’Tis indeed the season to be jolly. Over the holidays, we can all put our feet up to view a cracking remake of David and Goliath, “The Microscopic Nullity vs Winnie-the-Pooh,” in which a giant bear-like bully has been pushing around 1.4 billion people but cannot prevail against an opponent too tiny to be seen by the naked eye. Inverting the customary balance of power, the narrative arc is classically satisfying: a would-be omnipotent despot is driven to crazed distraction by the sneaky afflictions of the infinitesimal. I’m reminded of a favorite newspaper clipping: “Drunk tries to kill spider, sets house ablaze.”
Because you cannot lock up a coronavirus. You can’t censor a coronavirus or send a coronavirus to a re-education camp in Xinjiang. You can’t frighten a virus into submission or downgrade its social credit score. You can’t force a miserable entity most scientists don’t even classify as alive to proclaim obeisance to the Chinese Communist Party. Xi Jinping is facing down his nemesis — and the pesky, invisible speck is winning.
I can’t be the only one who has harbored a lazy, unexamined impression of the Chinese as passive, biddable and cowed. It’s often seemed from afar that these brainwashed automatons will do anything they’re told and will credulously swallow whatever hokum officialdom crams down their throats. This same condescending stereotype has facilitated Harvard University’s poor non-academic personality ratings of East Asian applicants, whose low scores on “leadership” and “courage” help keep these cursed high-achievers from taking over the entire student body. Of course, this crude racial caricature is belied by Tiananmen Square and more recently by heroic protesters in Hong Kong.
Thus it’s also seasonally jolly-making that the starved, imprisoned, muzzled mainland Chinese, their inflamed nasal cavities poked incessantly with swabs much the way bulls are repeatedly lanced in the tercio de veras stage of bullfighting, are finally seeing red. Folks from an impressive range of ages have displayed, like normal people every-where, a demonstrably limited tolerance for unrelenting torture and incarceration. They’ve had enough of seeing their livelihoods destroyed, their social lives suffocated and their healthcare withdrawn, all because an insentient smidgeon has been disobedient. Gloriously, the Chinese are at last exhibiting the quality celebrated in female-centric sitcoms such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show: spunk.
Jolly-making as well is the comical spectacle of the West’s mainstream media, which for years cheered on these very policies in their own countries, deploring Xi’s repression in his futile pursuit of zero Covid. The New York Times has now declared that lockdown to suppress disease transmission (what the CCP calls “static management”) is “outdated.” So the real problem with shutting people in their homes for months on end while censoring free speech as ‘misinformation’ isn’t the capricious cancellation of civil liberties, which even in “liberal democracies” are now as conditional as Santa’s presents, doled out to children in accordance with who’s been naughty or nice. (“You better watch out/ You better not cry/ Better not pout/ I’m telling you why…” Why, that traditional carol from 1934 could easily be weaponized as Covid propaganda.) No, like skinny jeans, the lockdown is just so yesterday.
And, gosh, contemplating Xi’s failing Whack-A-Mole Covid clampdowns, these same pundits have suddenly noticed that closing businesses and putting whole populations in the freezer, like mince pies that will keep perfectly well until next year, is bad for the economy! I mean, it’s always heartening when anyone comes to a sound conclusion in the end, but after three years of the abysmal results of our cack-handed Covid restrictions rolling in, you have to admit these professional commentators are a little slow.
This is mean, and schadenfreude is hardly in the Christmas spirit, but it’s tempting to relish the economic disaster wrought by Xi’s “China dream” of outlawing a virus. Zero-Covid fanaticism may have cost the world’s second-largest economy more than 2 percent of GDP (and counting). As Xi himself has enjoyed the West’s self-immolation via wokery and our vain obsession with net zero, so we, too, can take a nasty pleasure in the efficiency of an adversary that destroys itself without our having to lift a finger. There’s poetic justice, too, in a tyrant being undone by his hubris. After all, Xi has neatly engineered the very development he most fears: widespread civil unrest.
Yet despite this yuletide jolliness, before we deck the halls with all those boughs of holly, a few hard truths mitigate against too much fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la. Groundswell revolutions rarely carry the day (see: the Arab Spring) and chances are high that through a combination of mollification and persecution, Xi will effectually snuff out dissent (ditto the Ayatollah). If our own media have finally got wise to the futility of far-away lockdowns, these people never seem troubled by inconsistency, much less by hypocrisy. So that doesn’t mean the next time some nefarious variant comes around they’ll have learned the lesson that lockdowns closer to home don’t work, either. However gratifying the mighty Xi Jinping’s defeat by a scintilla, the victims of China’s doomed zero-Covid zealotry are the Chinese people, who don’t deserve their immiseration. Hits to China’s prosperity and productivity will punish us, too. The country manufactures a staggering 30 percent of the world’s goods.
Me, I’ve never been sure why the most successful company on Earth would locate its primary manufacturing hubs in a country notorious for lying, thieving and regarding the rule of law as a nicety as optional as “Frosty the Snowman’”cocktail napkins. But Apple is too deeply enmeshed to be leaving China any time soon. Sales and stock are down, precisely because of lockdown stoppages. My computer, without which I cannot work, is an antediluvian 2013 model, and it’s obvious what I should beg Santa for this year — since any day now this machine could announce that, like the rest of Britain, it’s going on strike. The prospect of confronting a barren showroom in my local Apple Store makes me substantially less jolly.