WHO Scientists Say China Should Release Data and Reports on Origin of Covid-19

(p. A9) In its first report, a team of international scientists assembled by the World Health Organization to advise on the origins of the coronavirus said on Thursday [June 9, 2022] that bats likely carried an ancestor of the coronavirus that may have then spilled over into a mammal sold at a wildlife market. But the team said that more Chinese data was needed to study how the virus spread to people, including the possibility that a lab leak played a role.

The team, appointed by the W.H.O. in October as the organization tried to reset its approach to studying the pandemic’s origins, said that Chinese scientists had shared information with them, including from unpublished studies, on two occasions. But gaps in Chinese reports made it difficult to determine when and where the outbreak emerged, the report said.

. . .

Filippa Lentzos, a biosecurity researcher at King’s College London, praised the latest report for noting the lack of published findings from China’s own origin studies. But she said that its proposals for future pandemic origin studies did not adequately account for investigations into “accidental or deliberate events,” which she said would require expertise outside of public health.

Jesse Bloom, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, said that the report made clear that mitigating future pandemic threats required considering both animal and laboratory origins.

“Both of these things are sufficiently serious possibilities that they need to be thought about together,” he said.

For the full story, see:

Benjamin Mueller and Carl Zimmer. “Scientists Say More Chinese Data Is Needed to Trace Covid’s Origins.” The New York Times (Friday, June 10, 2022): A9.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 9, 2022, and has the title “Mysteries Linger About Covid’s Origins, W.H.O. Report Says.”)

If a 6-Year-Old Cannot Jump-Rope in Communist China, Her Future Is Bleak

Photo of Art Diamond in first or second grade, finally succeeding at jump-rope. Source: photo by my first and second grade James Monroe School teacher, Miss Helen Kuntz.

My first and second grade teacher was Miss Helen Kuntz. I had a lot of trouble learning how to jump-rope. So when I finally succeeded, Miss Kuntz was so excited that she took my picture, which she mailed me several decades later from a nursing home. If I had been born and raised in Communist China my life would have been much different.

(p. A1) BEIJING—Chinese parents spend dearly on private tutoring for their children to get a jump on national math and language exams, the gateway to advancement and a better life.

Susan Zhang, a 34-year-old mother in China’s capital, is among a smaller group forking out big bucks for jump-rope lessons. She said she couldn’t understand why her 6-year-old daughter Tangtang couldn’t string together two skips in a row after three months of trying. The girl needed professional help.

More than playground prowess was at stake. In 2014, Chinese authorities introduced physical-education require-(p. A10)ments that included a national jump-rope exam for boys and girls from first through sixth grades.

To pass, students must complete minimum numbers of skips a minute, and failure can trip up an otherwise promising academic trajectory. Top officials see the activity as an accessible, low-cost way to help build national sports excellence, a priority of China’s leader Xi Jinping.

For the full story, see:

Jonathan Cheng. “China Exam Draws Jump-Rope Tutors.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021): A1 & A10.

(Note: the online version of the story was updated September 27, 2021, and has the title “In China, Even Jump-Rope is Competitive—So Parents Pay for Lessons.” The online edition says that the title of the print version is “Exam Draws Jump-Rope Tutors,” but my National print version had the title “China Exam Draws Jump-Rope Tutors.”)

Angry and Frustrated Shanghai Citizens Help Each Other Survive During the Lockdown

(p. A1) Four days into a coronavirus lockdown in her Shanghai neighborhood, Ding Tingting began to worry about the old man who lived alone in the apartment below her. She knocked on his door and found that his food supply was dwindling and that he didn’t know how to go online to buy more.

Ms. Ding helped him buy food, but also got to thinking about the many older people who lived alone in her neighborhood. Using the Chinese messaging app WeChat, she and her friends created groups to connect people in need with nearby volunteers who could get them food and medicine.

When a woman’s father-in-law fainted, the network of volunteers found a neighbor with a blood pressure monitor and made sure it was delivered quickly.

“Life cannot be suspended because of the lockdown,” said Ms. Ding, a 25-year-old art curator.

In its relentless effort to stamp out the virus, China has relied on hundreds of thousands of low-level party officials in neighborhood committees to arrange mass testing and coordinate transport to hospitals and isolation facilities. The officials have doled out special passes for the sick to seek medicine and other necessities during lockdown.

