The virus outbreak is also putting increasing pressure on the Chinese government. Many young Chinese people look at the crisis management of the authorities with a diligent eye.

With astonishingly self-critical style, China’s leadership, the Politburo Standing Committee ( article picture ), chaired by President Xi Jinping, announced on Tuesday: “We have to summarize the lessons learned and learn from them.” So it said in a statement distributed on state television on Tuesday. The “deficiencies” in the health system would have to be remedied and crisis management improved. “For the Communist Party, this is a rare admission of own failures.

The increasing number of dead and infected by the corona virus is putting pressure on the Chinese government. 425 mainland Chinese officially died of it by Tuesday morning, which is already far more than during the SARS pandemic in 2002/2003. At the same time, over 20,000 infections have been confirmed by the health authorities.

China Coronavirus l Zhong Nanshan - Scientist (Getty Images / AFP / Str)Too optimistic: China’s top virus fighter Zhong Nanshan

State forecasts too optimistic

Last week, the state health experts in Beijing made cautiously optimistic forecasts: According to Zhong Nanshan, who is supposed to curb the spread of the pathogen on behalf of the government, the epidemic will reach its zenith in about “a week” and then weaken. It is now clear that Zhong Nanshan will not be right. After all, tens of thousands of patients are still suspected cases, the investigation of which has not yet been completed. 

There is great mistrust of the authorities’ statements on social media. In an outspoken and sometimes ugly language, Chinese users rage against incompetent party cadres. When, for example, the mayor of Wuhan wore his face mask upside down at a public event, this was used as evidence of his lack of reality.

His direct superior has to put up with even more ridicule: the governor of the Hubei province stumbles at a press conference. A journalist wants to know how many respirators one makes. Wang Xiaodong initially speaks of 10.8 billion pieces per year, until a paper printout is finally presented to him for correction. “There are 1.8 billion,” Wang says, finally attempting the second – only to have to admit a few minutes later that the correct number is only 1.8 million. “No wonder the pathogens were able to spread so much,” says a user on Weibo, the Chinese Twitter equivalent.

China Zhou Xianwang Mayor Wuhan (picture-alliance / AP Photo / Chinatopix)Symbolizes energy: Wuhan’s Mayor Zhou Xianwang with a commander of the logistics team

Local government is heavily criticized

The displeasure could soon be directed against the political leadership in Beijing. Nobody will be more aware of the danger than President Xi Jinping. The virus outbreak becomes a test for the most powerful man in the country. The 66-year-old has built a leadership cult around his person like no other since Mao Zedong. In such a hierarchical system, the “subjects” are increasingly afraid to pass bad news on to superiors.

As evidence, last week the mayor of Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus outbreak, went public. In the biggest hint of self-criticism to date, Zhou Xianwang said the city’s crisis management was “not good enough.” He was only able to inform the public weeks after the first virus case because the “government regulations” provide for it. Apparently, according to the message between the lines, he first needed permission from the top for the announcement.

In the past few days, more and more details have come to light on how the local government in Hubei tried to cover up the coronavirus in the first few weeks. In a recent study – published in the renowned “New England Journal of Medicine” – Chinese researchers have shown that evidence was already available in mid-December 2019 that the pathogens of the lung disease can be transmitted from person to person. At that time, the Chinese public was unaware of a possible virus outbreak. For the first time in early January, hospital employees published on social media about “mysterious lung disease.” They were temporarily arrested for “spreading rumors”.

China Coronavirus l emergency hospital in Wuhan - first patients are transferred (picture alliance / Xinhua / X. Yijiu)The first patients are admitted to the isolation ward of a record-breaking emergency hospital in Wuhan

Censorship increases mistrust

“I am 100 percent certain that the party cadres have kept the negative news about the virus secret because it would have ruined future promotions,” said a man in his thirties in Beijing after work. At face value, many young Chinese in the capital has been critical of the leaden social climate since President Xi Jinping came into power: “We just can’t speak as openly anymore. People like me, who want the best for our country, ask themselves at some point: Why can’t we receive open information on the Internet? ” Whether Google, Facebook or the New York Times: While many online platforms from abroad were still accessible ten years ago, they have long been blocked on the Chinese Internet. Only those who own illegal VPN software

The authorities are acting increasingly nervously behind the “Chinese firewall”. Internet users and censors play a cat-and-mouse game – for example in the live streams of the daily press conference of the Health Commission, which are lost in critical comments: “I really don’t have to look at such crap!” Writes one user there. Another post: “Our life doesn’t seem to have more value than that of an insect. People, please wake up at last!” A short time later, the comments have already been deleted, only to reappear a little later elsewhere.

In the end, however, the state’s hand sits on the longer lever. “Strengthening public opinion guidance,” said China’s President Xi Jinping. The bigger the crisis, the more control over public messages is exercised. Only: The criticism of the powerful can be deleted from the Internet forums, but not from the minds of the people.


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