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“The Saboteur” by Ha Jin Essay

In Saboteur, the author Ha Jin tries to make the reader believe that because Mr. Chiu was falsely charged with sabotage, he becomes a saboteur by causing a hepatitis epidemic in Muji to satisfy his immediate need for revenge. He purposefully spreads hepatitis to several restaurants around the police station in hopes to infect some policemen and their families. The build up of anger, frustration and feelings of helplessness are in part responsible for Mr. Chiu’s irrational decision to commit such an act. By challenging the accuracy of the story, there is a possibility that although Mr. Chiu felt a strong need to retaliate against the police, he may have unknowingly infected the police station with hepatitis. Mr. Chiu’s retaliation was unnecessary and with evidence from the story it is medically possible the disease was unsuspectingly spread throughout the police station.

The information about Mr. Chiu’s acute hepatitis is correct as well as the information about his conditions and symptoms while he was recovering from hepatitis Acute hepatitis in Mr. Chiu’s case, is a milder form of hepatitis A. (Luckmann and Sorenson 1131). People recovering from acute hepatitis usually have a swollen liver, feel exhausted and are “afraid [they] might have a relapse.” (Jin 185). While Mr. Chiu was in prison, he began to sweat, shiver and develop a fever because he was experiencing a relapse of acute hepatitis (188). By having a relapse of hepatitis, he was becoming infectious again.

A person infected with hepatitis A is infectious from three weeks before developing jaundice to three weeks after (Luckmann and Sorenson 1131), meaning he definitely was infectious while he was in prison, since he showed his jaundice when he was released. Fenjin describes Mr. Chiu as being “an ugly man…[with a] jaundiced face covered with dark puckers” (Jin 192). Mr. Chiu was infectious three weeks prior to his visit to the police station, and must have been extremely careful on his honeymoon to avoid giving his bride the disease since it can be easily spread.

Hepatitis A is spread by fecal-oral transmission (Luckmann and Sorenson 1131), meaning that by not washing his hands properly or using unsanitary washroom facilities, Mr. Chiu could have unconsciously been spreading the disease while in prison or elsewhere if he used public washrooms. There is no evidence in the story that specifies that Mr. Chiu’s jail cell was properly sanitized or that the police were even concerned with him infecting the police station with hepatitis, so it is possible that it was infected while Mr. Chiu was there.

Because Mr. Chiu was infectious, many precautions must be taken in order to avoid an epidemic. According to Luckmann and Sorenson, all dishes and utensils used by a hepatitis patient must be disposed of, toilet facilities must be disinfected after each use and bedding and clothing must be washed separately to prevent the spread of the disease. (1131). These necessities were not specified in the story, so they more than likely did not take place and hepatitis could have been spread through the police station quite quickly. If a person touches something infected with hepatitis then puts their hand in their mouth or touches their eye, they are now infected (1131). Ha Jin mentions that Mr. Chiu was manhandled by the police, implying physical contact (Jin 185). He could have easily infected an officer by accidentally getting saliva or sweat orally into his body.

Mr. Chiu was well aware of how to avoid spreading his hepatitis. In the train station square, Mr. Chiu and his wife were eating rice, cucumbers and pork out of paper boxes, using disposable chop sticks and bottles of soda (Jin 184). So he knew that his dishes and eating utensils needed to be disposed of. But in prison, he ate millet porridge out of a bowl (188). Ha Jin does not specifying that it was a disposable bowl and the reader assumes it was washed with all other dishes in the police station, showing one way that hepatitis could have been spread in the police station. Perhaps Mr. Chiu was too concerned about himself and how to get back home to think about trying to avoid spreading hepatitis, but the thought was definitely on his mind once he left the police station.

If Mr. Chiu knew how to spread Hepatitis, why did he not think about how it might have already been spread while he was in prison? Mr. Chiu knew that by spreading his bodily fluids in the restaurants that the public might unknowingly contract hepatitis, which quickly spread from the unsanitary conditions of the city. We assume that the majority of the city has sanitation problems like the conditions specified around the train station. “The air smelled of rotten melon. A few flies kept buzzing above the couple’s lunch.” (Jin 184). And with all the food and fruit vendors around the square before the Muji train station, it would be hard to keep proper sanitation.

Is it possible that over eight hundred people in Muji contracted the disease one month after being infected? People with hepatitis A begin to develop jaundice symptoms a month after being infected, and it is fatal in 1% of the cases, (1131), proving that Mr. Chiu could have been responsible for the epidemic that killed six people. If the disease is spread fecal-orally, then Mr. Chiu could have bacteria on his hands and body, and by touching anything that may get into another body orally, the disease is quickly spread. If conditions are right, hepatitis could be spread like a common cold, but outbreaks now are kept to a minimum because of the proper sanitation measures of modern society. (1132).

The inhumane act of purposefully spreading hepatitis in hopes of infecting the police was incomprehensible and by no means justified. From the evidence provided, it is possible that Mr. Chiu caused the hepatitis epidemic in Muji, becoming a saboteur after being falsely accused of that crime. It is likely that by being infectious in the police station, Mr. Chiu transmitted the disease to many police and workers who came in physical contact with Mr. Chiu or with the items he used or touched. It is a tragedy that he resorted to spreading the disease to the whole city in hopes of infecting some police and their families, and failed to consider that those he wished to harm may have already been infected.

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