‘Draconian’ Is a Lazy, Mean-Spirited, Spiteful Description of How China Dealt with COVID-19
Although we were frightened, we also knew that we were strangely at the epicenter of the epidemic but we were safe because the Chinese response was so effective.
Malcolm Clarke, a British director and two-time Best Documentary Short Subject Academy Award winner, was the only Western filmmaker in Wuhan in early 2020 when the city was under lockdown for epidemic control. He witnessed China’s fight against COVID-19 from the very beginning. In a recent interview with Beijing Review reporter Li Nan, he commented on China’s epidemic prevention and control measures. This is an edited excerpt of his views:
We were the only Western crew in Wuhan [when the city was locked down in early 2020]. We were making a film in the city.
Living in Wuhan during that time was very scary, because nobody knew how well or poorly the outbreak was going to be handled. Although we were frightened, we also knew that we were strangely at the epicenter of the epidemic but we were safe because the Chinese response was so effective.
Doctors, nurses and construction workers were shipped into Wuhan from all over the country. I met some remarkably brave and resourceful people, mostly medics.
By locking down people of the ability to move around the city, China deprived the virus of millions of potential hosts. It stopped the virus from spreading all over the country. Yes, [China] deprived people of freedom, the freedom to die.
It was an once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was extremely impressed by how quickly China reacted and how powerfully state capacity was applied to the crisis. I’m privileged to have been there and I’ve been safe for many months because of the way China reacted.
I have only admiration for the fact that for the last year I’ve been living free and clear in China, in Shanghai. The biggest thing I ever have to do is to wear a mask occasionally, but other than that I’m safe.
My kids, my family, who live in Europe and in North America, have been under lockdown for 12 to 15 months. I have not. Why? China did a fantastic job unlike most Western European nations, or America, very slowly and irresponsibly.
Frankly, I find it very galling to see that China is still being attacked for what I feel was a completely remarkable response. “Draconian” is their (Western media’s) favorite word. Draconian means unnecessarily punitive, unnecessarily hard, unnecessarily authoritarian.
People aren’t going to like being locked down in their neighborhoods or in their houses. Who would? But when you look at the common sense result, those people are still alive, then I think draconian is an inappropriate epithet to use. I think it was politically brave. It wasn’t draconian, it was smart. It was effective.
Journalists use the word “draconian” because they’re buying into a kind of Western prejudice of China, which frankly, I think is just lazy journalism. It’s a lazy, mean spirited, spiteful description of what China did.