Originally published 06/18/2013
Jeffrey Wasserstrom, a professor of Chinese history at UC Irvine, is the author of China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know and co-editor of Chinese Characters: Profiles of Fast-Changing Lives in a Fast-Changing Land. Like other Americans, I draw a sharp line, linguistically and symbolically, between mice and rats. But one thing I learned during my first trip to China a quarter of a century ago was that the distinction between these two kinds of rodents, both typically called laoshu in Chinese, is fuzzier there. When posters went up in Shanghai to accompany a campaign to purge that metropolis of vermin, they showed Mickey Mouse with a spike through his heart. These images shocked me but local residents seemed to find them unremarkable.