Does the Shanghai Lockdown Absolve the Chinese Communist Party?
Not so fast…
The brutality in Shanghai is all too real. Millions of residents in China’s once-cosmopolitan financial capital have been under strict lockdown for a month. They’re not allowed out, even to get food, and videos have emerged of many screaming from their balconies in desperation. Foodstuffs are inadequate and rotten and medical care is practically inaccessible. Those who test positive for COVID are taken to sparse, overcrowded detention camps resembling prisons. Infants are separated from their parents. Pets are killed. Lockdown apologists across the world are at pains to distinguish the policies they’ve spent two years advocating from this barbarism.
In light of this grisly spectacle, some have argued that the case against the Chinese Communist Party has been put to rest. Seeing as no government would stoop so low as to visit this kind of misery on their own people unless they believed it necessary, so the thinking goes, we can rest easy knowing this has all been one big misunderstanding.
Not so fast…
It’s unclear whether the Shanghai lockdown came top-down from the CCP’s leadership or bottom-up from overzealous city officials. Nonetheless, the Politburo has, at this point, deliberately allowed the Shanghai lockdown to proceed. While it may look like an inexplicable act of self-sabotage surpassed only by that inflicted by western leaders over the last two years, the Shanghai lockdown serves the long-term interests of the CCP in several ways.
1. The Shanghai lockdown keeps the idea of virus containment alive.
Earlier this year, owing to political sentiment and a stubbornly persistent resistance, most COVID mandates around the world were temporarily lifted, often with little scientific rationale to speak of. Yet, as the rest of the world rolled back restrictions, China returned to hard lockdown, first in Hong Kong and then, even more spectacularly, in Shanghai. To critics of public health mandates, the return of China’s ghastly lockdowns would appear to be a complete refutation—if more was needed—of the philosophy of virus containment.
But does anyone really think the CCP will let the Shanghai lockdown “fail”? The Party shows no sign of abating its years-long data fraud; though Shanghai has reported hundreds of thousands of cases, it has yet to report any COVID deaths. The Party leadership can, and eventually will, declare victory and stop the lockdown anytime. And such victory will be shared by containment apologists everywhere as a reminder that a respiratory virus can be beaten, even in a metropolis like Shanghai, through totalitarian measures.
At present, the Shanghai lockdown is almost universally denounced by onlookers. But so was the Wuhan lockdown. In Shanghai, the CCP is employing more genuine brutality than in Wuhan—but that doesn’t mean the suffering during the Wuhan lockdown wasn’t real. Millions of Wuhan residents really were locked up. Zhang Zhan, one of the first vocal critics of the dire conditions during Wuhan’s lockdown, is still in jail.
With some exceptions, western proponents of lockdowns and mandates have avoided telling leaders to “copy China” outright. Rather, China was an infinite excuse for the failure of their own policies. When mandates failed, as they inevitably did everywhere, the Wuhan lockdown was held up as an example of what they could achieve, but only in a country able to visit that kind of brutality on their own people—such as in Wuhan by “welding people in.” By this logic, the failure of lockdowns in the rest of the world was not a failure of the policies themselves, but merely a failure of welding.
In most states and countries—especially liberal ones—political leaders never actually foreswore the lockdowns and mandates they implemented. A “victory” in Shanghai more brutal than that in Wuhan could serve as an even-more-spectacular example of the public health benefits totalitarianism can confer—ammunition for China and containment apologists to begin their “no true Scotsman” loop anew.
2. The Shanghai lockdown reassures western trading partners that China is as dumb as they are.
As western health authorities continue to dissemble and squander their credibility, increasing numbers of citizens are asking uncomfortable questions about the role China played in the response to COVID-19. For example, my book is currently among Amazon’s top search results for “Xi Jinping.”
China’s influence on the response to COVID-19 is still considered an esoteric topic. But the CCP does know about it. The title of the book, “Snake Oil,” while being a western expression, is easily translatable, and gives a clear indication of what the book is about: The CCP used COVID-19 to sell its trading partners on a suite of self-perpetuating, totalitarian containment measures while knowing them to be ineffective. To trade something while knowing it to be defective is a taboo in virtually all human civilizations; it’s considered an underhanded form of theft.
A strict lockdown in China’s most international city is a very visible way to nip this narrative in the bud. The catastrophic spectacle reassures nervous western trading partners that China is every bit as dumb as they are and really does believe in the containment measures it gave them.
3. The Shanghai lockdown is useful political theatre to the CCP, further binding China’s population to the Party.
In western countries, a taboo has long existed against leaders’ inflicting hardship on their own people unless absolutely necessary. This leads them to believe that the CCP would never impose this brutal lockdown on Shanghai unless they really thought it would work.
But no such taboo exists in communist countries. China’s leaders visit as much hardship on their people as they want, whenever they want. The global COVID containment system, like the global communist system, is itself propaganda; though the brutality is real, individual human beings are mere set pieces in service to a narrative with a goal that was never obtainable. A hardline communist like Xi Jinping, who spent time in a forced labor camp as a youth, isn’t about to lose sleep over some bankers in Shanghai missing a few meals. On the contrary, China’s top leaders are more inclined to see the lockdown as character building; a lesson to the rich kids that sacrifice to the Party comes first, and a reminder to the people all across China that they really are all in this together.
Michael P Senger is an attorney and author of Snake Oil: How Xi Jinping Shut Down the World. Want to support my work? Get the book.