In the streets of China, people are rising up to reassert their human dignity in the face of the most dehumanising machine of social control in the world today: the Chinese Communist Party’s Zero-Covid terror-state.
For three years, the Chinese government has maintained its policy of draconian city-wide lockdowns, endless daily mass testing, and digital Covid-passes. It has set up vast camps to house those dragged into quarantine for weeks at a time, and, more recently, “closed-loop” factories.
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But many have finally had enough. Over the past several days, protests have erupted in at least two dozen cities and 79 universities across the country, with spontaneous demonstrations 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 neighbourhoods. In Lanzhou, they overturned Covid-testing booths; in Chengdu, they chanted “give me freedom or give me death!”
This is without doubt the largest wave of protest seen in the country since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. In some cases, protestors’ frustration with Zero-Covid tyranny has translated into something more: an outpouring of raw anger against the CCP and Xi Jinping.
What has really sparked these protests, however, is the Zero-Covid regime’s lack of basic respect for humanity. On 24 November, 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 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 — instead blaming residents for lacking “the knowledge or capability to rescue themselves” — China’s citizens are convinced otherwise.
They can see the residents were killed by the senseless, inhuman bureaucracy of China’s Zero-Covid machine. They know that they could easily be next. It is their anger and frustration with this system’s mindless stupidity that has prompted them to finally come out en masse.
Like every Kafkaesque technocratic nightmare, the Zero-Covid machine is seemingly constructed entirely out of arbitrary rules. This is a regime that deploys armies of flying robots to pointlessly spray vast quantities of (probably toxic) disinfectant into the air over entire cities; that installs machines in libraries to painstakingly sterilise every book, despite overwhelming scientific evidence that Covid doesn’t transmit through surface infection.
Most visibly, this regime is embodied by the Dabai (the “Big Whites”), the omnipresent “public health” thugs who have flawlessly succeeded in dehumanising themselves into zombie-like agents of the machine 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 while just following orders.
The most surreal and tragic part of all of this, is that there is absolutely no practical or scientific reason for it. As the protests rage, China’s state media asserted again and again that they will continue with Zero-Covid because it is “scientific and effective”. But of course it is neither. Lockdowns don’t work: a fact that was clear from very early in the pandemic. Even masks don’t appear to demonstrate any really any significant effect on transmission. By contrast, the “Swedish Model” for “living with Covid” has by now been fully vindicated.
The rest of the world has pretty much come — kicking and screaming — to accept this reality and allow people to move on with their lives. Which is why when Chinese citizens were exposed to insufficiently censored footage of the packed, maskless crowds of the World Cup, they were in for a shock that may have helped push the country over the edge.
I find it rather odd, then, that Western media outlets have insisted on upholding China’s Zero-Covid narrative. The BBC, the New York Times, Axios, and the Financial Times have all praised China’s “freedom fighters”, but they also echo the Official Line: sombrely asserting that China’s leaders are “in a bind” and can’t actually open up like the people naively want. If they do the hospitals will immediately be overwhelmed, untold millions will die, and the economy will suffer massively. Zero-Covid might be a bit excessive — what with people starving in their apartments and throwing themselves off buildings — and the government should probably 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.
I will 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. 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. Why? 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 the age of 69, and above 99.5% even if the most elderly are included. Vaccines have long been available for all those who want them. None of the 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’s pathologically fearful desperation to maintain total control of everything at all times, no matter how self-destructive the results.
The control-obsessed minds of the CCP’s leadership have been broken by the uncontrollability of the pandemic. 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 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 Chinese people have now woken up.
The pandemic has helped to shatter the image of modern China as a bastion of effective technocratic governance: a country run by sensible engineering PhDs, and possessing the enviable authoritarian “state capacity” to build marvellous mega-projects. Gone are the days when New York Times columnists and Canadian prime ministers daydreamed about what could be accomplished if their countries were but “China for a day”. The truth is of course that even technocratic central planners can be possessed by horrifyingly blind ideological madness just like everyone else.
It is pretty clear why the mainstream international media won’t 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, vaccine passports, QR codes, mass censorship, and brutal treatment of so-called “far-Right” or “conspiracy theorist” dissenters that we saw gleefully implemented by governments all over the world — 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 would be pretty awkward for Western governments. Besides, it seems we’re not done yet with technocratic solutions to “public health” threats: 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 leaders of the G20. The last thing our governments need is for their grand plans to be derailed by the kind of pro-human independent spirit on display in China.
Fortunately for everyone (except the people), police have successfully flooded the streets of China, and the protests seem to have died down. Stability will likely be restored; 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 stop obeying disembodied robot-megaphones demanding that we show our health pass?
This essay originally appeared on The Upheaval on Substack.