Trying to Make Sense of China’s Protests

Unlike the conflict in Ukraine, where it is possible to tease some signal out of the noise, there’s a lot of unseemly Western schadenfraude at the prospect of the Chinese government paying for its dogged defense of Zero Covid….after having inconvenienced many Western corporate customers. That plus an official desire to destabilize the Xi government means it’s virtually given that the English language media is overstating the extent and importance of the protests, particularly self-discrediting accounts that try to depict the Taiwanese Foxconn labor protests as part of the revolt against official Covid policy. But that does not mean they should be dismissed.

I’ll admit to having been inclined to see the coverage as considerably overhyped until a colleague who had a Chinese relative traveling in China. They reported riot conditions in Nanjing as the police tried to enforce building-level lockdowns due to widespread infections. Residents broke windows when entrances were barred. As of that report, transportation to several frontier areas had also been shut down because they have not been affected too badly. But it is hard to tell if the upheaval was this intense on a very widespread basis, or more varied in severity.

Nevertheless, there may be some data:

And a sanity check:

Aljazeera reports that the conflict seems to be abating:

Having said that, it is not hard to describe the many ways the Chinese government did not perform as well as it needed to with Zero Covid. First was inconsistent action at the city/province level, which was the locus of enforcement and support. Second was failure to explain adequately why the policy was necessary and desirable. As far as I can tell, it was framed as saving old people. There was no campaign to explain the health and economic costs of Long Covid, the risk of lasting or permanent impairment, particularly cognitive impairment, the danger to children’s development, as well as the difficulty the medical system would have in trying to manage a Covid wave (ie, ERs unable to handle stroke, heart attack and accident victims well).

China may be more exposed to Covid contagion than other countries. Lambert has pointed out that typical Chinese plumbing does not include traps. That means flushing can spread fecal plumes along a plumbing line. Recall that the initial Wuhan outbreak featured a high level of gastrointestinal symptoms, on the order of >30%. Could that have been a function of the transmission mode, and not just the virus?

And if you search Twitter on “China protests,” you get plenty of tweets pointing out the under-reporting of political upheaval in US favored countries v, not, and particular ire about Justin Trudeau talking up the importance of the right to protest after his quashing of Covid-restriction-refusnik Canadian truckers. For instance:

Angelo is a regular co-host with Brian Berletic of New Atlas. They tend to paint in awfully bright colors about US meddling/destabilization efforts in Asia. Nevertheless, that does not make this list invalid:

This tweetstorm provides what seems to be a sound overview, and make a key point I have not seen elsewhere: that an overwhelming majority of Chinese approved of Zero Covid while simultaneously many were tired of it.

Mind you, this tweetstorm is not gospel. But it presents an integrated view of the protests that is generally wanting in Western media.

If readers have any reports, either from contacts in China or good Internet sources, please pipe up.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Old Sovietologist

    It’s protests against current lockdown policies, not against “authoritarianism” or the government. Hell it’s not even a protest against lockdown in general. Just the specifically strict recent policies.

    China regularly has protests and dissent when the citizens don’t agree with government policy. In 2019 there were serious labour problems with workers taking industrial action they just never got reported

    The idea that Chinese do not protest or would be brutally repressed for any kind of political action is just in the fevered imagination of the western media.

    1. Rip Van Winkle

      Without any other context, The Stamp Act and The Intolerable Acts were no big deal for most of the colonists, either.

      History can be a trickster.

      Would the best protest / revolution be for most of the people to abandon the big cities by going back to their ancestral countrysides in China?

  2. Louis Fyne

    Mandarin/Cantonese speakers need to chime in too.

    I’ve noticed that in some social media videos from the major inland city “democracy protests”, the protestors did not speak the local dialect (Sichuanese, Cantonese, etc.) as they tried to respond to being shouted down by the locals.

    Compare/contrast with video from local Covid-economic protests.

    1. Angie Neer

      Louis, couldn’t that also be explained by internal migration, as people move between regions seeking jobs?

