President Moïse had already appointed a replacement, his sixth since taking office.
“We are in total confusion,” said Jacky Lumarque, rector of Quisqueya Universty, a large private university in Port-au-Prince. “We have two prime ministers. We can’t say which is more legitimate than the other.”
It gets worse.
Haiti also appears to have two Constitutions, and the dueling documents say different things about what to do if a president dies in office.
The 1987 version — published in both national languages, Creole and French — deems that if the presidency is vacant for any reason, the country’s most senior judge should step in.
In 2012, however, the Constitution was amended, and the new one directed that the president should be replaced by a council of ministers, under the guidance of the prime minister. Except if, as was Mr. Moïse’s situation, the president was in the fourth year of office. In that case, Parliament would vote for a provisional president. If, of course, there were a Parliament.
Unfortunately, that Constitution was amended in French, but not in Creole. So as it stands, the country has two Constitutions.
“Things are unclear,” said Mr. Michel, who helped write the 1987 Constitution. “It’s a very grave situation.”
Mr. Lumarque lamented the state of his country.
“This is the first time where we’ve seen that the state is so weak,” he said. “There is no Parliament. A dysfunctional Senate. The head of the Supreme Court just died.
“Jovenel Moïse was the last legitimate power in the country’s governance.”
Despite public unrest and fragile political support, in the months before President Jovenel Moïse was killed he was pursuing an aggressive agenda that included rewriting the country’s Constitution.
Among the provisions he was pushing for was one that would grant Haiti’s leader immunity for any actions while in office, leading critics to charge that he presented a threat to democracy and was setting the country on a course toward authoritarian rule.
“We need a system that works,” Mr. Moïse said in a telephone interview with The New York Times in March. “The system now doesn’t work. The president cannot work to deliver.”
The United States, whose support is critical for Haiti, had called on the country to hold presidential and legislative elections as soon as technically feasible. It also opposed the effort to draft a new constitution along the lines Mr. Moïse proposed.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken outlined the Biden administration’s tougher stance during a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in June.
Even though many were critical of Mr. Moïse’s approach to reshape the government, many Haitians say a new Constitution is needed.
The current one has created two competing power centers in the country — the president and prime minister — which often leads to friction and a fractured government.
The draft Constitution would have abolished the Senate, leaving in place a single legislative body elected every five years, and replace the post of prime minister with a vice president who answers to the president, in a bid to streamline government.
Haiti has been thwarted by outside interests from its very beginning.
For decades, European powers, and later the United States, refused to recognize it as an independent republic.
The Caribbean nation became the world’s first Black-led republic when it declared its independence from France on New Year’s Day 1804. That day, Saint-Domingue, once France’s richest colony, known as the “Pearl of the Antilles,” became Haiti.
It was a land long coveted for its riches of sugar, coffee and cotton, brought to market by enslaved people. Its declaration of independence meant that, for the first time, a brutally enslaved people had wrenched their freedom from colonial masters. Bit it came only after decades of bloody war.
In 1825, more than two decades after independence, the king of France, Charles X, sent warships to the capital, Port-au-Prince, and forced Haiti to compensate former French colonists for their lost property.
Haiti, unable to pay the hefty sum, was forced into a debt that it had to shoulder for nearly a century. Throughout the 19th century, a period marked by political and economic instability, the country invested little in its infrastructure or education.
In 1915, U.S. troops invaded after a mob killed the Haitian president.
The United States later justified its occupation as an attempt to restore order and prevent what it said was a looming invasion by French or German forces. But U.S. troops reintroduced forced labor on road-construction projects and were later accused of extrajudicial killings.
The widely unpopular occupation ended in 1934, but U.S. control over Haiti’s finances lasted until 1947.
After a series of midcentury coups, the Duvalier family, father-and-son dictators, reigned over Haiti with brute force until the 1980s. Their regime plunged Haiti deeper into debt, and introduced the so-called Tontons Macoutes, an infamous secret police force that terrorized the country.
In the early 1990s, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, was elected president. He was then ousted twice from power over the next 15 years.
Mr. Aristide preached liberation theology, and threatened the establishment by promising economic reforms. After a first coup, he was restored to power. But he left the presidency for good after a second coup in 2004, which was supported by the United States and France. He was exiled to the Central African Republic and, later, to South Africa.
