The Information Politics of COVID-19 in China
- 164 Downloads
This chapter documents two information failures in China in early stages of the coronavirus that became the COVID-19 pandemic. First is the failure of timely and truthful upward reporting from Wuhan in December 2019 and early January 2020, which kept Beijing ignorant of the outbreak and spread of the virus. Second is the official misinformation to ordinary citizens in mid-January, even after Beijing understood the risk of transmission; this was accompanied by an aggressive campaign of censorship and intimidation of netizens who posted news about the virus on social media. Both failures were also evident in China’s SARS crisis of 2002–2003 and stem from systemic problems of information politics. China followed these failures with responses that are unusually sensitive to the tradeoffs between centralization and decentralization. With the draconian lockdown of Wuhan, Beijing exercised effective leadership by directly taking charge. Then, by invoking the Emergency Response Law, which mandates highly localized response, it permitted localities down to the county level to exercise discretion in choosing a policy response suited to local conditions and report upward ex post. With its capable response, Beijing has deflected attention from early failures, especially by comparison with bungling by governments elsewhere in the world.
KeywordsInformation Politics Coronavirus Transparency China
- China Data Lab. 2020. “China Covid-19 Events Timeline.tab.” Policies and Regulations. https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/OAM2JK/NAMW8X, Harvard Dataverse, V8, UNF:6:JqS0gAZjLDn7OqaXP/ZvNw== [fileUNF]. In Chinese. Accessed 29 April 2020.
- Chinese Human Rights Defenders. 1 April 2020. “A Healthy Society Should Not Have Just One Voice. China Must End Crackdown on Online Speech in Response to COVID-19.” At https://www.nchrd.org/2020/04/a-healthy-society-should-not-have-just-one-voice-china-must-end-crackdown-on-online-speech-in-response-to-covid-19/. Accessed 29 April 2020.
- “COVID-19-timeline.” At https://github.com/canisminor1990/ffxiv-timeline/blob/master/README.md. In Chinese. Accessed 29 April 2020.
- de Lisle, Jacque. 2004. “Atypical Pneumonia and Ambivalent Law and Politics: SARS and the Response to SARS in China.” Temple Law Review, vol. 77, no. 2: 193–245.Google Scholar
- Dickson, Bruce J. 2016. The Dictator’s Dilemma: The Chinese Communist Party’s Strategy for Survival. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Gao, Jie. 2016. “Bypass the Lying Mouths?: How Does the CCP Tackle Information Distortion at Local Levels?” China Quarterly, no. 228: 1–20.Google Scholar
- Hua Sheng. 16 February 2020. Weibo Account. “If the Attack on Gao Fu Has Missed the Target.” https://baijiahao.baidu.com/s?id=1658700809000730932&wfr=spider&for=pc&isFailFlag=1. In Chinese. Accessed on 29 April. 2020.
- Huang, Yanzhong. 2003. “The Politics of China’s SARS Crisis.” Harvard Asia Quarterly, vol. 7, no. 4: 9–16.Google Scholar
- Huang, Yanzhong. 2020. “China’s Public Health Response to the COVID-19 Outbreak.” China Leadership Monitor, no. 64. At https://www.prcleader.org/huang.
- Myers, Steven Lee. 29 March 2020. “China Created a Fail-Safe System to Track Contagions. It Failed.” New York Times.Google Scholar
- State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China. June 2020. “Fighting Covid-19: China in Action.” At http://english.scio.gov.cn/whitepapers/2020-06/07/content_76135269.htm.
- Stockmann, Daniela. 2013. Media Commercialization and Authoritarian Rule in China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Su, Alice. 6 February 2020. “A Doctor Was Arrested for Warning China About the Coronavirus. Then He Died of It.” Los Angeles Times.Google Scholar
- Swaine, Michael D. 2020. “Chinese Crisis Decision Making—Managing the COVID-19 Pandemic. Part One: The Domestic Component.” Chinese Leadership Monitor, no. 64. At https://www.prcleader.org/swaine.