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Courage in the Streets of China
Celebrating a brief revolt for human dignity against banal, nihilistic, authoritarian technocracy
I highly recommend you read this in the web or app version rather than email so that you can view the many included videos, and so that it doesn’t get cut off. Apologies in advance for any typos etc. I broke my rule against doing quick-takes and wrote this in a hurry.1
Something extraordinary happened in China over the weekend. Not long ago I wrote at length, if in a rather different context, about the vital importance of courage in the defense of the true and the human against the cold, mechanistic evil that is nihilistic technocracy, the machine whose Conditioners forever lust after total control – not only over men, but ultimately over reality itself. Well, now we have just seen a stunning example of such courage in the streets of China, where people rose up to reassert their human dignity in the face of the most dehumanizing machine of control in the world today: the Chinese Communist Party’s “zero-Covid” terror-state.
For three years now, the Chinese government has maintained its policy of draconian city-wide lockdowns, endless daily mass testing and biomedical surveillance, digital Covid-passes that arbitrarily govern every aspect of daily life, vast camps to house those dragged into quarantine for weeks (or longer) at a time, and, more recently, such innovations as “closed-loop” factories, where workers are forced to work, sleep, and “live” completely isolated from the outside world so that they can continue to produce your iPhones.
But now over the past several days protests have erupted in at least a dozen cities and 79 universities across the country, with spontaneous demonstrations – often begun by only a handful of people, or even a single individual – quickly drawing crowds of hundreds, even thousands, of people willing to fearlessly demand an end to the zero-Covid nightmare.
In Wuhan, where it all began, swarming crowds smashed down containment barriers and “liberated” locked-down neighborhoods:
In Lanzhou, they overturned Covid-testing booths:
In Shanghai, they railed against digital health codes:
In Chengdu, they chanted “give me freedom or give me death!”
And in the capital Beijing, a day filling the streets…
Led into a night calling for freedom…
And asking, “Are we not people?”
All across the country, many thousands of these protesters spontaneously echoed many of the same lines:
We don’t want PCR tests. We want to eat.
We don’t want Cultural Revolution. We want reform.
We don’t want lockdowns. We want freedom.
We don’t want a Great Leader. We want the vote.
We don’t want lies. We want dignity.
We aren’t slaves. We are citizens.
These are conspicuously the same lines as those of a banner hung from a Beijing bridge by a lone (since disappeared) protester, Peng Lifa, on the 13th of October, just ahead of the CCP’s 20th Party Congress and Xi Jinping’s re-coronation as Chinese leader for life.
Now, as recordings of the anti-lockdown protests are swiftly censored online, Chinese netizens have often simply been replying with “We saw it” – a phrase referring not just to the protests, but to Peng Lifa’s message.
His final and most striking line, on a second banner, happens to have been:
“Refuse to go to class. Go on strike. Remove the traitor Xi Jinping.”
And indeed in many protests over the last few days the people’s frustration with zero-Covid tyranny translated into something more: an outpouring of raw anger against the CCP and Xi.
It’s hard to understate how unprecedented this scale and openness of revolt is in today’s China. This is without doubt the largest wave of protest seen in the country since 1989, and will viewed by the government as an existential challenge.
But the majority of the protesters probably weren’t taking to the streets to make a statement specifically about their (previously fairly popular) political system. The overwhelming message of most – shouted from Beijing to Xinjiang – has been far more basic: “stop the lockdowns, we are human beings.”
It is the zero-Covid regime’s sheer crude lack of even basic respect for humanity that has really sparked these protests. On Thursday the 24th a fire at an apartment complex in Urumqi, Xinjiang, killed as many as 44 people, including children. Social media posts alleged they could not escape because the doors and windows of their building were literally wired shut (you know, for safety), and because responding firetrucks were not allowed past a checkpoint into the “quarantined” zone, preventing them from reaching the building (you know, for safety). While authorities have denied this (and instead casually blamed residents for lacking “the knowledge or capability to rescue themselves”), videos purporting to show the incident spread widely online anyway, and citizens are convinced otherwise.
In other words they can see the residents were killed by the sheer banal stupidity of the senseless, inhuman bureaucracy of China’s zero-Covid machine, which grinds on and on with seemingly no input from any human intelligence whatsoever. China’s citizens recognize full well that they could just as easily have been the ones consumed by its mindless gears, and could easily be next. It is their anger and frustration with this inhuman stupidity that prompted them to finally come out en masse.
