China and Korea Can’t Get Enough Over America’s Coronavirus Toilet Paper Run

“China and Korea Can’t Get Enough Over America’s Coronavirus Toilet Paper Run,” published in The National Interest on March 20, 2020

Question: Why do Western people like toilet paper better than masks?” a friend of mine asked me on WeChat.

Around the world, in different countries affected by coronavirus, people hoarded consumer goods. But there have been differences in different countries about what kinds of products have been hoarded. During my time reporting from Nanjing, China, I noticed fruits and vegetables were being cleared off the shelves, as well as face masks, but toilet paper was never in higher-than-usual demand. One Chinese microblogger joked, “Chinese people hoard rice. Americans hoard firearms. Italians hoard toilet paper. Dutch people are bosses… They hoard pot…”

Toilet paper hoarding has also been observed in Canada, the UK, and Germany, but it is not entirely limited to the Western world: Japanese also emptied stores. However, China and Korea really did not experience such panic buying on a large-scale.

“Chinese people think toilet paper has nothing to do with virus prevention,” Tiger Li, a graduate student of public policy at George Washington University, said.

CCTV sent a reporter to CostCo to ask Americans why they were hoarding toilet paper. In the words of the anchor, “Why buy toilet paper? Many local people said they themselves didn’t quite understand.” One man’s response sums it up: “Since people are buying it, everybody is running out, so it’s just good to have.”

America’s panic buying spree has also been noted in the Korean press. Jungang Daily featured an article about mass purchases of firearms, blaming it in part on Asian-Americans buying guns to protect themselves from racist assaults.

Sungeun Hong, an office worker in Seoul, said that Koreans were also perplexed by the American propensity to stockpile toilet paper.

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