Editor's Note: Bill Wang is pseudonym to protect the identity of the author who is still living in China.
Incubated in Wuhan, Hubei Province of China, COVID-19 is spreading around the world, despite basically being controlled and subsided in China.
If we just turn the time machine back to one month ago, the world has experienced drastic changes within one month. One month ago, China was in its darkest hour combating the virus the outbreak of which was caused by oppression and crackdown on the free flow of information by Chinese authorities and the world outside China was trying to help China; now, the world outside China is suffering from the virus while China has managed to walk out of its darkest hour and trying to play the role of world leaders in combating the virus.
China’s Propaganda Media Is Trying to Turn Tragedy Into Comedy
As the virus is dying down in China, Chinese authorities start to organize the propaganda media to tell a story of how China helps the world combating the virus. The script generally follows three major lines. The first line is to describe bad news from abroad. The bad news such as the lack of medical rescue equipment and personnel and the poor responses of foreign governments to the virus are flooded in all kinds of Chinese media. The second line is to highlight the generosity, kindness, and wisdom of China in providing help to other countries. China’s propaganda media are also unsparingly telling the story of how China is sending medical teams and providing medical rescue materials abroad. The third line is the most important, which is to package China’s national chairman Xi Jinping into the world leader in coordinating the fighting against the virus around the world. How he talks and instructs leaders of foreign countries thorough telephones on combating the virus has become the regular top daily news in China.
Nowadays, despite the battle against the virus is still going on, a strong atmosphere of pride, gratitude, and rejoice is permeating in China. People share information about update growing figures of COVID-19 around the world, commenting about the deficiencies of combating the virus of foreign countries, or even mocking at foreign people who are struggling between freedom and safety. Some Chinese people even gloat about the so-called failures abroad and consider the current world situation as a good opportunity for China to rise up. A popular economist hired by a top real estate company in China criticized the stupidity of the market rescue policy of the U.S Federal Reserve and made a profound judgment that the Windfall Opportunity for China is coming. Only very few people in China remain rational, professional and sympathetic towards people abroad. Professor Zhang Wenhong, the top respiration expert in China, tries to spread his independent voice to Chinese people that western countries such as the U.S have excellent and reliable medical capacity and different countries have different ways of combating the virus.
The Effective Crackdown on COVID-19 Is But Another Victory Story of ‘ Low Human Rights Advantage’
The party-state of China always organizes Chinese scholars to make up theories of the success and advantage of China’s political and economic system. However, some scholars have contributed to China’s economic achievements to its ‘Low Human Rights Advantage’. Basically, the argument is that most Chinese employees have worked in low human rights conditions, such as low payments, poor working conditions and lack of legal protections. Lack of property rights protection has contributed to huge wealth collected by local governments by plundering private property, especially in the takings of land. The deficiency of environmental law enforcement has encouraged many businesses to benefit from externalizing environmental costs to individuals., etc.
Low human rights mode did reflect efficiency in combating the virus. Despite the oppression and cover-up of information at the beginning of the incubation of the virus, when the central party government ordered to lock down Wuhan and other cities of Hubei, other provinces quickly follow up. China soon became a country of separated places that blocked each other within a few days.
It seems amazing. In such a huge country, without laws or regulations to set up clear rules, all of a sudden, provinces, cities, counties, villages, and communities all got blocked and became individual isolated islands. At first, people transferred and spread pictures of different ways of blocking on the internet. They praised these blocking methods as creative and decisive. They contributed this blocking to the efficiency of the party-state. Among these blocking methods, the most common is to destroy roads or put blockades on roads. Sometimes, volunteers were deployed on the blockade to reinforce the effect of blocking.
However, drastic ways of blocking without any clearly defined rules have caused numerous damages to individual rights. The major damages are economic losses caused by disruption of communication and inter-flow of goods. Due to the disruption of the inter-flow of goods, many farmers failed to transport their farm products to the market, leaving lots of fruits and vegetables decayed in the farmlands. Due to the lack of animal feeding stuff caused by the blocking of road, poultry and domestic animals starved, causing huge losses to feeders.
The lockdown of communities has caused some human rights tragedies, especially to children and elders.