Like every Kafkaesque technocratic nightmare, the zero-Covid machine is seemingly constructed entirely of purely arbitrary rules and pointless nonsense. This is a regime of such relentless stupidity that it deploys armies of flying robots to pointlessly spray vast quantities of (probably toxic) disinfectant into the air over entire cities:
And complicated machines installed in libraries to painstakingly sterilize every book, even though the world has had overwhelming scientific evidence for at least two years now that the coronavirus doesn’t transmit through surface infection:
And quarantine zones as completely arbitrary as this one that is literally a square of open air in a park:
Most visibly, this is a regime well embodied by the Dabai (the “Big Whites”), the omnipresent “public health” thugs who have flawlessly succeeded in dehumanizing themselves into ideal regime robot-zombies by donning their iconic (and totally pointless) full-body white hazmat suits 100% of the time, no matter what their job is or what miseries they’re inflicting on the people today while just following orders.
Now at least some of the Chinese people, like these workers at a Foxconn factory in Zhengzhou, seem to have had quite enough of them:
As have others:
Sorry Beijing, but this seems to me to be a classic case of that old expression of yours: 官逼民反 – “repressive behavior by officials [is what] incites popular rebellion.” You probably should have known better.
But again, the most surreal and tragic part of all of this – the lockdowns, the brutal quarantine controls, the hazmat suits, the obsessive disinfecting, the mass testing, the health pass and QR codes everywhere, the social atomization and isolation, the disastrous shuttering of the economy, the premature destruction of the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation and becoming the world’s largest economy… all of it – is that there is absolutely no practical or scientific reason for any of it.
As the protests raged, China’s Marxist authorities and state media reasserted again and again that, as with every policy, they will continue with zero-Covid because it is “scientific and effective.” But of course it is neither. Lockdowns don’t work (which was clear from very early in the pandemic). In fact the net effects of lockdowns are measurably a human catastrophe. Even masks don’t show any real evidence of providing any significant effect on transmission. Meanwhile the “Swedish Model” and similarly light-touch strategies for “living with Covid” have by now essentially been fully vindicated.
Pretty much the rest of the world has by now come (kicking and screaming) to accept this reality and allow people to move on with their lives. Which is why when Chinese citizens were in recent days perhaps unwisely exposed to insufficiently censored footage of the packed, maskless crowds of the World Cup, they were in for a level of shock that may have helped push the country over the edge.
I find one aspect of international media coverage of the protests and China’s zero-Covid policy rather strikingly odd, however. Read any Western news coverage or analysis – the BBC, the NYT, Axios, the FT, whatever, take your pick – and you will almost certainly run across roughly the same story: praise for the “freedom fighters” seeking free expression, democracy, and human rights etc., but also an almost wholesale echoing of the Official Line somberly asserting that China’s leaders are “in a bind” and can’t actually just open up like the people naively want. If they do the hospitals will immediately be overwhelmed, untold millions will die, the economic impact will huge. Zero-Covid might be a bit excessive – what with people starving in their apartments and throwing themselves off buildings and whatnot – and the government should probably shift course to loosen up somewhat, especially to get commerce flowing again. But ultimately top-down control will have to be maintained for the people’s own good. It’s an understandably difficult situation for Beijing.
But since I’m not a Serious Journalist I can go ahead and call total bullshit on this. To do otherwise would require pretending we don’t now have three years’ worth of collective experience from around the world, during which time every “expert” model predicting mass death in the dangerous event of freedom was consistently proved wrong, often by orders of magnitude. With only rare exceptions, health care systems in most countries ended up being able to handle the impact of the pandemic without any kind of collapse. Every big Covid wave quickly reversed itself and diminished. Because herd immunity works.
Ultimately SARS-CoV-2 is a virus with a greater than 99.9% overall pre-vaccine infection survival rate for those under age 69, and above 99.5% if even the most elderly are included (it’s pretty unclear how many in China know this information). And its one for which vaccines have now long been available for all those who want them. People are in fact able to assess their own risks while living as a human being, and to make their own choices, and nothing world-ending happens when they are allowed to do so. None of the civilization- and humanity-crushing germophobic paranoia and tyranny is necessary or ethically justifiable in the slightest, and never has been.