Haiti, with a population of 11 million, is considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
In 2010, it suffered a devastating earthquake that claimed the lives of about 300,000 people. The country never really recovered, and it has remained mired in economic underdevelopment and insecurity. A cholera outbreak in 2016, linked to U.N. peacekeepers, killed at least 10,000 Haitians and sickened another 800,000.
Then early Wednesday, Jovenel Moïse, who became president in 2017, was assassinated at his residence.
In late 1910, a deadly plague started spreading in the northeast reaches of China, reaching the large city of Harbin. Tens of thousands of people coughed up blood; their skin pruned and turned purple. They all died.
This outbreak sent the Qing government into a tailspin: They didn’t know what illness was causing these deaths, let alone how to control it. So they brought in one of the best trained doctors in Asia at the time, Dr. Wu Lien-Teh. After performing autopsies, Dr. Wu found Yersinia pestis, a bacterium similar to the one that had caused bubonic plague in the West. He recognized Manchuria’s plague as a respiratory disease and urged everyone, especially health care professionals and law enforcement, to wear masks.
Chinese authorities, heeding his call, coupled masking with stringent lockdowns enforced by the police. Four months after the doctor was summoned, the plague ended. Although often overlooked in Western countries, Dr. Wu is recognized in world history as a pioneer of public health, helping to change the course of a respiratory disease spread by droplets that could have devastated China in the early 20th century, and perhaps spread far beyond its borders.
While the Chinese of that era complied with these strategies, public health professionals in the United States and other Western countries have struggled to get people to listen to themduring the Covid-19 pandemic. China, too, ran into challenges early on, but the country’s institutional memory from previous viral outbreaks helped turn the tide. And as many Americans abandon masking, push to restore normality in places where risks of infection remain high and hesitate to get vaccinated, some public health experts have looked to Dr. Wu’s success, seeking lessons on handling not only Covid, but also future epidemics.
masks became a political flash point in the United States and elsewhere during the Spanish flu pandemic, the idea of using them persisted in China, and gauze masks became an important tool in the political agenda of the Nationalist Party when it took over in 1928. Public health officials recommended all citizens wear gauze masks in public spaces during outbreaks of meningitis or cholera.
Kyle Legleiter, the senior director of policy advocacy at The Colorado Health Foundation.
Another factor that might have contributed to Dr. Wu’s success in China would be the reverence residents and officials had for him as a figure of authority, Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, said.
In some ways, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser on Covid to President Biden and a prominent public health figure since the 1980s, served in a role similar to the one Dr. Wu played in China, Dr. Huang said. But, his message perhaps didn’t always get through because Americans are more polarized in their political identities and beliefs.
Dr. Legleiter added that public health messaging only penetrates if the public identifies with or trusts that figure of authority.
“An individual person is a stand-in for a broader set of institutions or systems that they’re speaking on the behalf of,” Dr. Legleiter said. Those who lean conservative, for instance, may put Dr. Fauci and other scientists in the category of “the elites.” As such, they’re more likely to flout public health policies that such authority figures promote, and comply with proclamations from individuals they identify with the most.
Others say that public health is intrinsically tied to the legitimacy of the state promoting it. At the turn of the 20th century, China was in distress, Dr. Hanson said. Dr. Wu helped bring China out of a tumultuous period, and the enforcement of public health measures gave the country more legitimacy.
Similarly, because the current pandemic has laid bare shortcomings in the public health systems in the United States, Britain and other Western countries, some experts believe it can be a catalyst for change.
“Since the mid-19th century, the West has generally seen its ability to control infectious disease as a marker of their civilizational superiority over much of the rest of the world,” Dr. White said. While China was seen as the sick man of the world then, some commentators in China now attempt to brand the United States with that label.
Ruth Rogaski, a medical historian at Vanderbilt University who specializes in studying the Qing dynasty and modern China, believes that the coronavirus crisis similarly offers an opportunity for reflection, which can be very motivating.
“Epidemics can serve as inflection points,” Dr. Rogaski said. “Opportunities to rethink, retool and even revolutionize approaches to health.”