In Beijing on Monday [April 25, 2022], the government ordered about three-quarters of the city’s 22 million (p. A6) residents to undergo three mandatory rounds of testing in five days in an effort to get ahead of a new outbreak.

But the recent surge in Shanghai has overwhelmed the city’s 50,000 neighborhood officials, leaving residents struggling to obtain food, medical attention and even pet care. Angry and frustrated, some have taken matters into their own hands, volunteering to help those in need when China’s Communist Party has been unable or unwilling, testing the party’s legitimacy in a time of crisis.

“A claim of the Chinese Communist Party is that only the Communist Party can deliver basic order and livelihood to every person in China,” said Victor Shih, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego. For Shanghai residents now trying to get food and other fundamentals, “their confidence in these claims has probably been weakened,” he said.

For the full story, see:

Alexandra Stevenson, Amy Chang Chien and Isabelle Qian. “Shanghai Residents Bend Lockdown Rules to Help One Another.” The New York Times (Wednesday, April 27, 2022): A1 & A6.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 26, 2022, and has the title “‘I Just Want to Help’: Amid Chaos, Shanghai Residents Band Together.”)

Chinese Communists Are Extending Covid Controls to Use Against “Hostile Political Forces”

(p. 1) The police had warned Xie Yang, a human rights lawyer, not to go to Shanghai to visit the mother of a dissident. He went to the airport anyway.

His phone’s health code app — a digital pass indicating possible exposure to the coronavirus — was green, which meant he could travel. His home city, Changsha, had no Covid-19 cases, and he had not left in weeks.

Then his app turned red, flagging him as high risk. Airport security tried to put him in quarantine, but he resisted. Mr. Xie accused the authorities of meddling with his health code to bar him from traveling.

“The Chinese Communist Party has found the best model for controlling people,” he said in a telephone interview in December. This month, the police detained Mr. Xie, a government critic, accusing him of inciting subversion and provoking trouble.

The pandemic has given Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, a powerful case for deepening the Communist Party’s reach into the lives of 1.4 billion citizens, filling out his vision of the country as a model of secure order, in contrast to the “chaos of the West.” In the two years since officials isolated the city of Wuhan in the first lockdown of the pandemic, the Chinese government has honed its powers to track and corral people, backed by upgraded technology, armies of neighborhood workers and broad public support.

Emboldened by their successes in stamping out Covid, Chinese officials are turning their sharpened surveillance against other risks, including crime, pollution and “hostile” political forces. This amounts to a potent techno-authoritarian tool for Mr. Xi as he intensifies his campaigns against corruption and dissent.

For the full story, see:

Chris Buckley, Vivian Wang, and Keith Bradsher. “China’s Strict Covid Controls May Outlast Covid.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, January 30, 2022): 1 & 14.

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “Living by the Code: In China, Covid-Era Controls May Outlast the Virus.”)

The Walt Disney Company Censors Homer Simpson’s Calling Mao “A Little Angel That Killed 50 Million People”

June 3, 2022 was the 33rd anniversary of the massacre of pro-democracy students in Tiananmen Square by the Chinese Communists.

(p. A4) HONG KONG — An episode of “The Simpsons” that ridicules Chinese government censorship appears to have been censored on Disney’s newly launched streaming service in Hong Kong, adding to fears about the shrinking space for free expression and criticism in this city.

Other episodes of the show are available on Disney+, which made its much-anticipated debut in Hong Kong this month. But in season 16, the archive skips directly from episode 11 to episode 13, omitting episode 12, “Goo Goo Gai Pan,” in which the Simpson family travels to Beijing.

There, they visit the embalmed body of Mao Zedong, whom Homer Simpson calls “a little angel that killed 50 million people.” In another scene, the family passes through Tiananmen Square, where a plaque says “On this site, in 1989, nothing happened” — a jab at the Chinese government’s attempts to suppress public memory of the massacre, in which the army opened fire on students and other pro-democracy protesters.

. . .

. . . Disney pre-emptively censored itself, said Grace Leung, an expert in media regulation at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“Disney obviously sent out a clear signal to the local audience that it will remove controversial programs in order to please” the Chinese government, Dr. Leung said. “Their credibility will definitely be hurt.”

. . .

In Hong Kong, the “Simpsons” episode is not the only creative work to come under scrutiny for touching on Tiananmen Square.

