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More than a year ago, when the virus that was paralyzing China was only part of the daily news, the RoundTable learned that Evanston resident Kurt Mitenbuler was quarantined in Wuhan province. Last month the RoundTable reposted “Love in the Time of Coronavirus,” his contemporaneous narratives of the quarantine. In this and the four ensuing segments, Mr. Mitenbuler recounts the 2019 visit to his in-laws in China, which was lengthened by the novel coronavirus. Here is part 3 of the five-part the sequel.
This is not unlike … actually, it is entirely like … what previous Emperors, subsequent Dynasties, and administrative bodies practiced, refining it over several millennia so the last couple thousand years became a reasonably codified bureaucratic machine, albeit with all the usual corruption and pestilence deeply encoded political systems exemplify. What starts as religion, morphs into politics, someone said apropos of nothing.
Connections to the Son of Heaven, religious by definition, extended down and into the smallest and lowliest villages, with bureaucrats (todays cadres) administrated and reported back up the hierarchical ladder to the Son of Heaven.
The organizational skills and templates for community action are embedded into the sum of Chinese society in ways that take months or years to identify and understand. There’s this sort of “Oh Boy! We get to cooperate!” atmosphere to the situation, something I’d not ever imagined, let alone seen, in my American experience.
News coverage continued to fascinate. One thing I noticed early on is that as soon as any authority anywhere in the world made a statement, there was a frenzied rush by all media to find countervailing opinions that questioned the original statement, in the supposed propaganda of providing “fair and balanced” news coverage, but which in fact only further confuses the already bamboozled and stupefied.
When Hubei first locked down, I recall there was a professor from the University of Michigan that nobody had ever heard of before or since, stating categorically that quarantine doesn’t work for containing disease outbreaks.
Then there were those insisting they do work.
Then the claim that masks work to reduce transmission, followed by another authority indicating they do not work.
The same bipolar positioning of authoritative commentary became the standard, obfuscating any possible pathway out of the mess.
I propose that this tendency of media to stake out positions one day and then come up with an opposite assessment the following day to be both the finest and worst things about our First Amendment.
From the Chinese media, it started slowly because no one was going to do anything without authorization and then quickly accelerated at warp speed to the repeated Party line of the Party heroically leading the charge against the virus. At one point, it even got to the point where a higher up was insisting The People of Wuhan thank the Party for saving the city. Wuhan is a city known for hot temperedness, and that statement got flamed in an outcry such as one rarely sees in China. The guy and his proposal disappeared from all commentary overnight.
By this time, the Party was attacking this on so many levels one needed a program to keep up with hourly and daily proclamations. Quarantine theater, we called it. In thinking about it, theater had little to do with it. The Party kicked into gear all tools at its disposal, meaning everything under Heaven, to stomp the virus into submission. In retrospect, the virus was essentially extinguished by the end of March, and probably a lot earlier, but it’s impossible to know because such statistics are tightly held government property.
There were isolated viral outbreaks which the Party immediately jumped on and extinguished, but overall, the disease, in any significantly measurable way, was done.
I’ll leave the final analysis up to the experts, but from Ground Zero, quarantine seems to have worked remarkably well.
What must be understood, though, is it was not just a quarantine. It was quarantine with a tightly orchestrated program of testing coordinated with community groups monitoring local populations, hospitals existing and new built specifically for the pandemic, and all information transferred and contained in a contact tracing app in your phone.
Seeing the scope of the campaign, and the essentially flawless execution over an entire country has informed me about the functioning of Chinese society in ways I’d never seen described or imagined.
Food and grocery acquisition was surprisingly …