Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Plague Pushes China To Breaking Point

'I think this is way worse than we can possibly imagine'
Screen Shot 2020-02-08 at 8.08.07 PM

Read this stunning comment left by “Wyoming Doc,” a physician in Wyoming (whose name I know) whose wife is an immigrant from China:

Has been a while since I last wrote anything. I have had the flu and have been home with my wife for the past several days. It has been fascinating. Our satellite TV provider has a service wherein you can subscribe to the People’s Republic official TV station.

There have now been four occasions where I have witnessed on live Chinese national TV public officials being frog-marched out of press conferences in hand irons. Their crimes? One had his mask on upside down. One did not have a mask on at all. One was stating (translated by my wife) that he had repeatedly been telling Beijing about the problems for weeks – and there was no response. One was answering every question with obvious double-speak (not unlike listening to Nancy Pelosi or Ted Cruz). Shortly into the press conferences, young men from the PLA show up – slapped on the hand irons – and hauled them out and in all 4 cases – it was just stunned silence in the rooms. My wife just casually tells me – “no one will ever see them again.”

It is also clear to me as a physician – listening to the Chinese doctors – and viewing footage from the hospitals and clinics – that this is many orders of magnitude worse than what they are saying. Common sense will tell you that as well – are they really going to torpedo their entire industrial heartland for months – just because 300 people have died? — I think not – I think this is way worse than we can possibly imagine.

My mother-in-law lives in a smaller city – far on the western fringe of China – If Wuhan were Atlanta – she would be in a place like Boise. She had a fever about 8 days ago. Please note – official statistics note that there are 9 people in her province confirmed to have the virus. This belies the fact that she (never known to me to be a liar or fabulist ) has been telling my wife for days that there are hundreds upon hundreds of people all over the sidewalks and streets outside the hospital – and that the hospital is completely filled with patients. And apparently the crematorium has been very busy. Of most grave concern to her – is Beijing nationalized all of their small province’s health care workers and sent them to Shanghai or Beijing – leaving their city of a million with only a handful of doctors. When she had her fever – a nurse looked at her for 10 minutes. They found out she had a runny nose – and because of the runny nose told her she did NOT have the virus. NO TEST WAS EVER DONE – WHY? they simply do not have enough kits – and are having to go by their gut instinct. She was sent back to her own home – and placed in quarantine there – never having been tested. She is unable to leave – and this is being violently enforced in her city. They bring her food 3 times a week. All this to say – any and all numbers coming from China are highly suspect – and basically worthless. And thankfully my mother-in-law is getting much better.

Her younger brother and his young family live in Nanjing. I cannot tell you the grief expressed by my wife the other night – when he called her the last time – and said all international calls have been stopped effective at midnight that day. Nanjing is now under martial law – for the first time since the Japanese occupation before World War II. He told her about the tanks going down the streets and all the main streets being guarded by men with sub-machine guns. All exits out of the city are now being blocked with layers of concrete blocks. Each family has to designate one person who can go outside 2 times a week – to the nearest store for food and supplies. Anyone caught on the streets without appropriate permission – or not wearing a mask is immediately arrested – and placed in quarantine camps themselves. Anyone who thinks this is all being done just because of a “flu” or “a little virus” really needs to have their head examined.

Her father is in Beijing – and has not been heard from in two weeks.

I pray for my wife – all the time. This has been incredibly hard on our family. But we will make it. What I can also tell you – based on my wife’s multiple conversations with friends back home – is that this is really beginning to stir the hearts and minds of the Chinese people. Thoughts about Xi Xinping that would have been never thought to say out loud are being said now – and the whole country seems to be galvanizing around the fact that they have been seriously let down by the Communist Party. I am not sure what will come of that – but this could not have happened at a worse time for Xi – the Hong Kong fiasco – the pork virus disaster – and the trade war with the USA – and now this – the country will soon be at the breaking point.

My other question is for us in the USA. Our supply lines – especially in things like medicine are DEPENDENT now on China. I have been saying for years this is a national security issue. And now their industrial heartland is on its knees. I do not know anything about auto parts and widgets – I do know a lot about medicine. There are many many things (saline bags, cardiac IV meds, antibiotics, blood pressure meds, diabetes meds, I can go on and on) that are only made in China. For the first time since this crisis began – late last week saw the very first issues I am having with my patients not being able to get things. We are promised this will just be the beginning. [emphasis mine — rd] There is no way that we can re-engineer factories quickly to start making things here – it will be at least a year. WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO? When will the Chinese be able to get back to work – is an open question….. This situation was brought on by globalization and neo-liberal policies. It is truly a national security issue at this point – and I think we are all about to get a big dose of blowback. OUR ELITES ON BOTH SIDES HAVE COMPLETELY FAILED US. THE COUNTRY NEEDS A POLITICAL ENEMA IN THE WORST WAY.

Again – what is sustaining me now – is the memory of my grandfather in times of great stress – walking around his house praying in Greek – the Jesus prayer – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Plague crippling the world’s second-largest economy, followed by a possible global depression. And all this coming when the United States is more socially atomized than ever, and people’s anger at each other reaches levels not seen since the tumult of the late 1960s. It sounds potentially apocalyptic, and not just because of the potential deaths.

Interesting times. Might this horror bring down the Communist Party of China? If the sickness reaches us and hits us similarly, what might it do to our political system?

Readers outside of China, are you preparing for the possibility of what’s happening in China reaching us? What are you doing? Wyoming Doc, please keep us informed, not only about your family back in China, but what you think we should be doing here to prepare for the days to come. For my readers who pray: please pray for this doctor’s family, and for all the people of China.


[Note: a reader points out that the images that were here are almost certainly attributable to Wuhan’s steel mills. I’ve taken them down. — RD]

UPDATE.2: Another reader, also a physician, writes to send this link from a new piece on a Journal of the American Medical Association network. The physician adds:

The ChiComs lie–that’s always been their modus operandi. They did it with SARS, they’re doing it now.

Some details worse than the official narrative are beginning to make the make the mainstream medical press. The WHO and CDC are in a bind–either they accept the accuracy of official Chinese reporting, or they public call them out as liars and acknowledge that we have no idea what’s actually going on. And those organizations have a more fundamental mission to assist continuity of government than to medical care, so they are no strangers to dissimulation themselves.

UPDATE.3: Reader Alec:

It’s ridiculous. I’m an American living in Shanghai who just traveled across China for the New Year (to Changsha, in Hunan) and have seen nothing like this man’s relatives are breathlessly reporting. I just got back from Starbucks here in Shanghai where I did some work, and though everyone is wearing masks shops are still open and no freedom of movement is curtailed. This article is highly irresponsible.