Ahead of the opening this month of M+, a major new art museum in Hong Kong, lawmakers called for a ban on a photograph by Ai Weiwei, perhaps China’s most famous artist, who is now living in exile. In the photograph, which the museum has since removed from its online archive, Mr. Ai is raising his middle finger in front of Tiananmen Square.

The University of Hong Kong has ordered the removal of “Pillar of Shame,” a sculpture commemorating the massacre that has stood on campus for over 20 years.

For the full story, see:

Vivian Wang. “‘Simpsons’ Trip to Beijing Is Missing in Hong Kong.” The New York Times (Tuesday, November 30, 2021): A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 29, 2021, and has the title “A ‘Simpsons’ Episode Lampooned Chinese Censorship. In Hong Kong, It Vanished.” Where there is a slight difference in wording between the versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)

Locking Down Against “Out of Control” COVID in China Is “Not Worth Sacrificing . . . Our Freedom”

(p. A7) After Leona Cheng tested positive for the coronavirus late last month, she was told to pack her bags for a hospital stay. When the ambulance came to her apartment in central Shanghai to pick her up two days later, no one said otherwise.

So Ms. Cheng was surprised when the car pulled up not to a hospital but to a sprawling convention center. Inside, empty halls had been divided into living areas with thousands of makeshift beds. And on exhibition stall partitions, purple signs bore numbers demarcating quarantine zones.

Ms. Cheng, who stayed at the center for 13 days, was among the first of hundreds of thousands of Shanghai residents to be sent to government quarantine and isolation facilities, as the city deals with a surge in coronavirus cases for the first time in the pandemic. The facilities are a key part of China’s playbook of tracking, tracing and eliminating the virus, one that has been met with unusual public resistance in recent weeks.

Footage circulating on Chinese social media on Thursday [April 14, 2022] showed members of one Shanghai community protesting the use of apartment buildings in their complex for isolating people who test positive for the virus. Police officers in white hazmat suits could be seen physically beating back angry residents, some of whom pleaded with them to stop.

. . .

Ms. Cheng said she had once admired the government’s goal of keeping the virus out of China. It meant that for more than two years, she could live a normal life, even as cities and countries around the world had to lock down.

Now, she’s not so sure.

“This time I feel it is out of control and it’s not worth controlling the cases because it is not so dangerous or deadly,” she said, referring to the highly contagious Omicron variant. “It’s not worth sacrificing so many resources and our freedom.”

For the full story, see:

Alexandra Stevenson. “Covid Patient In Shanghai Describes Life In Isolation.” The New York Times (Saturday, April 16, 2022): A7.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 15, 2022, and has the title “‘Too smelly to sleep’: Thirteen days in a Shanghai isolation facility.”)

Hong Kong’s “Unofficials” Begged Britain to Bargain Better with Beijing’s Communists

(p. C4) In the 1980s and 1990s, the political scientist Steve Tsang conducted dozens of interviews with industrialists, bankers and lawyers appointed as unofficial members of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council or Executive Council. Known as the “Unofficials,” they were advisers to the British government. The British Official Secrets Act prevented them from speaking about the negotiations during their lifetimes, but the interviews restore a vital, often anguished Hong Kong voice to the historical record.

. . .

The Joint Declaration provided for Hong Kong to be handed back to China in 1997 with its capitalist system intact and a Chinese pledge that its way of life should continue for 50 years. Hong Kong was to hold elections for its Legislative Council and chief executive, but there was no clear timeline for democracy or mechanism to ensure Chinese compliance. “If we cannot devise the right political system, then Hong Kong may not survive,” Chung warned, telling the British that “the Chinese concept of an agreement was worthless.”

Thatcher’s response to them, in January 1984, was frosty: “The Chinese could walk into Hong Kong at present but had not done so. We had to negotiate with the cards that we possessed.” . . .

In June, Chung traveled to Beijing with two other Unofficials to express their concerns directly to Deng Xiaoping: that in the future Hong Kong might be governed from Beijing instead of being administered by Hong Kongers; that Chinese officials might not accept Hong Kong’s lifestyle; and that China’s future leaders might follow “extreme left policies.”

. . .

Would it have made any difference if more attention had been paid to the Unofficials? In 2019, as protests roiled the city, I put this question to Hong Kong’s last governor, Chris Patten. “I think it might have done, actually,” he said. He recalled that British policy in the 1980s “was driven by officials with only the most vestigial, shadowy input from ministers. The Cradocks and others, they didn’t listen to people in Hong Kong. They knew what Hong Kong required, and what Hong Kong, they thought, required was whatever would be acceptable with China for a quiet life.”