  3. Thuto

    “Widespread protests” has joined “freedom and democracy” in the list of words/expressions I take as cues to look at the bigger picture, ask cui bono and do a desktop (forensic) analysis of the scene of the protests to detect fingerprints and formulate a view on what is really going on. There are clearly grievances on the part of the protesters, and the Chinese government may have dropped the ball on messaging and coordinating the lockdowns, but as we’ve seen before, the ink is hardly ever dry on the “winds of change are blowing in China/Iran/Venezuela” mainstream press articles when the fanning of the flames begins with fire drill urgency on the ground by western/western aligned agents with to push for a colour revolution.

    1. Bsn

      Yes, I’m in accord. The west press is so dishonest, for me they have to go way over the top with documentation or other reliable “information” for me to believe anything. I haven’t seen much of that as of late

  4. Kouros

    Peter Lee, The China Hand, posted about Covid and his week and mused that the government will start opening and will have an upper ceiling on the number of deaths, at around 300,000. Above that number, probably will be some other respiratory ailment…

    1. Shom

      I heard this episode last night. I’m not convinced the Chinese will speed run like that through our more disastrous response and get to the “1M+ deaths acceptable / swept away” phase that quickly. Their society seems to be in an odd-man-out way able to sometimes protest and get policies improved upon, but I doubt this is the improvement they seek.

      It is more likely that once they see deaths rising and hospitals full, the general public will once again swing towards stricter restrictions, but updated to account for aerosol transmission, better ventilation and masking etc.

      1. Basil Pesto

        They will simply suppress the number of deaths. This is something all the communist countries have done to date. That includes China up to this point, whose pre-October Covid deaths, while way lower per capita than the rest of the world, are still implausibly low as a cumulative total.

  5. BeliTsari

    Biological warfare, never really worked, as Ecuyer’s smallpox blankets demonstrated (I thought Pontiac’s boyfriend whacked him, while only a few local Mingo & Lenape folks died?) Perpetrators were 400 miles away & gave no mind to poor-ass sod-busters! Our kleptocrats’ wiping-out Chinese (Asian) AGW mitigating companies will backfire in a whole bunch of ways, unanticipated by our senile, zombie dopplegangster duopoly; that we might want to take a closer look at just murdering Chinese workers (unaffected by brain damage, or the TSUNAMI of excess PASC damage, autoimmune mortality we’re about to ignore, due to “our” party & media?

    1. Rolf

      BeliTsari, thank you for the link to David North’s piece:

      Finally, Krugman claims that the US response to COVID, when contrasted to China’s policy of Zero-COVID, proves the superiority of “democracy” over “autocracy.” Krugman may believe that the decision of the Trump and Biden administrations to prioritize economic interests and accept more than one million US deaths was the right one. But what he is defending is not “democracy,” but the rule of a ruthless financial oligarchy that is contemptuous of human life and the welfare of the people.

  6. diptherio

    I shared this over on Mastodon and got this reply:

    I heard an interesting anecdote about the “having inconvenienced many Western corporate customers” as well. (Pretty reliable, only one degree of separation between me and the source.)

    It’s from someone who works in an factory in Zhejiang, a province which accounts for a huge chunk of Western exports. There they are still nominally doing covid tests, but actually the testers are putting the swabs not nearly deep enough to actually be useful, just going though the motions.

    When this is pointed out to them, the testers waived away the complaints, and just continued with their ineffectual testing methods.

    This chimes with the overall picture. The province hasn’t had a single official positive test in ages, even though it’s right next to heavily hit Shanghai. So while they’d never admit it openly, it’s apparent the government has been making exceptions for export industries.

    I think the stories from Foxconn should be seen in this light as well.

  7. spud

    poor free traders, they are burning with rage that they were roped like dopes! looks like china is not in revolt, 80% of the public approves of the shutdowns, meanwhile china’s economy is doing fine supplying it self, whilst the rope a dope dim wit free traders stand empty handed, inflation roaring, shelves going bare:)

  8. Mikel

    “Most people who complain about Zero-Covid are not demanding freedom. Lockdowns are inconvenient but not a deal breaker for most Chinese.

    What they want is financial relief.

