In view of the alarming spread of the COVID-19 outbreak with its epicenter in the city of Wuhan, the measures taken by the Chinese regime revealed the numerous arbitrary actions it has taken against the citizens in an attempt to keep the situation under control.
In a recent opinion column, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, mentioned the way in which the Chinese regime has systematically implemented censorship to subdue the inhabitants of Wuhan, who live under constant pressure.
“This pandemic has now spread to more than 100 countries and territories. Is the city just one big prison-hospital? News and rumor arrive round the clock online, but that dismal barrage in a sense only makes things worse. A few people can’t take the pressure, climb to a top floor and jump into black silence below.”
In such a repressive environment, Ai questions the way the authorities have confined the city to a total enclosure with ditches and walls surrounding it, emphasizing how they have even forcibly deprived people of the ability to leave their own homes.
“The famous bustle of Wuhan takes some macabre forms. Crematoriums advertise online. Face masks command high prices, and the market in body bags grows. In an absurdist gesture, people in some neighborhoods open their windows to join their neighbors in choral renditions of pro-government songs,” wrote Ai.
As Ai points out in the Guardian opinion piece, in normal times it is common to see people in Wuhan addressing political and cultural issues in their conversations, yet the impending outbreak of the virus has left everything else in the background.
“Life and death are at stake, and it is terrifying that something that so monopolizes attention is also unknowable. Where did the virus come from? How far has it spread? How long will the epidemic last? Such questions, shrouded in opacity and lacking any solid ground on which even to invite answers, can make it seem that civilization itself is in question,” said Ai in The Guardian.
The artist wonders about the strict control of information by the communist regime and its selective responsibility toward officials and bureaucratic personalities, excluding the common people, generating a growing skepticism and lack of trust.
“Statements float like clouds, beyond truth or falsity. Questions about a virus—what happened and why?—should be empirical questions that have determinable answers. But not in China, where the problem is not even lack of knowledge so much as lack of a system in which knowledge is possible,” Ai wrote.
“China’s officialdom does have a scale on which it measures the value of particular statements, but the criterion is not truth or falsity—it is how well the statement does something that authorities want to see done,” he added.
Ai explains that it will be a real challenge to “stop the rot of trust in China,” due to its scope, so the Chinese Communist Party is not betting on transparency or trust, emphasizing that its main foundations are intimidation and control over information.
“I have been living in exile for several years. I feel a constant pull to connect with life in Wuhan—I mean with real life, not the cloud of opaque language” said Ai, who concluded by writing, “China is sick, yes, but with much more than a coronavirus. The world is panicking, but only because of the virus, not because of the deeper disease?
Meanwhile, on March 8, the official number of deaths caused by the coronavirus in China increased by 27 with 44 new infections, bringing the overall number of the epidemic to a total of 3,119 victims nationwide, according to the South China Morning Post.