What do Jack London and Zhao Lijian have in common?

In 1910, American author and journalist Jack London, already famous for his novels The Call of the Wild and White Fang, wrote a short story called “The Unparalleled Invasion,” in which the U.S. military introduces deadly diseases into China.

In 2020, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhào Lìjiān 赵立坚 tweeted about COVID-19, “It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan.”


Entirely. But Matt Bossons, writing for SupChina, has recently been thinking about London’s short story in another light: “‘The Unparalleled Invasion’ offers fascinating insight into the racial and anti-immigrant fears that gripped much of the Western world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and while the world has come an admirable ways since, xenophobia is threatening to roar back with a vengeance.”

For what it’s worth, London isn’t the only author whose fictional work has been tied to the COVID-19 pandemic: Dean Koontz made headlines because his novel The Eyes of Darkness features a weaponized virus manufactured in a Wuhan biolab. Author Sylvia Browne, in her 2008 book End of Days: Predictions and Prophecies About the End of the World, wrote:

In around 2020 a severe pneumonia-like illness will spread throughout the globe, attacking the lungs and the bronchial tubes and resisting all known treatments. Almost more baffling than the illness itself will be the fact that it will suddenly vanish as quickly as it has arrived, attack again 10 years later, and then disappear completely.

Like I said, for what it’s worth.

—Anthony Tao