    But Western forces are fanning the flames by targeting the young who have plenty of freedom in China…”

    When I read that people end up having to wait long periods for govt organized food deliveries and were being locked in at their workplaces in some instances, it was only a matter of time for a breaking point.

    When an alleged program or policy to help people becomes punishment…it fails.
    I don’t think prohibitions bother people as much as the punishment aspects.

    1. bonks

      The food delay was a week or thereabouts, before we got inundated with cabbages, pork and potatoes. We’ve not experienced anything that bad after. These days we get a lockdown lottery, one day a colleague will be locked down at home for two days, another one five days. It may be a minor inconvenience but the unpredictability can be disconcerting for some people.

      The ones who are suffering economically are not the native Shanghainese but the migrant workers and the self-employed from smaller cities. Many of them have returned to their hometowns because they couldn’t shoulder the high cost of living while their informal businesses have taken a hit. The young urbanites are barely suffering in comparison (other than getting locked down for two to five days if unlucky) because they’re still going to bars and sipping expensive coffees, and jumping from one job to the next so they can get salaries that match their desired lifestyle. So I am inclined not to believe that the protestors in shanghai were genuine.

      Smaller cities however are a different story. Tourism/retail have taken a big hit in second and third tier cities, and I know people whose businesses have suffered. The government has extended financial relief for SMEs several times, as well as waiver of corporate tax/rents in 2020, but it’s unclear how micro/informal businesses are supposed to ask for help, and as far as I know there isn’t a handout on individual level.

  9. Basil Pesto

    Having said that, it is not hard to describe the many ways the Chinese government did not perform as well as it needed to with Zero Covid. First was inconsistent action at the city/province level, which was the locus of enforcement and support. Second was failure to explain adequately why the policy was necessary and desirable. As far as I can tell, it was framed as saving old people. There was no campaign to explain the health and economic costs of Long Covid, the risk of lasting or permanent impairment, particularly cognitive impairment, the danger to children’s development, as well as the difficulty the medical system would have in trying to manage a Covid wave (ie, ERs unable to handle stroke, heart attack and accident victims well).

    It’s also only come to my attention recently that pecuniary support for communities/individuals subjected to Covid restrictions is pretty threadbare, which is obviously stupid and not tenable. Individuals and small business will always need as much help as can reasonably be provided to protect their livelihoods under conditions of lockdown (although do keep in mind the total number of all-encompassing hard lockdowns in China has actually not been that many – mostly small, brief snap lockdowns) or reduced social mobility. In the west, this help was directed to corporations to keep them afloat rather than individuals/families. In China, they just don’t seem to be bothered. They apparently have a strong anti-“handout” culture, so maybe there is hope for USA-China rapprochement after all.

    Again, if they kept their border tightly controlled, China’s ordinary civilian population would face almost no disturbance from Covid at all (though international tourism would of course be shattered). But China isn’t an autarky and the leadership must obviously think that controlling their border isn’t economically viable, and so they have been trying to loosen its border control to appease western trade as much as possible, meaning the population, particularly in big cities, is constantly troubled with outbreaks. That is a considerable burden to place on the population. Compare with Australia when it maintained containment after its initial national lockdown of Mar-May ‘20, up until May ‘21. Apart from Victoria, there were scarcely any lockdowns; only a few snap lockdowns of a week at a time here and there. NSW only had one lockdown at all I think, in North Sydney in Christmas 2020.

    As PlutoniumKun said a few days ago, I don’t think it’s wise to jump to too many conclusions about these protests at this point. But it does look like Covid containment is being abandoned (though I don’t expect the CPC to come out and admit it). If the virus is allowed to get fully out of control in China, then it will be an unspeakable human tragedy, or, as it’s now known in the west, more grist to the mill.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Yes, the early system for providing support to people in lockdown stopped a long time ago. Basically, if you are stuck in a lockdown, you pay for what you get or need. If you happen to be staying in an expensive hotel, tough luck, you still have to pay. A major reason for this is that local governments are under huge financial stress and Beijing is not helping them out. There have been numerous stories of small businesses getting wiped out by crude lockdowns. There is also the problem that while China is a heavy surveillance society, so far as I can tell the tax/welfare system isn’t all that sophisticated, so providing supports to people seems to have been administratively beyond the government, even if it wanted to.

