“Abandon all hope” is how I titled a recent post on the response of Wuhan people to the virus. The title was based on the stories I was hearing, both live and through wechat groups.
Now, this is the language Chinese are themselves using to describe their situation. When people lose hope, they lose sense of moral responsibility. Now, there are stories of people in hospitals attacking doctors, ripping their gowns and facemasks, not to use themselves. It is what one can do when nothing matters anymore. “If I am going to die, you will die with me.” From the London Daily Mail, video of the crowd in hospital corridors - https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7921709/Shocking-footage-shows-hospital-China-flooded-hundreds-patients-amid-coronavirus-outbreak.html#v-6237968338604408872
There are stories of delivery boys, delivering food to communities (since residents cannot go out or are too afraid to go out), and residents tear the face mask from the boy and spit in his face, to transfer the virus.
In the historical face of privation, corruption, and venality, many Chinese maintain a stoicism about leaders – leaders are doing the best they can, we must think of the pressure they are under. A good deal of that allowance for error seems to be ended now. A friend of a friend, whose demeanor was always described as genial and submissive, now has called for leaders to be killed. Li Keqiang came to Wuhan a few days ago, ostensibly to encourage locals to keep up the good fight. Li went to the site of the new field hospitals being built in Wuhan, but – per my wechat posts - did not go to any of the hospitals where hundreds still stand in line, doctors and nurses lack masks and gowns, people seeking care get shuffled from hospital to hospital with no available transportation (taxis shut down or refuse to take patients, private cars not available, buses shut down). Leaders, even national leaders, are now described as animals. They have no concern for ordinary Chinese. Even now, the mayor and governor have to read from a script to express their sympathies. They are most certainly not of the people, nor are they serving them.
Most of this information is coming to me through wechat groups. I have no first hand knowledge – which in China would not qualify me to say anything at all (no one should comment on anything without knowing all the facts). But the people doing these posts are friends of mine who are smart, thoughtful, generally loyal, and most certainly not given to extremes in typing. These friends now have some family members who are sick, some friends who have died. The circle enlarges even as it closes in.
Per their posts - the virus was identified by the Wuhan Center for Disease Control in early to mid-December. This government body is a branch of the national CDC, and the Wuhan people report only to the central government CDC. The Wuhan mayor, the Hubei governor, the party leaders were not part of the chain of authority at that point. The central government CDC took the samples and data, analyzed it, and the researchers were able to write eight journal articles, submitted to top medical journals in China and one in Britain, before the end of the year. By doing so, the scientists would gain prestige, promotions, and money. It is an extreme sign of systemic corruption that scientists compete for salary raises by publishing, and in so doing ignore the people whom they are supposed to serve. It is reported that the head of the central government CDC is not a medical doctor, but a veterinarian – such is the meritocracy within CCP. The Wuhan leaders were not informed of the virus, or its spread, until the middle of January, several weeks to a month after the virus was identified in Beijing. That may be a reason that the Hubei and Wuhan leaders have not been asked to resign – perhaps they truly did not know.
You have seen the Wuhan pictures with no one on the streets. People are holed up in their apartments, either sick, taking care of someone who is sick, or afraid to go out. People will have no contact with each other. Many are isolated, alone, some sick. Some food deliveries get made, but boxes are left outside a door. Some wealthy people have tried to stay in hotels, in Wuhan or elsewhere, but the hotels will not take them if they are from Hubei. Some people have stopped wearing masks, even if they are sick, out of despair. One contact reports being at home, and the only vehicles he sees, day after day, are ambulances and funeral cars, come to take bodies. Many sicknesses and deaths are not reported as virus related, because the final diagnosis was never made. Human contact is dangerous. This is The Plague. Read the plot summary, if you don’t remember details of the book.
Medical personnel are breaking down. In many cases, they cannot go home, they cannot leave the hospital. They are targets even as they try to save lives.
The Chinese Red Cross has come in for harsh analysis. You remember the photo from 2011 of guo meimei, identified as the general manager of the Chinese Red Cross. She was lounging in front of her very expensive sports car, dressed quite stylishly. Since then, many Chinese do not want to donate money to the Red Cross, and that continues even today.
Lots of donations are going to a charity run by Han Hong, a famous singer who donates much of her income to social causes in China. She is trusted, when so much of the government is not.
While the World Health Organization (WHO) has praised China for learning so much from the SARS epidemic in Beijing in 2003, Wuhan people don’t see the learning. They say Hu Jintao would not have allowed such delay and suffering. Now, all officials are afraid of Xi Jinping, no one will report outside of their strict authority, and media, once beginning to open to criticism and analysis, is shut down. Mr. Xi reminded all media several years ago that they work for him.
WHO has finally declared the coronavirus a world health emergency. WHO praised China for its prompt response in providing information to WHO – in mid-December – of the identity of the virus. WHO has seemed reluctant to make this declaration, perhaps out of fear of offending China, despite the deplorable lack of response within China that has allowed the virus to spread so far and so fast. This international and irrational fear of “hurting the feelings of the Chinese people,” as CCP so often proclaims, must cease. When the tide goes out, as they say, we see who is swimming naked. The government has left the Chinese people naked and cold, and sick and dying. The truth will out – not always, and not always very fast. But here we see power in its Lord Acton transform. Mr. Xi has been proclaimed personally the core of CCP, and CCP must lead every industry, every aspect of Chinese life. He has absolute power. It is as if loyal Party members must proclaim, we have no king but Caesar.
In Chinese dynastic mythology, a natural disaster foretells the fall of a dynasty. Heaven is not pleased with performance, and Heaven hears as the people hear, sees as the people see. Xi Jinping has amassed more power than any leader since Mao. He has personalized power, centralized, and put himself and CCP at the core of all in Chinese society. Now, Mr. Xi should be worried. Lord Acton and Heaven must be in his mind, because even Mr. Xi knows that pride goeth before a fall, and the coronavirus can infect even those who never get sick.