The dominant narrative in the British press in the run-up to the handover in 1997 was one of an honorable retreat. The Unofficials tell a different story: One of political expediency that set in motion the foreseeable—and foreseen—unraveling of one of the world’s greatest cities.

For the full essay, see:

Louisa Lim. “The Unofficial Story of the Handover of Hong Kong.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 23, 2022): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the essay has the date April 22, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

The essay is adapted from Lim’s book:

Lim, Louisa. Indelible City: Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong. New York: Riverhead Books, 2022.

Pre-Covid Federal Pandemic Plans Did Not Include Lockdowns

(p. A19) California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the first statewide U.S. stay-at-home order on March 19, 2020. All U.S. states and most other countries have long since abandoned lockdowns as oppressive, ineffective and exorbitantly expensive. But why did free countries adopt such a strategy to begin with?

. . .

Stay-at-home orders weren’t part of the script in pre-Covid federal pandemic plans. The idea of “flattening the curve” through what are known as “layered non-pharmaceutical interventions” can be traced to an influential 2007 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance paper, updated in 2017. Contemplating a severe pandemic with a 2% case fatality rate, the CDC recommended now-familiar strategies, such as masking, surface disinfection and temporary school closings.

Yet aside from suggesting limits on mass gatherings, the CDC paper makes no mention of closing workplaces. Instead, it concludes that such a severe pandemic could warrant recommending that employers “offer telecommuting and replace in-person meetings in the workplace with video or telephone conferences.” The closest it comes to lockdowns is recommending “voluntary home quarantine” for people with an infected family member.

. . .

When Western nations were confronted with Covid-19, they seemed to believe the Communist Party’s unproven claims about the efficacy of lockdowns. In the end, every other country got some variant of the virus and some variant of China’s official response. The world has learned to live with the former, as politically accountable leaders found they couldn’t maintain draconian restrictions forever. The people of China will be forced to endure the latter indefinitely.

For the full commentary, see:

Eugene Kontorovich and Anastasia Lin. “Covid Lockdowns Were a Chinese Import.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, March 24, 2022): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 23, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

30,000 Tourists Find the Longest Queue at Shanghai Disney Is for Covid-19 Test

(p. A1) More than 30,000 visitors to the Shanghai Disneyland theme park were kept within the park’s gates on Sunday [October 31, 2021] and forced to undergo Covid-19 testing after a customer tested positive for the virus, a move that underscores China’s eradication efforts.

With fireworks exploding above them as they awaited nasal swabs, the Disney visitors became the latest Chinese residents to experience life under a “zero tolerance” policy for the virus enforced by their country’s government. Leaders there have taken stringent measures to contain pockets of the coronavirus in the country, despite criticism from business groups and a close to 80% vaccination rate.

“I never thought that the longest queue in Disneyland would be for a nucleic acid test,” one visitor said on social media.

(p. A6) Disney’s gargantuan mainland park—home to a Tomorrowland, Gardens of Imagination and Mickey Avenue—turned into a giant testing site late into Sunday evening, with guests required to be tested before being allowed to leave. The last visitor walked out at 10:30 p.m., said a Walt Disney Co. spokesman. Disney, which is a minority owner in the resort and has seen a spectrum of responses to Covid-19 at its parks around the world, had to comply with China’s local protocols, said the spokesman.

The shutdown on Sunday illustrates the lack of control Disney and other Western firms have in China, especially as officials work to clamp down Covid-19 outbreaks. The world’s largest entertainment company has yet to see park attendance return to pre-pandemic levels, and Sunday’s shutdown highlights the difficulties of reopening the global tourism economy while the threat of outbreaks still looms.

. . .

The mass testing proved a surreal scene. Videos shared by guests on social media showed swarms of people—many dressed up in Halloween costumes—queuing up for tests before they could leave. One showed the Disney evening fireworks erupting behind workers in hazmat suits conducting tests for park visitors.

For the full story, see:

Natasha Khan and Erich Schwartzel. “China Pens 30,000 Visitors In Park After Covid-19 Case.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, November 2, 2021): A1 & A6.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Nov. 1, 2021, and has the title “China Locks 30,000 Visitors Inside Shanghai Disneyland After Covid-19 Case.”)