      I think we are now in the worst case scenario for Beijing – covid going loose without an ‘official’ declaration, which will make it seem like all the sacrifice was for nothing. In the past, the usual response to screw ups like this in China is to simply suppress the information, so expect a lot of denial about deaths and illnesses. It will be interesting to do some stress tests on WeChat over the next year, seeing how quickly comments about illness and death simply disappear from your screen live as you type.

      1. Basil Pesto

        Yes, the early system for providing support to people in lockdown stopped a long time ago. Basically, if you are stuck in a lockdown, you pay for what you get or need. If you happen to be staying in an expensive hotel, tough luck, you still have to pay. A major reason for this is that local governments are under huge financial stress and Beijing is not helping them out. There have been numerous stories of small businesses getting wiped out by crude lockdowns. There is also the problem that while China is a heavy surveillance society, so far as I can tell the tax/welfare system isn’t all that sophisticated, so providing supports to people seems to have been administratively beyond the government, even if it wanted to.

        This is just outrageously, unforgivably stupid.

        Beyond China, it’s a little surprising that few people seemed to have glommed on to meaningful Covid control being an “MMT issue” (or, more broadly, a re/distribution of wealth issue). Tooze sort-of almost gets there. Mitchell understands the basic realities and risks/harms of infinite covid I think. I am against UBIs broadly as opposed to a job guarantee, but a temporary UBI to support lockdowns as part of an overarching TTIQ+lockdown+border control strategy would be a superb idea, and would eliminate Covid in any given developed country in a matter of months. Instead we are locked into the slow degeneration that will be the inevitable consequence of trying to “live with” this virus.

        The implications of the global population being shuffled into a cul de sac of either a) learned helplessness, or b) resolute antipathy toward disease control are quite frightening. Say a variant comes along with MERS’ IFR. Or even some other pathogen with a 20% IFR. Do we pursue containment then, or do we just grin and bear it, let the chips fall where they may, if you live you live, if you die you die? This imposed collective determination to not address serious threats is intensely disconcerting.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Yes – the Chinese approach has been horribly splintered and inconsistent. In the early pandemic they threw around some genuinely very good ideas, like tokens to boost local spending. But these all seem to have gotten lost as local governments saw suppressing the disease by whatever means to hand as the way to impress Beijing. Some local areas carried out the policies humanely and reasonably competently. Many didn’t.

          As you say, there is an overwhelming argument for direct income supports during a pandemic. Weirdly, it was the UK that came closest I think to doing it right, at least initially. But in China there is a very, very strong cultural block to the notion of giving people money ‘for free’. For a socialist country, China has a remarkably weak welfare system in the way we understand it (even hyper capitalist Taiwan, Singapore and ROK have better ones in many respects).

          I live near a homeless shelter and drugs clinic, and my Chinese lodgers and friends who stay regularly express astonishment at how well dressed the homeless are here while they drink or do drugs on the street. ‘You mean…. the government gives them money…. but why?’ They can understand free health care, free education, free food. But actually giving cash…. thats just unthinkable.

          In a general sense, I think China has become the hostage to pragmatic decisions made back in the 1980’s about the forms of governance and economic policy. Its generally splintered and decentralized system has many benefits, but the failure to get to grips with how money is distributed from Beijing down to the smallest village has created horrible flaws which are now becoming exposed. In simple terms, local governments in China largely self finance, but they do so without a very efficient taxation system which leads them to becoming highly dependent on local economic growth to generate money through land sales. This works fine in a growing economy, but is massively counter cyclical in a downturn. Beijing needs to understand that it has to start financing directly a lot of things which previously it could leave to local cadres.

  10. bonks

    Guangzhou has suddenly lifted its citywide lockdown without any prior warning today.

    Truth be told if I’m not reading the news I’d have no idea there was a protest happening a few miles away from where I’m living, so I’m inclined to agree with the above twitter thread that these protests are not as big as what the western press is saying, so far.

