Chinese Success in Fighting COVID-19 Should Be a Lesson for the West
China reacted differently to the crisis than those in the West, no doubt a result of those deeply engrained Confucian values. We may have something to learn from the Chinese model of fighting threats like coronavirus, and perhaps, even something to learn from China in the art of good governance.
The world was quite taken aback by the sudden eruption of a novel coronavirus as it began to make its appearance in Wuhan, the capital city of central China’s Hubei Province, with a population of 11 million. Not only the world, but also Chinese authorities were initially unaware about the nature of what they were dealing with when a series of “pneumonia-like cases of unknown origins” began to appear. At the moment authorities became aware that they were dealing with a wholly new and deadly virus, which exhibited human-to-human transmission, the Chinese government shut down the entire city, and soon after, the entire province of Hubei as well.
If any other nation had attempted to do something similar, there would have been panic. And while this rigorous stay-at-home regime no doubt disrupted the lives of the Wuhan citizens – and perhaps caused some grumbling – it did not lead to a mass revolt or to people flaunting the restrictions. The whole nation fighting as one tactic worked. At a certain point, President Xi characterized it as a “people’s war,” and like the war of liberation in the 1940s, the entire nation was involved in winning the victory. The role of the Communist Party of China (CPC) was, of course, key in securing that victory. With the disciplined cadres of the Party mobilized to meet the needs of the people, other elements of the population were also brought into play.
A collective and coordinated response was another characteristic of Chinese governance, embodied in the national battle against novel coronavirus. More than 40,000 medical workers were deployed from other parts of the country to Wuhan to help with treating the thousands of infected. Emergency hospitals were constructed in record time to meet the increasing needs of the afflicted. A major system of testing was created in order to get a clear reading on the number of people infected and asymptomatic carriers. At the same time, a system was established for people to buy their goods in a way that was safe, and a delivery system was set up.
The expanse in recent years of new means of telecommunication, AI, and big data, more advanced in China than in any other country, all came to benefit in the fight against the virus, and served as a support to monitor that people were adhering to the restrictions or that people were not “falling off the wagon” and getting lost by the system. The development of a highly modernized hospital and medical system, backed up by the medical resources of the People’s Liberation Army, also helped China to cope with the virus in record time.
Foreign observers were astounded at the measures taken by China. Some voices were highly critical, calling the measures “draconian” and complaining of the “high-handed” tactics of the Chinese government. But by the end of January, cases began to appear in Europe and then in the United States. The shoe was now on the other foot. Some of the affected nations reacted wisely and began to follow the Chinese model. Many accepted the helping hand offered by China in the form of equipment and medical personnel. While the measures were sometimes too slow to prevent a localized infection from spreading to other parts of the country, like in Italy, in the long run, the Chinese model was basically implemented. In the United States, however, not willing to follow the “model” of what had been designated by a “rival” nation, stringent measures were either too slow or entirely lacking, as witnessed by the tremendous number of deaths in the United States.
The people of China, on the other hand, reacted differently to the crisis than those in the West, no doubt a result of those deeply engrained Confucian values. There was no loose talk in China, as there was in the West, about “herd immunity,” or letting the virus spread to let enough people recover from it in order to “immunize’ the population, while in the process sacrificing in particular the elderly, who were most prone to die from it. Nor did you get these insane demonstrations of people, refusing to wear masks and demanding that the economy open up in spite of the risk it posed to the health of the masses. In addition to this, there seemed to be a general understanding in China that the measures demanded by the government were ultimately for the benefit of the people. Trust in government and in the ruling CPC was shown in stark contrast with the distrust of government and politicians which has become so prevalent in the West. In this sense, we may have something to learn from the Chinese model of fighting threats like coronavirus, and perhaps, even something to learn from China in the art of good governance.
William Jones is the Washington Bureau Chief of the U.S. publication Executive Intelligence Review.