FOUNDATION FOR ECONOMIC EDUCATION - Jon Miltimore - NOV 29, 2022
The Covid state is a powerful example of why authoritarian regimes can’t tolerate free speech.
Protests erupted across China in recent days as demonstrators have taken to the streets in what is being described as the largest mass protest in the nation since Tiananmen Square.
From Shanghai to Beijing to college universities across the country, Chinese demonstrators have come out against the ruling Communist Party’s zero-Covid policy, which is entering its fourth year.
Video of the protests has emerged, and the footage is intense and troubling—particularly the images of Chinese security forces beating up defenseless civilians.
While there is general agreement that the protests stem from the state’s draconian Covid policies, it’s unclear as to why the protests have erupted now.
Videos shared recently on social media show Chinese citizens being sealed into apartments. While the clips have rightfully captured a great deal of attention, it’s important to understand this practice is not new. Videos as far back as three years ago show Chinese authorities using the same inhumane tactic.
While it’s possible that Chinese citizens may have simply had enough of these brutish tactics after three long years, something else may have triggered the mass demonstrations: the World Cup.
As early as the day before Thanksgiving, reports had emerged that images from the World Cup—which showed thousands of maskless fans from around the world watching soccer in Qatar—were not sitting well with people in China.
It’s one thing to continue to shut down entire cities and seal off communities (out of benevolence, of course). It’s another thing to do that while millions of people have to watch others having the time of their lives at the biggest international sports event in the world. Chinese viewers were not having it.
"Some people are watching World Cup matches in person with no masks, some have been locked at home for a month, locked on campus for two months without even being able to step out the door," a Guangdong-based user on the social media platform Weibo wrote, according to France 24. "Who has stolen my life? I won't say."
The Chinese government maintains a notoriously tight grip over media, but even propaganda has its limits. The images of humans gathered from all over the world celebrating maskless in a crowded stadium had a clear impact on Chinese viewers.
"The World Cup has allowed most Chinese people to see the real situation abroad," another social media user wrote.
‘Aren’t They on the Same Planet We Are?’
Some might have doubts that images from the World Cup might be responsible for the uprisings in China, but one body is taking the idea seriously: the Chinese Communist Party.
Following the public unrest—which is rare in China—Communist Party censors added a 30-second delay on the games, which gives government authorities time to remove any material the party might find problematic, including images of fans celebrating without masks. And that’s exactly what they did.
“Footage reviewed by Bloomberg News and shared on social media appear to show state broadcaster China Central Television pulling back on footage of the stadium crowds compared to other international networks,” Bloomberg reports.
“While not removing them completely, CCTV often substitutes crowd close-ups with video of coaches, the team bench or anything other than the thousands of jubilant or despondent fans.”
Additionally, social media posts that raised questions about mask efficacy were also targeted by state censors. This includes a viral post (now removed) which asked why no one in Qatar (where masks are optional) was wearing a mask.
“Aren’t they on the same planet we live? Doesn’t the Covid virus hurt them?” the unidentified user wrote.
Who Gets to Choose?
China’s Covid state is running up against the same realities that killed the Covid state in the United States, Europe, and basically everywhere else in the world (though it’s trying to survive).
The reason the Covid state collapsed around the world was not because people stopped dying of Covid. (They haven’t.) It wasn’t because the lockdowns worked or because the vaccine stopped the spread. The Covid state collapsed because it was exposed as a charade.
People tolerated wearing a mask to their dinner table and then removing it when they sat to dine in a restaurant…for a while (and to our everlasting shame). But the policies couldn’t withstand the light of truth. The speaker putting on a mask just before the cameras begin to roll, only to remove it moments later. The pro-mask celebrities living it up at the Super Bowl…sans masks. The pro-mandate politician flouting the law to get her hair done secretly. The governor eating at the French Laundry in violation of his own protection order.
All these actions had the effect of showing just how hollow these policies were.
When the people passing draconian and invasive policies in the name of the public interest refuse to follow these policies themselves, it’s a clear indicator the policies are basically rubbish. Yet the economist Ludwig von Mises pointed out the practice is quite common.
“All those not familiar with economics (i.e., the immense majority) do not see any reason why they should not coerce other people by means of force to do what these people are not prepared to do of their own accord,” Mises observed.
What Mises understood is that the planner is not so much concerned with the outcomes of a given policy, as he is with substituting the individual’s plan with his own. And like so many US politicians, Xi Jinping sees no reason to practice the stringent policies he enforces. He recently met Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel in Beijing; neither man wore a mask.
Yet unlike US politicians, Xi doesn’t have to worry about getting elected, so China’s mad policies have continued year after year. It’s unclear if the Chinese people are even aware of Xi’s mask-wearing habits. What is clear is that the sight of hundreds of thousands of maskless fans celebrating the World Cup in Qatar had the same effect as Americans seeing politicians ignoring their own Covid policies. They’ve begun to suspect that the Communist Party’s Covid policies might not really be about saving lives at all.
The Covid state is a powerful example of why authoritarian regimes can’t tolerate free speech. The lies become powerless when the light of truth exposes them.