    Protests are not uncommon in China, typically demanding for practical solutions to issues and hardships encountered, or resorting to legalese like individual rights. I have never heard them utter abstract concepts like democracy or universal values until the day a handwritten banner was hung from a highway in Beijing right before Party Congress some weeks ago.

    Beijing may not have been as upfront about long covid as they should, but videos made by individuals about long covid has spread far and wide, same goes for covid being a potential bioweapon. With that said, young(ish) people in urban areas tend to mistrust government messages. The western press wields a strong influence on them, notably via Instagram and Youtube (what firewall?), so there isn’t really much of a point by Beijing telling them about long covid if the western media continues to (mostly) deny its existence. This is especially evident in my social network which mostly consists of people from the fields of art/music/journalism who are about the same age as the protestors. They are the sort of people who read NYT/WaPo and ignore domestic/regional newspapers. Apparently it’s ‘uncool’ to listen to CCP/CPC.

  11. David in Santa Cruz

    The thread by Kaewae Wong is but one data point in an enormous society, but the Chinese people appear to have been remarkably tolerant of the Zero-Covid line. Why? Their government has remained sharply focused on delivering concrete material benefits to the people. China has advanced from a Third World standard of living to providing hundreds of millions of its citizens the highest standard of living in the world. People will put up with a lot of crap for that!

  12. Karl

    One statement in the tweet storm caught my notice:

    China is not suffering from Long Covid like the 40 million people in the West.

    If true (?), would be good to know why!

    1. eg

      I’m guessing because the aggressive measures to reduce the spread of infection means that fewer people have been infected, resulting in fewer cases of long Covid.

    2. ChrisPacific

      It’s not rocket science. Because of Zero Covid policies, total Covid infections in China are around 1.5M, compared to nearly 100M in the US. The true discrepancy is probably a good deal larger, since China makes much more of an effort than the US to track positive cases. The US is unusually bad, but most Western countries are in a similar ballpark per capita.

      The 40M number for Long Covid in the west is probably pretty accurate – a CDC report from June stated that around 7.5% of the US population were experiencing it, which adds up to around 25 million, and that’s before counting other Western countries like the UK. If we assume that Long Covid incidence is proportional to Covid infection rate, then the fact that the China infection rate is about 99.8% lower per capita than the US naturally translates to a much lower rate of Long Covid as well. It’s probably somewhere in the neighborhood of a few hundred thousand. That might sound like a lot still, but it’s a rounding error in a country of well over a billion people.

  13. Aaron

    Link from two members of a dissident Marxist organization in China (not aligned with CCP). Aligned with international socialist alternative.

    The authors present a much more detailed and nuanced view than any other sources linked in the NC article.

    “The dictatorship has blindly followed a losing strategy, reinforced by Xi Jinping’s personal role: He has a) wielded ‘Zero Covid’ as a weapon in the internal CCP power struggle, forcing regional governments to show ‘loyalty’, b) he has used the policy to massively upgrade the dictatorship’s surveillance and control capabilities.

    Xi’s ‘Zero Covid’ strategy has downplayed vaccination and focused instead on intensive mass testing, contact tracing, quarantine and brutally enforced lockdowns. One million Chinese – including the family of one of the authors – are right now in quarantine centers (fancang), widely described as “worse than prisons”. A record fifty cities with around a quarter of China’s population are currently in some form of lockdown, according to Nomura which provides weekly updates.

    A major change now, a shift to the ‘coexistence with Covid’ stance adopted by most other governments, could overwhelm China’s under-resourced healthcare sector and lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths. A recent Bloomberg Intelligence study showed that China only has four ICU beds per 100,000 people, much lower than rates in developed countries. A u-turn now would also be a humiliating personal defeat for Xi Jinping, as this is seen as his flagship policy. Therefore, the dictator finds himself in “political zugzwang” as Bloomberg columnist Clara Ferreira Marques pointed out, using a chess term which means a player is forced to make a move, but every option makes the situation worse.”

    1. Soredemos

      Somehow I seriously doubt that a Chinese ‘dissident Marxist’ group is any such thing.

