“Bludgeoned by Years of Subservience to Their Masters in Beijing”

(p. C2) The salient fact that we have learned about Chinese administrative and managerial practices from this latest outbreak is not that China is capable of impressive infrastructure projects but that its vaunted system of top-down decision-making, state control and central planning is directly responsible in large part for the virulence, intensity and rapid spread of the disease that has already claimed more than 1,300 Chinese lives.

According to reports from Wuhan in this and other news outlets, one of the principal reasons that the virus spread so quickly and infected so many was because officials in Wuhan, bludgeoned by years of subservience to their masters in Beijing, were simply terrified of taking any initiative. Zhou Xianwang, Wuhan’s mayor, told reporters that he didn’t take measures to deal with the epidemic earlier because he needed authorization from his political bosses.

For the full commentary, see:

Gerard Baker. “China’s Crisis Exposes a Badly Flawed Model.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, February 15, 2020): C2.

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated Feb. 14, 2020, and has the title “THE NEW NEW WORLD; A Loyal Chinese Critic Vanishes, in a Blow to the Nation’s Future.”)

Outspoken Admirer of Friedman and Hayek Disappears in Communist China

(p. A19) The disappearance of Mr. Ren, a longtime critic of the Chinese government, adds to fears that China is sliding backward and abandoning the reforms that saved it from extreme poverty and international isolation. Mr. Ren was no radical — he was a decades-long loyal Communist Party member, the former leader of a state-run company and a friend to some of China’s most powerful politicians. He emerged in what now seems a distant time, from the 1980s to the period before Mr. Xi became top leader, when the party brooked no challenge to its rule but allowed some individuals to question some of its choices.

Mr. Ren’s fate remains unclear. But if he was punished for his writing, it suggests China’s leadership won’t tolerate criticism no matter how justified it might be.

. . .

He was influenced by free-market economists like Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek. He believed government control needed to be checked.

“State power in any country is greedy, so it needs to be subject to public supervision,” he wrote in his autobiography. “Otherwise, the power will be abused and everybody will suffer from it.”

. . .

In 2011, near the peak of China’s openness to new ideas, Mr. Ren, an avid reader, started a book club. It drew China’s top entrepreneurs, intellectuals and government officials. Books included Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America” and Hannah Arendt’s “The Origins of Totalitarianism.” The events became so popular that people had to apply through a lottery system to join. Some people flew to Beijing from all over the country to attend.

Mr. Ren said his goal was to help China’s young generation develop independent thinking so it would not follow the orders of authority slavishly. The government said no to some topics and speakers, but left it largely alone.

By early 2016, he had nearly 38 million followers on Weibo. But party attitudes toward expression were changing.

That same year, Mr. Xi declared that all Chinese news media had to serve the party. No Chinese leader since Mao Zedong had made that obligation so explicit. Mr. Ren shot back on Weibo, writing that the news media should serve the people, not the party, or the people would suffer.

Retribution was swift. His Weibo account was deleted. His party membership was suspended for a year. His passport was taken away. Members of his family weren’t allowed to leave the country. He faced constant investigations and interrogations.

. . .

Then came the coronavirus outbreak. When doctors working with the disease tried to publicly warn China about the outbreak, they were threatened by government officials. For Mr. Ren, friends said, this confirmed his argument that a media that serves the party couldn’t serve the people.

“Without a media representing the interests of the people by publishing the actual facts,” he wrote in the essay that circulated this year, “people’s lives are being ravaged by both the virus and the major illness of the system.”

He shared the essay with a few friends. Three days after his 69th birthday, he disappeared. His assistant and his son have disappeared, too.

For the full commentary, see:

Li Yuan. “THE NEW NEW WORLD; A Longtime Party Insider Vanishes, in a Blow to China’s Future.” The New York Times (Wednesday, April 1, 2020): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated April 2, 2020, and has the title “THE NEW NEW WORLD; A Loyal Chinese Critic Vanishes, in a Blow to the Nation’s Future.”)

Chinese Doctors Wear Adult Diapers to Avoid Taking Off Their One-Per-Day One-Piece Protective Suit

(p. A1) The coronavirus outbreak has exposed the jarring absence in China of a vibrant civil society — the civic associations like business groups, nonprofit organizations, charities and churches that bring people together without involving the government.

. . .

(p. A10) “The traditional management mechanism of ‘big government’ is no longer efficient, and is even failing,” Duan Zhanjiang, a management consultant, wrote in an article about managing the epidemic. “The government is very busy but not effective.

. . .

The Communist Party has never liked or trusted civil society. It is suspicious of any organization that could potentially pose challenge to its rule, including big private enterprises. It has cracked down on nongovernment organizations like rights groups and charities as well as churches and mosques. The party wants nothing to stand between its government and China’s 1.4 billion people.

Big Chinese corporations and wealthy individuals have been donating, many generously. But they also try to keep low profiles for fear of offending a government that is eager to take credit for any success and quick to suspect outside groups of challenging it.

Those gaps are evident on the front lines of the outbreak, where workers have lacked the proper equipment to keep themselves safe. Doctors and nurses wear disposable raincoats instead of protective gowns. They wear ordinary, and inadequate, surgical masks while conducting dangerous throat swab tests. They wear adult diapers because, once they take off their one-piece protective suits, the suits will have to be thrown away. They get only one per day.

For the full commentary, see:

Li Yuan. “THE NEW NEW WORLD; China Blocks Ally in Virus Fight: Its Own People.” The New York Times (Wednesday, February 19, 2020): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 5, 2020, and has the same title “THE NEW NEW WORLD; In Coronavirus Fight, China Sidelines an Ally: Its Own People.”)

