ziketan-qinghaiThe other day I wrote a quick post about how pneumonic plague had infected and killed residents in a small community in Qinghai province.

My post was meant mostly as a joke, as my friend Glen was in Qinghai and complaining about being ill. However, there’s nothing funny about pneumonic plague. Now several more people have died and the entire town of Ziketan has been put under forced quarantined while it is “disinfected” (I realize it’s probably much more complicated than this, but I can’t help but picture a legion of ayis with rubber gloves over their HAZMAT suits scrubbing the town with some dirty mop or rag).

I learned of this most recent update from the following Associated Press article:

Authorities killed rats and fleas on Tuesday as they disinfected a town sealed off after three people died of pneumonic plague in a remote farming town in northwestern China, according to the provincial health department.

Police set up checkpoints around Ziketan in Qinghai province after the outbreak was first detected last Thursday. The lung infection is highly contagious can kill a person in as few as 24 hours if left untreated.

Medical staff are disinfecting the area and killing rodents and insects that can be carriers for the bacteria, a notice on the provincial health department Web site said. Authorities are keeping close track of people who came into contact with those infected.

Authorities urged anyone who had visited the town — more than 300 miles west of Beijing — since mid-July and has developed a cough or fever to seek hospital treatment. Pneumonic plague is spread through the air and can be passed from person to person through coughing.

Now, I understand I’m picking nits here, but more than 300 miles west of Beijing? Well, fuck. London is more than 300 miles west of Beijing, as are a number of other places.

I’m not sure exactly why that line jumped out at me, but maybe it’s because even as a lowly blogging plebe I’ve got a basic grasp on the geography of the country I’m writing about?

Of course I don’t expect the AP article churners to instantly be able to compile exact distances between two places straight from their overworked and underpaid grey matter. Nor am I trying to be unsympathetic towards their ambiguity, as I checked a few city distance calculators and they all gave me slightly different distances. But 300 miles is not even close. Ziketan, in the Hainan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, is just west of Xining, the provincial capital. Xining is some 830 miles (1335 km) west of Beijing. See the map above (or click here) to see a better illustration just how understated “more than 300 miles west of Beijing” is)

Again, I realize this is a small thing to be tearing apart. However, it’s shit like this in news articles that act like chips in my windshield — slowly degrading the quality and reliability of the thing until it just needs to be smashed with a sledgehammer and replaced completely. I mean, how hard is it to spend 3 minutes on Google to check out where the hell a place you’re writing a piece on is?


  1. This has been happening quite a bit in English language press, or at least I notice it more lately. There was another one, the details of which I’ve forgotten, that i read a couple months back referring to Nanjing as somewhere far from where it actually is. At least have the sense to hop on Wikipedia or something similar if you’re not going to bother actually researching your stories.

  2. Uh-oh… You quoted more than four words of an AP article without applying for an AP license. Their magical text DRM is going to hunt you down through the intertubes for being a textual pirate.

  3. Everyone gets loose with their writing from time to time. In fact, I know someone who wrote “picking knits” once, when it is actually nits that get picked…..

  4. @Dan: I don’t care how you play it, a two-letter difference isn’t 500 miles. 🙂 I have always assumed it was knitpicking, as to pick at the knits of a sweater or something. But nits, as in the eggs lice, that makes far more sense. Thanks for the edumacation.

  5. The reason this happens is because newspaper and media companies have been gutted of experienced staff. You wouldn’t believe how few people.
    actually work on papers these days. I used to think that newspaper offices were like on the movies. The reality is that most shifts it’s just one guy and Google. The map was probably picked out by an intern, who should be congratulated for getting the country right.

  6. I read that same artical and had the same reaction to the “300 miles” comment!
    Though I have also heard stories of paper offices like Michael mentioned…
    Either way it’s just embarassing to be living here and know that most of the people in your home country couldn’t find the city you live in on a map!

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