      A vaccine focused approach has worked out disastrously for the west. The stuff about ‘worse than prisons’ quarantine centers strikes me as sheer hyperbole.

      “”””The dictator””””, riiiight.

      It isn’t that China hasn’t made mistakes, they have, the biggest one being an apparent refusal to acknowledge that it’s airborne. They’re still using lockdowns as a crude hammer solution when they should have been moved to more refined measures. But those measures would still be focused on halting spread, not vaccine centric, ‘live with it’ madness.

      China’s policies seem at least partly genuinely focused on minimizing death, and its failures or successes should be viewed within that context. Even when they stumble it’s in the name of saving lives, which is far more than can be said of whatever the West thinks it’s doing. “The oriental doesn’t value life like we do” was basically always racist drivel, but to the extent it was ever true, I think we can say that’s been completely reversed by this point.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Its very much a ‘thing’ and has been for decades.

        I’ve no idea about that group, and life is far too short to follow all the various left splinter groups over the years, but a significant chunk of leftist thinking, especially in Asia splintered along time ago along generally pro Soviet/Vietnamese lines and pro-China. A lot of traditional leftists in Asia saw China as having overtly betrayed them by the reforms of the 1980’s and 90’s.

      1. BananaBreakfast

        Lol I was going to say, that’s an interesting citation for the “socialist alternative”. It’s tiresome to always have to yell “cop” when you see this stuff but when it oinks like a pig, smells like a pig, and echoes US intelligence propaganda like a pig, well.

  14. PlutoniumKun

    Just a few late comments to this:

    1. The notion that this is a colour revolution can be dismissed out of hand. There is no way in hell the US or any other power has the intelligence or connections in China to carry out something like this. Its no secret that the Chinese have rolled up most CIA agents over the year and any ‘softer’ intelligence operatives are constantly monitored and the usual NGO suspects have minimal presence. Its about as likely as the Russians having put Trump into power and there is even less evidence for it.

    2. Protests are extremely common in China – anyone who has spent any time in the country will have seen some. They are usually quiet and dignified, but sometimes noisy and occasionally violent. But there are many unwritten rules about what you can protest about and not get your head tapped by a policeman (this of course isn’t unique to China). Every potential protestor in China knows what those rules are. The current protests go well beyond what is normally considered acceptable so, yes, they are a big deal, anyone pretending otherwise is a shill or knows nothing about China.

    3. The inept handling of zero covid is clearly a major component of the protests, but in my very amateur China watching position from far away, it is not the core of the protests. Anyone who has been observing China for a long period will have seen something like this coming. There has been a build up in frustration on many quarters, but especially in young people about a narrowing in options in Chinese life. Since Xi has come to power there has been a closing in of cultural and political life. This has been paralleled with a steady reduction in economic options. Almost every Chinese person I’ve talked to in the last few years who wasn’t independently rich has talked bitterly about how they can’t get ahead because the levels of money and power have been gradually fixed into the hands of insiders. Even if you work hard, get a good degree, and get a good job offer, this can be snatched away from you if you or someone in your family doesn’t know (or can’t bribe) someone who will ensure that offer won’t somehow disappear. You could have a wonderful idea for a business, but good luck getting money from the bank if you are not one of the insiders. China is, in other words, turning into a very class and connection based society, and most Chinese are out of the loop and know it. As the economy curdles (and it is in significant trouble), this can only get worse.

    3. The overwhelming majority of Chinese are either supportive of, or neutral on, the CCP. The minority who don’t like them usually know to keep their mouths shut. Even Party members are often ambiguous – two friends of mine (one a policeman) were party members but would tell me (when not in China) how much they disliked having had to join. But its rare to find many who really love the Party (there is usually a strong overlap between strong nationalism and pro-Party types, I find it hard sometimes to know whether they conflate China with the Party, or its just a parallel support). I’ve met quite a few people who passionately support and love the CCP. They have one thing in common. None of them are Chinese. In short, my belief is that support for the party is very broad, but very shallow. I think Beijing knows this, which is why it can be so paranoid sometimes.