China’s “Establishment of an Absolute Political Totalitarianism”

(p. A1) The young woman in Beijing began her post complaining about mobs gathering online, where recluses vent misogynistic insecurities from the safety of desk chairs. As provocative as it was, it might have passed unnoticed except that she added another beat.

She mocked the toxic masculinity of users imagining themselves as Dong Cunrui, a textbook war hero who, according to Chinese Communist Party lore, died valiantly during the civil war that brought the party to power in 1949.

For that passing reference, the woman, 27 and identified in court only by her last name, Xu, was sentenced last month to seven months in prison.

Her crime: violating a newly amended criminal code that punishes the slander of China’s martyrs and heroes. Since it went into effect in March, the statute has been enforced with a revolutionary zeal, part of an intensified campaign under China’s leader, Xi Jinping, to sanctify the Communist Party’s version of history — and his vision for the country’s future.

The Cyberspace Administration of China, which polices the country’s internet, has created telephone and online hotlines to encourage citizens to report violations. It has even published a list of 10 “rumors” that are forbidden to discuss.

Was Mao Zedong’s Long March really not so long? Did the Red (p. A6) Army skirt heavy fighting against the Japanese during World War II to save its strength for the civil war against the Nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-shek? Was Mao’s son, Mao Anying, killed by an American airstrike during the Korean War because he lit a stove to make fried rice?

Asking those very questions risks arrest and, now, prosecution. “It is a sign of the establishment of an absolute political totalitarianism,” said Wu Qiang, an outspoken political analyst in Beijing.

China’s Communist Party has long policed dissent, severely restricting public discussion of topics it deems to be politically incorrect, from Tibet to the Tiananmen Square protests. The new law goes further. It has criminalized as slander topics that were once subjects of historical debate and research, including Mao’s rule itself up to a point. Since March, the law has been used at least 15 times to punish people who slight party history.

. . .

The campaign has inspired vigilantism, with internet users calling out potential violations.

The Jiangsu branch of China Unicom, a state-owned telecommunications company, came under investigation after a public uproar started when its Weibo account posted a recipe for fried rice on what was Mao Anying’s birthday. It is not clear whether the company faces criminal charges, but its account was suspended.

For the full story, see:

Steven Lee Myers. “Mocking China’s Heroes Can Lead to Jail Time.” The New York Times (Wednesday, November 3, 2021): A1 & A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Nov. 15, 2021, and has the title “Shutting Down Historical Debate, China Makes It a Crime to Mock Heroes.”)

Disney’s “Goo Goo Gai Pan” Simpsons Episode is Censored or Self-Censored in Hong Kong

(p. B4) HONG KONG—The absence of an episode of “The Simpsons” from Walt Disney Co. ’s streaming service in Hong Kong is raising concerns about rising censorship in the Chinese territory.

Disney launched its streaming service, Disney+, earlier in November in Hong Kong featuring an array of programming owned by the entertainment giant, including 32 seasons of the animated comedy series.

Yet one episode is missing from “The Simpsons” lineup: Titled “Goo Goo Gai Pan,” the episode from season 16 centers on a trip to China by the show’s namesake family. Along the way they encounter a plaque at Tiananmen Square in Beijing that reads: “On this site, in 1989, nothing happened.”

The episode also features a reference to the iconic “Tank Man” photo, in which a man stands in front of a column of tanks after the military moved in to crush student-led protests on June 4, 1989.

It isn’t known if Disney removed the episode under pressure, or whether it decided itself to leave the episode out of its lineup when it launched the Disney+ service in Hong Kong earlier in November. Representatives for Disney didn’t respond to requests for comment. A spokeswoman for the Hong Kong Office of the Communications Authority, which oversees broadcasters in the city, declined to comment.

The episode’s absence fuels concerns about rising censorship in Hong Kong, and the extent to which Western companies are under pressure to assist in the effort or to self-censor following the imposition of a sweeping national security law by Beijing last year that has stamped out dissent across the city.

For the full story, see:

Dan Strumpf. “Missing ‘Simpsons’ Episode in Hong Kong Fuels Censorship Fears.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, November 30, 2021): B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date November 29, 2021, and has the title “Disney’s Missing ‘Simpsons’ Episode in Hong Kong Raises Censorship Fears.”)