“Rage and Despair” Outpace Chinese Communists’ “Army of Censors”

(p. A9) HONG KONG — Under normal circumstances, Patrick Wu, a college student from Anhui Province in China’s east, knows better than to talk to his parents about politics.

Mr. Wu, a senior at a university in Beijing, is a self-described skeptic of the Chinese government. His parents are local government officials.

But recent months have been anything but normal. The coronavirus outbreak, and its political implications, have been all that Mr. Wu, 21, thinks about.

. . .

“Things just got out of control. You could see people dying at home,” Mr. Wu said. “I just felt like more people should know about this, and I should open myself to more conversations about this — at least with my parents, who I can trust.”

His parents, from the start, resisted. “Their first reaction was shock and rejection: ‘How could this happen in Wuhan? It must be fake,’” Mr. Wu recalled.

After they were persuaded that the outbreak was genuine, they rejected that Chinese officials had at first covered it up and questioned how it could have exploded so quickly.

Were people who eat wild animals to blame, they asked after the virus was linked to a Wuhan market that sells wildlife. Or maybe the United States planted the virus, his parents said, considering an unfounded conspiracy theory peddled by a top Chinese government spokesman.

“I think the gap in information is too big, and sometimes I alone can’t fill it,” Mr. Wu said.

Slowly, though, he felt his mother relenting. The sheer number of online posts about the virus outpaced even the government’s army of censors. Rage and despair found their way into his parents’ social media feeds, and when a whistle-blower doctor, Li Wenliang, died of the coronavirus, prompting an online revolt against censorship, it was Mr. Wu’s mother who alerted him to the news.

For the full story, see:

Vivian Wang. “INSIDE THE OUTBREAK; Stuck With His Parents and Sparring Over Politics.” The New York Times (Wednesday, April 1, 2020): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 31, 2020, and has the title “INSIDE THE OUTBREAK; Quarreling in Quarantine and Bridging a Generational Divide.”)

Under Cover of Coronavirus Chaos, Chinese Communists Arrest Hong Kong Defender of Free Speech

(p. A12) HONG KONG — A Hong Kong media tycoon known for his ardent opposition to China was arrested on Friday [Feb. 28, 2020] over his role in a pro-democracy protest last year, the police said, dealing another blow to the city’s independent media.

The tycoon, Jimmy Lai, a rare figure among Hong Kong’s elite for his willingness to take on Beijing, owns Next Media Group, which publishes a popular pro-democracy newspaper and website called Apple Daily. His arrest comes as the city has been dealing with the twin shocks of the protest movement and now the coronavirus outbreak.

His singular status as a prominent businessman in Hong Kong who openly supports the democracy movement and antigovernment protests has made him a frequent target of Beijing-backed elements.

. . .

The arrests were made the same week as a court in China sentenced a Hong Kong bookseller, Gui Minhai, to 10 years in prison. Mr. Gui sold gossipy books about China’s leaders and disappeared mysteriously in Thailand in 2015 and later emerged as a target of China’s effort to quell dissent.

For the full story, see:

Elaine Yu. “Media Baron Is Arrested Over Protests In Hong Kong.” The New York Times (Saturday, February 29, 2020): A12.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 28, 2020, and has the title “Jimmy Lai, Hong Kong Media Baron, Is Arrested Over Role in Protests.”)

Chinese Communist “Tradition” of Local Officials Lying to Please Beijing Central Planners

(p. A27) There is a tradition in China (and likely much of the world) for local authorities not to report bad news to their superiors. During the Great Leap Forward, local officials reported exaggerated harvest yields even as millions were starving. More recently, officials in Henan Province denied there was an epidemic of AIDS spread through unsanitary blood collection practices.

For the full commentary, see:

Elisabeth Rosenthal. “Why Is Data on Coronavirus So Limited?” The New York Times (Saturday, February 29, 2020): A27.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 28, 2020, and has the title “Sanders Is Stirring Cold War Angst. Young Voters Say, So What?.”)

“You Think I’m Scared of You, Communist Party?”

(p. A11) HONG KONG — The beige van squatted outside of a Wuhan hospital, its side and back doors ajar. Fang Bin, a local clothing salesman, peered inside as he walked past. He groaned: “So many dead.” He counted five, six, seven, eight body bags. “This is too many.”

That moment, in a 40-minute video about the coronavirus outbreak that has devastated China, propelled Mr. Fang to internet fame. Then, less than two weeks later, he disappeared.

Days earlier, another prominent video blogger in Wuhan, Chen Qiushi, had also gone missing.

. . .

The disappearance of the two men . . . underscores that the ruling Communist Party has no intention of loosening its grip on free speech.

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, said last month that officials needed to “strengthen the guidance of public opinion.” While Chinese social media has overflowed with fear and grief, state propaganda outlets have emphasized Mr. Xi’s steady hand, framed the fight against the outbreak as a form of patriotism and shared upbeat videos of medical workers dancing.

. . .

As time went on, Mr. Chen, usually energetic, began to show strain. “I am scared,” he said on Jan. 30 [2020]. “In front of me is the virus. Behind me is China’s legal and administrative power.”

The authorities had contacted his parents to ask for his whereabouts, he said. He teared up suddenly. Then, his finger pointing at the camera, he blurted: “I’m not even scared of death. You think I’m scared of you, Communist Party?”

For the full story, see:

Vivian Wang. “2 Video Bloggers, Posting Virus Reports, Go Missing.” The New York Times (Saturday, February 15, 2020): A11.

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

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Feb. 21 [sic], 2020, and has the title “They Documented the Coronavirus Crisis in Wuhan. Then They Vanished.”)