    4. As to where the current process will go, I won’t make predictions, but if I was forced to make a guess I’d say the protest will burn itself out in a few days. Its mostly generalised frustration briefly uniting students, workers and small business people, along with the upper middle classes who particularly loathed lockdowns. But they face the problem in that there is no obvious alternative to the Party. This isn’t like South Korea or Taiwan in the 1980’s when there was a structure in place that could replace an autocracy if it fell. This is more like the old Soviet Union and I think everyone knows it. Most Chinese will chose the devil they know.

    5. It seems pretty clear that Zero Covid is falling apart. The usual response of Beijing to policy screw ups is to simply suppress the information and pretend it never happened. So expect to see more restrictions on information. The big unknown is what form a wave of covid will take in China – its impact will depend on the usual impossible to predict interactions between the local environment and the virus. My guess is that they’ll try to slow it down until the spring. A major wave in the middle of winter will kill millions.

    1. hk

      I don’t have anywhere near connections to China as you do, but this is mostly consistent with my hunches as well. In a sense, it would be naive to expect that the kind of social and economic trends that accompanies modern neoliberal economies would not be a problem in China when Chinese economy is heavily integrated with the rest of the world. Frustration with limited opportunities and insiderism also struck me, albeit based on far more limited cintacts, as widely spread and deeply felt. I would also suggest that the Xi administration, compared to his predecessors, have been both quite incompetent and arbitrary handling Chinese domestic matters–like the rest of the world, perhaps, its (rather heavy handed and sometimes inept) handling of the Covid has not been popular and probably provided the proximate cause for current protests.

      I have a nagging suspicion that this is both bigger and long lasting than people think but not the way Western democracy mongers think. I think the Chinese state elite has grown increadingly isolated from the masses and unresponsive–perhaps a bit like our own PMC. Lack of even formal mechanism (eg elections) means that there’s nothing other than wisdom of the leaders to keep them in check and grounded. Xi strikes me as, well, too grubby, interested mostly in capturing power for himself and his cronies than to keep the Chinese government better grounded and keep jn touch with the masses. This could lead to a genuine crisis in Chinese polity if there’s a big screw up and Xi and his gang may not be able to respond as devisively and resolutely as (well, this is a less than ideal comparison) Deng etc in 1989.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Thanks hk, although I don’t want to exaggerate my knowledge of China. I don’t have time or language skills for it, and it’s been a few years since I’ve been in China. My perspective is mostly one of longevity – I’ve been reading and following Chinese affairs on and off since developing a fascination with China in the 1980’s and doing some research on its economic policy many years ago. I’ve stayed in contact with Chinese friends and contacts their families over the years and I’ve seen the swings and cycles of peoples hopes and ambitions. One thing I have learned is how to spot the shills on both sides (pro and anti China/CCP). I can’t offer any deep insights, but I think I’ve a broader perspective than many – and that includes a lot of Chinese commentators who are very much in a Beijing/Shanghai bubble.

  15. Enzyme

    As Yves asked for feedback on the situation within China and I witnessed things in Beijing recently I’ll comment. Better late than never, I hope. What I observed was fairly minor, but as no one else seems to have provided any first-hand accounts in the comments so maybe this is of use.

    I was queueing up for a Nucleic Acid test in the public square of our residential compound in Chaoyang District last Saturday afternoon. Our compound was in its 3rd day of lockdown at that time. Anticipating an end to lockdown soon, I wanted to get a test result recorded so I could use public transit or enter supermarkets later. While in the long queue for 15 minutes, an unmasked male passing by started shouting at those lined up. My (Mandarin) Chinese level is middling so I cannot literally translate his speech. It seemed like he was harshly criticising those lining up for COVID testing. Everybody seemed to ignore him. At the time it seemed like crank behavior to me as in the nearly 4 years of the pandemic I hadn’t really seen a Chinese citizen agitated about something COVID-related in public.