No, there is only one real reason for China’s insistence on the zero-Covid policy, and it’s one we also have some recent experience with in the West: pure ideological psychosis, rooted in the CCP system’s pathologically fearful psychological desperation to maintain total control of everything at all times (plus to protect Xi’s fragile ego), no matter how self-destructive the results.
An uncontrollable pandemic seems to have been the perfect bug to truly break the minds of the CCP’s Marxist-Leninist leadership. The propaganda narrative they quickly built up around Covid – the web of lies intended to inculcate a “healthy” fear of the virus and thereby enhance social cohesion and control – took on a life of its own and became self-perpetuating. Now, in a closed information environment, the tail is clearly wagging the dog and the Narrative is setting the policies of government instead of the other way around. Much as during other massively self-destructive episodes of CCP history (the Great Leap Forward comes to mind), they are trapped not by a difficult reality but by a collective unreality – one from which at least some of the Chinese people have now woken up.
Broadly speaking, the main thing China’s zero-Covid cataclysm has really managed to accomplish is to begin to shatter the image of modern China being some bastion of pragmatic and effective technocratic governance – as being a country run by sensible engineering PhDs, and possessing the sort of enviable authoritarian “state capacity” to quickly build marvelous, village-smashing mega-projects that has long made New York Times columnists and Canadian prime ministers alike daydream about all that could be accomplished if only their countries could be “China for a day.” But for many, first outside of China and now inside it, it has now become impossible to ignore the truth that technocratic central planners can in fact be possessed by horrifyingly blind ideological madness too. Who could have known?
So it seems pretty clear why mainstream international media finds itself largely unable to talk plainly about China’s zero-Covid mistake. To do so honestly would be to strike directly at the same animating myth that drove “emergency” Covid measures in their own countries. The lockdowns, and vaccine passports, and QR codes, and mass censorship, and unprecedented termination of basic civil liberties, and brutal treatment of dissenters that we saw gleefully implemented by governments all over the world during the pandemic – and which were based directly on the China model – were always worse than irrational and illiberal. To point out that such measures are a continuing crime against humanity in China would be to point out that they were a crime against humanity everywhere.
That could prompt some unwanted reflections about how things went down the last few times people protesting against lockdowns and calling for human dignity, human rights, free expression, and democratic accountability (aka packs of “dangerous far-right extremists” and “conspiracy theorists”) took to the streets in the West.
In places like Australia:
And the Netherlands:
And just about everywhere else.
That would be pretty awkward. So the mumbled criticism of what’s happening in China is no surprise.
(Though some of the brightest lights of the media’s more extreme pro-authoritarianism zealots are actually champing at the bit, eager to leap to the defense of the CCP’s policies more directly, including with the most audacious anti-scientific disinformation they can whip up to spew):
Besides, we’re not supposed to be done yet folks: new plans for sweeping, “technology-enabled ‘always-on’ global health infrastructure,” including a global digital health pass that will determine whether or not anyone anywhere “can move around,” was just agreed to by the G20 only like two weeks ago! The last thing our governments need is for something so grand and important to be derailed by the kind of pro-human independent spirit on display by a few Chinese profiles in courage.
People like Flower Man, who told a crowd that, living in “a country that has slaughtered so many people… Chinese people, we have to be braver!”
And Van Man:
And the students of Tsinghua University:
Or the amazing pudgy, maskless Patrick Henry of Chongqing (now known online as “Super Brother”) who declared that, “There is only one disease in the world: that is, being unfree and poor, and now we have both… [so] Give me liberty or give me death!”
Or the protestors in Xinjiang who casually chanted “let’s die together!”
Fortunately for all involved (except the people), police have since successfully flooded the streets of China, and the protests seem to have died down for the time being. Stability will likely be restored and “stability maintenance” stepped up. Revolution doesn’t seem to be in the cards. Regimes and their journalists everywhere will breathe a sigh of relief.
After all, what would the future be like if everyone was inspired to just stop obeying disembodied robot-megaphones demanding that we show our health pass?
That’s a grim future they’d probably rather avoid having to think about.
Writing this post delayed the planned next Subscriber Community Thread, so that will be pushed back to next week.