The emergence of deadly infectious diseases usually poses a critical challenge to medicine and medical practice. Many contemporary ethicists maintain that medical ethics today should be supplemented by the language of virtues because what is called “professional ethics” is not sufficient to respond to the challenge of medical crises in a time of epidemic diseases. By examining the moral narrative in the historical context of the deadly plague that occurred during the Qing Dynasty, the author argues that the traditional Chinese virtue ethics played an important role in mobilizing social resources and implementing control strategies to deal with the public health crisis. Nevertheless, the author also shows that virtue ethics are very often conditioned by a particular kind of medical knowledge, a given social organization, and the shared values of a particular community. That is to say, virtue ethics are closely related to the real-world life and its tradition. This must be taken into consideration when we attempt to reconstruct medical ethics today.
Meanwhile, professional ethics are also needed to address the outbreak of infectious and communicable disease to deal with issues such as access to treatment, informed consent, mandatory or involuntary screening, and so forth.