    As the line moved along during a total 15 minute wait, suddenly there was a great hubbub over by one of the compound gates which are mainly used by residents but can only be used by delivery drivers during lockdowns. Most everyone in the testing line turned to stare. I didn’t look but could hear arguing. There were several people shouting in Chinese (not sure if the aforementioned cranky guy was involved or not), it seemed like an angry confrontation between residents and the “Bao’an” who are everyday security guards at residential gates. At one point I could hear a man shouting “Where are you going / come back here!” (trans.) I got tested and returned home. Later a neighbor I know from the residential compound opposite that gate claimed that somebody, maybe more than one ‘broke out’ or attempted to do so at that locked-down gate. There is another residential gate below our own flat basically 100 meters or so north of the prior gate where the incident I described happened. Nothing at all seemed to have happened right next to our home all day, and within an hour or so of that other ‘gate incident’ we got notification the 3-day lockdown was over. Since that time I haven’t seen or heard of any other such incidents in Beijing.

    The only other thing I can add is that I saw an undated photo from Wechat of several dozen Chinese people crowded together at night in the Embassy District on the west side of 3rd Ring road. The camera angle makes it difficult to see what’s happening because it mainly shows the crowd with only one security guard on the left side of the photo. Everyone’s body language is relaxed and no one appears to be shouting or saying anything – the crowd appears to be intently looking at something off-camera. Everyone in the crowd seems oblivious about social distancing, packed quite closely together. This behavior is rarely observed in Beijing which overall keeps up public social distancing guidance. Perhaps that made this situation an anti-social-distancing protest by default or accident.

  16. podcastkid

    dynamite breakdown…

    Having said that, it is not hard to describe the many ways the Chinese government did not perform as well as it needed to with Zero Covid. First was inconsistent action at the city/province level, which was the locus of enforcement and support. Second was failure to explain adequately why the policy was necessary and desirable. As far as I can tell, it was framed as saving old people. There was no campaign to explain the health and economic costs of Long Covid, the risk of lasting or permanent impairment, particularly cognitive impairment, the danger to children’s development, as well as the difficulty the medical system would have in trying to manage a Covid wave (ie, ERs unable to handle stroke, heart attack and accident victims well).

    A mention of Taibbi last Friday somewhere made me think of Useful Idiots. Useful Idiots made me think of Aaron Maté. And Aaron Maté made me think of his dad. How people will take hits that come with the size of recession that’s headed our way…hundreds of millions of Gabor Maté case studies? “Systemic fragility” is a phrase I’ve heard used (Rasmus, and I think in more ways than one). TPTB tell us for years and years robots are the future, but then when the chips are down, “I’m sorry you’re liable to get sick here, but come to work per usual anyway (and no we don’t have rapid tests here for you every third day).” How did the workers deal with it at “chicken place”? How did they deal with it in those New York nursing homes? To see what they’re really worth in a pinch is traumatizing. And the big question to me is…if you’re that much traumatized, can you really analyze the system at all?

    Couldn’t you sum up a huge academic debate as Karl Popper vs China? Maybe if Popper were here he’d say local regions have to reason it out too, and their input should be weighed (re the US he’d add: it shouldn’t just be Fitzer running the whole show)? Of course, about as much “agreement” as you’d get from our states at this juncture would be interesting.

    Here’s 2 cents from the “essential workers” peanut gallery: Any economists who leave out covid, “supply-caused,” sanctions, or nitwits blowing up pipelines…are off in the wrong weeds (NC doesn’t leave them out). They’ve all contributed to the inflation.

    Re that debate I mentioned, AFAICS you can look at China as functionally both state capitalism and potentially-autarkist [although it needs chips made in Taiwan and energy items from this place and that]. Steve Keen thinks China will be the only large nation that’ll be able to stay united [effective] on whatever projects it undertakes to deal with climate [the REAL looming solidarity litmus test]. For me, I’d like to envision an arrangement where localities are 1)INFORMED enough to add something 2)then say something, and 3)they all sift each others’ inputs out via reason and decide who’s had the best ideas. Right now the US is probably less an example of this. We are distracted by OLD paranoias. OLD narratives. Things COMPLETELY out of place and non-relevant (and when we’re frozen in time, all kinds of nutso things from the past persistently hang around on what most think are the “edges”…nazism eg).

Comments are closed.