China is failing in the face of the pandemic

AWhen Cong Yi was taken to a camp for people infected with the corona virus with her three-year-old daughter, her husband and her parents, a neighbor stood at the window and filmed them. He then uploaded the video to the house cat. “Almost everyone applauded”, writes the young mother on the Weibo network. Neighbors were happy that those who tested positive were removed from them. They had previously tried by all means to drive the family out of the house. After 14 days in the camp and two negative tests, Cong Yi was allowed to return home. To this day, her neighbors scold her even though she opens the door to bring in a food delivery. In any society, there are jealous neighbors. But Cong Yi sees more. a hole.

Friederike Böge

Political correspondent for China, North Korea and Mongolia.

From their point of view, there is a date when this hole in the ground opened. It was April 6; the day the central government took power in Shanghai. Until then, writes Cong Yi, a “Shanghainese” attitude had prevailed among officials: pragmatic, rational, solution-oriented. After that, however, the atmosphere in society changed. Other opinions and emotions came to the fore. “When the trolls attacked, my value system collapsed.” She speaks of a stigma, as if someone had put a hat on her because of her infection. As happened to those who were outlawed by the regime during the Cultural Revolution.

Powerful Propaganda

The disappearance of reason and basic trust described by Cong Yi has long been a reality for many people in China. This is the result of a gradual process since Xi Jinping came to power. It goes hand in hand with the centralization of power which has deprived local authorities of freedom of decision. It goes hand in hand with the coordination of the media and the Internet, which makes critical discourse and the establishment of moral consensus impossible and makes propaganda even more effective. It goes hand in hand with the ideologization of science and the weakening of expertise that once gave the party a reputation for pragmatism. A cult of leader has taken its place that demands absolute allegiance.

On Thursday evening, at a meeting of the Politburo Standing Committee, that is, of the seven most powerful men in China, this could be seen once again. There, Xi Jinping said, according to state television, “Practice has shown that our disease control policy is shaped by the character and mission of our party. It has stood the test of history and proved to be scientific and effective. We won the battle of Wuhan and we will definitely win the battle of Shanghai.” The Politburo’s decision to pursue the zero-Covid strategy states that relaxation “will inevitably lead to high numbers of infections, severe morbidity and death.”

A worker sets up a barricade to cordon off a residential area in Beijing.


A worker sets up a barricade to cordon off a residential area in Beijing.
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Image: Reuters

This assumption is entirely justified. Many older people in China are still unvaccinated. Chinese leaders continue to refuse to import more effective vaccines from overseas. The party intends to take even more decisive action against such objections in the future: we will vehemently combat all words and actions that “distort, cast doubt on or reject our disease protection policy”, according to Politburo decision. And: “Perseverance is victory. This phrase dates back to the Mao era and was used particularly frequently during the Cultural Revolution. A few hours later, the Shanghai Party Committee hastily announced that a meeting had been called to spread the “spirit” of the Politburo’s words. “The whole city will grit its teeth to win the battle to defend Shanghai.”

In Shanghai’s affluent neighborhoods, far from the capital, such talk could long be seen as rhetoric. The privileged thought Shanghai was different. More modern, more civilized. Before the great confinement, photos of people disguising themselves ironically for the first mass tests circulated. One lined up with a half-empty wine glass. The horror of supply bottlenecks and conditions in the quarantine camps was all the greater later. There are many cities in China where people are currently experiencing similar suffering. But you hardly hear anything from them. “Mei banfa” is the attitude there. “There is no way out.”

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