Report of the WHO Joint Coronavirus Mission to China1 released this week opened a new sequence for the Chinese Communist Party and itssoft power. One of the most important scientific journals in the world, commenting on it, indeed draws these conclusions:
China appears to have avoided a large number of cases and deaths linked to the coronavirus, despite the heavy consequences for the country’s economy. In its report on the joint mission, WHO recommends that countries activate their highest-level health crisis management protocols to ensure coordinated government responses and thus contain the spread of the virus. Much of China’s success depends on an efficient administrative systemthat it can mobilize in the event of a threat, coupled with the consent of the Chinese people to submit to binding public health procedures. Although many other states do not have such control over the economies of their countries, governments can learn important lessons from the Chinese experience. However, it appears that these lessons have still not been learned.
The Lancet, “COVID-19: too litle, too late? “
When they returned from China, the WHO emissaries had already spoken of state-of-the-art hospitals and state-of-the-art machines, saying that we should all be thankful to China for the way it has slowed and limited the contagion. Bruce Aylward, head of the WHO delegation to China, said recently in the New York Times : “The Chinese response can be replicated, but it will take speed, money, imagination and political courage “2 .
Beijing is playing the soft power card
In this context, Beijing is playing the soft power card. Domestic propaganda is hostile to the United States, without fail to emphasize the “superiority of the Chinese system” and the “wisdom” of Xi Jinping. There is no shortage of arguments: the failure of tests made available by the American health authorities, as well as the suspicion that the government of Donald Trump is hiding the real figures of the contagion to the virus in order to calm the reaction of the markets in an election year , have in turn led to a reassessment of the balance sheet of actions taken by the Chinese government. Several media, as well as several commentators have since emphasized how “China has won and is now becoming a model”3 .
How to understand this?
It is often said that the Chinese have a Taoist soul (almost always underestimated in the West) and Confucian clothes. Like all categories of common sense, these are two simplifications that should be nuanced, because they risk returning to an exotic or even reifying imagination: Confucianism and Taoism have immensely changed and evolved over time, ending by designating heterogeneous elements.
However, in an operational way, we can take these two categories in a very flat way, like a typology or a diagram. The Taoist soul would then manifest itself in a determination not to obey, in the legitimate aspiration for rebellion, in the ” revocation of the mandate ” 革命4 (Chinese history is rather full of revolts). Clothes, on the other hand, would be the recognition of a hierarchical system (from family to state) capable of governing not only men, but nature itself – on the one hand, a skepticism vis-à-vis the authority and on the other, an acceptance of hierarchy on a daily basis.
It is often said that the Chinese have a Taoist soul (almost always underestimated in the West) and Confucian clothes.
These two poles are not opposed, but they interact. Instead of denying each other, they create something new, providing the framework for the government’s Chinese experiences. In particular, these two movements of rebellion and obedience are articulated in the possibility of judging or revoking the mandate of those who govern and ultimately play an important role in creating a collective sense of responsibility for all of population. The reign of Xi Jinping gives a good indicator of this trend: the Chinese dream theorized by the President of the People’s Republic of China is a collective dream while the American dreamis essentially individualistic. The management of the epidemic crisis presents an interesting development of this double tendency and of the capacity of the Chinese Communist Party to interpret it.
New Party Clothes in the COVID-19 Era
As the WHO seems to indicate in its report on the Coronavirus5 and as claimed by the Chinese authorities, the CCP has managed to manage the coronavirus crisis by relying on the forces of a paternalistic state, capable of opening a breach in a population ready tomobilize en masse, to execute orders if it considers them just, correct, aiming atharmony, at a form of economic and social stability. All the more in times of crisis which presents a vital threat.
On condition that we go beyond the moment of criticism, very numerous at the beginning as shown by the wave of protests on social networks and the mobilization of university professors at Tsinghua against the Party’s management of the crisis, a crisis like that of the Coronavirus which leads to a state of emergency can create the political space for mechanisms from above able to place the CCP at the center of the social scene in China, as the engine and rebalancer of complicated situations, to the point of forgetting the initial shortcomings of the political-administrative machine.
Mobilization has always been a fundamental concept in Chinese politics.
Indeed, the mobilization (动员6 ) is a fundamental concept in Chinese politics. As Li Zhiyu recalls inAfterlives of Chinese Communism7 , the term “indicates the use of an ideological system by a political party or system to encourage or force members of society to participate in certain political, economic or social objectives in order to obtain results and proper deployment resources and people on a large scale ”.
This is what is happening with the coronavirus: taking temperature everywhere, especially in the metro entrances; permanent cleaning of public transport, where traffic has not been blocked. Each place contributes, on its scale: in some places, the working hours of supermarkets or shopping centers have been reduced to avoid the risk of contagion, in others – villages, especially – everyone is trying to assisting doctors traveling from house to house as much as possible to detect fever and report possible contagion. With the blockage of resources, many individuals have made themselves available to hospitals to transport equipment from one place to another, devoting all their days to it.
In this context, as underlined by the sinologist Nathan Sperber interviewed by the Grand Continent , an important role has been played by the juwei居委, the residential committees which concentrate the majority of actors in the field (outside the medical system) for the detection, identity checks, the application of home quarantines.