As the pandemic became a global threat, each country reacted to it with its own approach. I wrote about the responses enacted by Western states such as Germany, Italy, New Zealand and the United Kingdom in the first part of this article. The desire to understand the situation better brought me to search for further answers by looking at China; the Chinese government has in fact stated that their Covid-19 containment policy should be taken as a lesson by Western societies. To learn more about it, I spoke with Yue Hu, a 25-year-old Chinese woman currently living in Shanghai.
Yue Hu couldn’t recall the date of the first confirmed Covid-19 case in the country but she remembers the government’s efforts to comfort people, while, on the other hand, the government took actions to silence Li Wenliang, a Chinese ophthalmologist who was the first person who spoke out on the new type of coronavirus. “There was no data or information about Covid-19 [initially]”, Yue stated “However, the government took action promptly, imposing a lock down to the whole country”.
The Chinese government immediately adopted policies with regards to the compulsory use of masks, the need for permission cards for outside movement, the cancellation of public transport, the closure of all public spaces and enforced price fixing of daily necessities to keep them affordable. Chinese healthcare authorities promptly divided each medical facility into a quarantine site and a normal site. They also accomplished the feat of building a new hospital in only six days.
Regarding the impact of Chinese social policy on her daily life, Yue said that all her activities had been constrained during the lockdown. “Covid-19 makes job hunting more and more difficult, especially in the art industry,” she stated “so I have had to direct my interest to another field in order to make a living.” Despite the changes this created in her life, Yue thinks that the policies adopted were efficient in protecting people from new infections, even if they could be perceived as “merciless”. Yue doesn’t know the details of the Chinese government’s future Covid-19 agenda, but she trusts they have a plan.
It’s still hard to predict future infection trends, particularly as the virus mutates quickly as it moves from a host group to another. Because of this, Yue thinks that Chinese social policy will be improved and strengthened in the area of personal hygiene. In addition, she hopes for a change toward a society with a better work-life balance, with an increased number of public holidays and flexible working hours. This pandemic demonstrated that flexible working solutions could be used to improve the well-being of those working in office-based jobs.
Mei Banfa is the pseudonym chosen by the second person I interviewed for this article. He is a 28-year-old European man living in Beijing. Like Yue, he named the case of Li Wenliang, the Chinese ophthalmologist who worked at Wuhan Central Hospital. On 30th December 2019, Li Wenliang issued an emergency warning to local hospitals regarding a number of mysterious pneumonia cases, while the Chinese government attempted to cover up the outbreak of a “SARS-like coronavirus” in the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan. However, it wasn’t until the beginning of January that the local government decided to close the market to limit the spread of infections.
“The policy most specific to China”, Mei stated “was to extend the Chinese New Year holidays. They are often referred to as the largest annual human migration in the world, with figures amounting to around 3 billion trips back and forth between villages and cities.” When the outbreak spread out of proportion, many were already in their holiday locations. As a result, the government managed to effectively slow down and contain the infections, avoiding a scenario in which people would be exposed to the virus in crowded train stations, airports and highways.
As a European from one of the countries worst hit by the virus, Mei often received unannounced visits by local authorities both to his home and workplace in Beijing. These were to check on his travel status, whether he was still in China, if he had been interacting with returning Europeans and so on. “As a result [of the checks], a widespread mistrust towards foreigners began to develop, ultimately targeting those already suffering discrimination, such as people of colour, and affecting the reliability of housing rentals, as well as job stability and personal safety”, Mei stated.
Throughout this crisis, Mei perceived the country’s leadership to be under a previously unseen level of stress and he began to worry about the “stability” of the Chinese government. Ultimately, measures such as a strict control of information, highly restrictive social measures and a heavy propaganda were successful at maintaining the status quo.
Despite Mei’s efforts to integrate into local society, he noted that “the time for full integration in China’s society is not yet mature.” On the other hand, “no man is an island” is Yue’s way of describing her own unusual situation. “We have to overcome many barriers together”, she stated “The pandemic is just an alert for the public [about the need to pay] attention to healthcare. The situation taught us an important lesson: all human beings are vulnerable when facing a virus that comes from nature.”
Cover image and Photos by Yue Hu, 2020. All Rights Reserved.