New York Times: Surveillance and censorship bolster Beijing’s uncompromising grip on power. But in the country’s cities and streets, people have resumed normal lives.
In a Topsy-Turvy Pandemic World, China Offers Its Version of Freedom
By Li Yuan
While many countries are still reeling from Covid-19, China — where the pandemic originated — has become one of the safest places in the world. The country reported fewer than 100,000 infections for all of 2020. The United States has been reporting more than that every day since early November.
China resembles what “normal” was like in the pre-pandemic world. Restaurants are packed. Hotels are full. Long lines form outside luxury brands stores. Instead of Zoom calls, people are meeting face to face to talk business or celebrate the new year.
The country will be the only major economy to have grown this past year. While such forecasts are often more art than science, one outfit is forecasting that the Chinese economy will surpass that of the United States in 2028 — five years earlier than previously predicted.
The pandemic has upended many perceptions, including ideas about freedom. Citizens of China don’t have freedom of speech, freedom of worship or freedom from fear — three of the four freedoms articulated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt — but they have the freedom to move around and lead a normal day-to-day life. In a pandemic year, many of the world’s people would envy this most basic form of freedom.
The global crisis could plant doubts about other types of freedom. Nearly half of voting Americans supported a president who ignored science and failed to take basic precautions to protect their country. Some Americans assert that it is their individual right to ignore health experts’ recommendations to wear masks, putting themselves and others at increasing risk of infection. The internet, which was supposed to give a voice to the voiceless, became a useful tool for autocrats to control the masses and for political groups to spread misinformation.
Of course, the Chinese government is eager to help the world forget that it silenced those who tried to warn the world in the early days of the outbreak.
But there’s no denying that China’s success in containing the outbreak burnished Beijing’s image, especially when compared with the failures of the United States. It has given currency to the so-called China model — the Communist Party’s promise to the Chinese public that it will deliver prosperity and stability in exchange for its unrelenting grip on political power.
“In this year of pandemic, the Communist Party has provided the public a social good: stability,” said Dong Haitao, an investor who moved to Beijing from Hong Kong in August.