For instance, on Feb.24,2020, when volunteers were implementing a
door- by-door temperature checking in a community in Shiyan City of Hubei Province, they found a six-year-old boy together with his already dead grandpa. The boy told volunteers that grandpa had died for several days. He had lived by biscuits with a dead body for several days! His father was working in Yunnan, another province of China. Because of the lockdown, his father cannot go back to take care of him. These kinds of human rights disasters caused by community lockdown are not uncommon.
There have also been a lot of human rights disasters related to masks and social distancing. For instance, at the beginning of the virus combating, a video quickly spread across the internet: When a family were playing Mahjong inside the home, several volunteers with red armbands rushed in. They destroyed the Mahjong and the Mahjong desk. When a young guy among the Mahjong players argued that this was not against the social distancing, the volunteers beat him. There were a lot of videos on the internet showing different situations of people being hit for not wearing masks during that period.
So, on the surface, we see the story of an autocratic power successfully reining the outbreak of COVID-19 with iron policy and effective measures. Under the surface, to realize the end, the human rights of many individuals have been sacrificed.
With Low Human Rights Advantage, the Combating of Virus Is Not Based on Law, but on Uncontrolled Party State Power, Rule of Law In China Is Further Undermined
Ironically, the above-mentioned cases of infringement of individual rights generally do not have legal justification.
According to article 43 of The Infectious Disease Prevention Law of PRC, only the governments of the province, autonomous region, and city directly governed by the central government have the administrative power to order to lock down the infected region of Category A Infectious Disease. Even so, according to this article, blocking the infected region does not mean blocking the flow of goods and transportation vehicles. It stresses that the transportation of goods and vehicles should be under sanitary quarantine. So, the above-mentioned actions of road blocking are actually illegal. Moreover, according to article 117 of China’s criminal law, the act of destroying roads without legal justification constitutes a criminal act. If not causing serious damages, the penalty is between 3-10 years of imprisonment. If causing serious damages, the penalty can be more severe on a case by case judgment.
However, these kinds of illegal acts were not punished and the victims could not get any relief. Only after the We Media on the internet disclosed the serious social effects of these actions, The Ministry of Transport of the PRC noticed these facts and issued ‘Notice on Keeping the Roads Clear during the Period of Combating the Virus ’, demanding not to interrupt the transportation and block the flow of goods while blocking the spread of the virus. This kind of ‘notice’ is a common practice in China. It cannot effectively correct the wrongs, neither can it provide relief to the victims.
As for punishing people without masks, most cases are also lack of sound legal basis. Till now, no legal rules are specifying in what situation people are forced to wear masks. Although experts both from China and abroad have made it clear that in wild spaces, such as one drives a car by himself or herself, it is not necessary to wear masks. A lady still got beat for not wearing a mask while driving by herself!
How The Combating Virus Based On Autocratic Power Further Mould The Unique Characters Of Chinese People?
The virus has been, at least in the first phase, controlled by the strongest autocratic power in the world. Most Chinese people feel proud of the achievements of the party-state and the party-state timely grasp this opportunity to further propaganda the political advantage of China’s party-ruling system, that is, under the strong leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, China can pool all the resources to achieve a particular goal.
But few people in China can and dare to ask these basic questions: Does the end justify the means without any bottom line? Can those people whose rights and dignity was damaged by arbitrary measures used in combating the virus get relief? Can the authorities do better in combating the virus, that is, with less damage to individual rights and dignity?
Actually, few people care about the above questions. Reined by an autocratic power without respect of rule of law and individual rights, most Chinese people have become delicate egoism. They only care about and calculate their own interests, disregarding or even contemptuous of the rights and dignity of other people. As long as his or her own interests are not sacrificed, people are happy to see how the autocratic power has made achievements by sacrificing other people’s rights and dignity. In the case of the combating of COVID-19, as long as the virus gets controlled and people can restart their own life, they don’t care about those people who have become the necessary cost of combating the COVID-19. As long as his or her self interests are maintained, the damages of other people are justified.
The worst tragedy is that, when more and more Chinese people become delicate egoism, they become individual isolated islands, only calculating self benefits, ignoring the rights and dignity of other people. When a society is composed of isolated islands, people don’t communicate with each other, the lack of communication and flow of information might push the society to other disasters, whether they are corona-virus disease or in other forms.