Heard the Rumors About COVID and China?
We holed up in a middle-class home in Delhi after Sikh bodyguards assassinated the prime minister of India in 1984. At night, we heard bomb blasts, shouts and rifle shots. Rumors also reached our ears: people were being dragged off of trains and killed! The water was poisoned! With explosions punctuating the night, the rumors sounded plausible. Some turned out to be true, others false: massacres had occurred on trains, but the water was not poisoned.
The Bible likewise speaks of “wars, and rumors of wars.” In times of conflict, all rumors sound credible, but not all turn out to be true.
COVID Rumors Abound
As the new superpower confrontation between the U.S. and China heated up and COVID winged down on us like a bat out of hell, rumors spread with it. COVID came from a lab! It was cooked up as a bio-weapon! China suppressed the truth about its internal spread! They were aiming to kill old folks in Shanghai!
All this sounds credible because COVID did come from China, and because Chinese leadership has shown itself to be ruthless, even ghoulish, in dealing with Uyghurs, Fa Lungong and sometimes Christians. It is easy to conclude, “People who care that little about human life are capable of anything. The truth is probably even worse!”
But in an age of lies, we must cling to truth all the more dearly.
“Capable of anything” does not mean “guilty of everything.” We must sort truth from fiction — and, often, admit ignorance. First, because truth matters. Second, because China is a complex country, full of contradictions. Third, because — as I argued here earlier — we need Chinese allies to help foil the dictators in Beijing. Repeat wild rumors and we lose credibility — and may end up pushing ordinary Chinese away. So, based on my long experience in China, let me try to sort out the COVID-related rumors.
COVID Probably Came From the Wuhan Lab
COVID probably did emerge from that lab in Wuhan. The bat alleged to have brought it lives, at the closest, in Yueyang, about an hour and a half south by high-speed bullet train. None were found in Wuhan markets, let alone with COVID. It is probably not a coincidence that scientists were researching this virus exactly where the disease broke out.
As the satire site Babylon Bee attributed to “Dr. Fauci”: “I’d like to add that there is no evidence the Monkeypox outbreak is connected to the NIH-funded Institute of Monkeypox Studies next door to patient zero.” Right, Dr. Faux-Xi.
COVID Wasn’t Released as a Bioweapon
But COVID was not released as a deliberate bioweapon. It isn’t that Xi Jinping is too virtuous to commit murder. But would an American Dr. Evil try to kill off foreigners by releasing his bioweapon in Kansas City?
The Wuhan Institute of Virology stands a few miles north of where the train line from Beijing to Canton crosses the Yangtze River, with Chungking upstream and Shanghai downstream. Even if some mad supervillain (so unlike the cautious bullies in Beijing I know) were to hit upon so wild a plan, why use a virus that targets the elderly and only kills 1% of those it infects? The KAOS “Nude Bomb” plot seems downright sensible by comparison. And while he may be rather diabolical, Xi Jinping is not clever enough to draw a Rube Goldberg cartoon, let alone make one work.
China Isn’t Plotting to ‘Thin the Herd’
The Chinese government is deliberately trying to “thin the herd” of old folks in Shanghai, the credulous Jim Geraghty suggested at National Review, because fewer elderly have been given the Chinese vaccine. But in previous articles, he had explained that the Chinese vaccine wasn’t much use, anyway!
How does one kill people by neglecting to give them a nearly useless vaccine to a virus (Omicron) that is seldom fatal? A Chinese government plot to eliminate the elderly seems unlikely.
Though Ruthless, the Chinese Government Can Be Over-Protective
“The Chinese don’t care about human life! So anything is possible!”
The CCP is undeniably ruthless. But reality is complex. The Chinese government also sees itself as humanistic, and in some ways it can be overprotective. Walking to my school on the coast of China, I passed a creek barely three inches deep beside which stood a warning sign that reads: “Danger! Deep water!”
In recent years life expectancy has soared in China, and is now not much below America’s, which has plunged. People in Shanghai live longer than those in any major American city.
“According to official figures,” you reply. “And we know what liars the officials are in China!”
But East Asians enjoy some advantages over Americans when it comes to longevity. First, Asian cuisine is far healthier and obesity much rarer. In addition, while the “caring” Biden Administration has let millions of unchecked aliens into our country — some carting in fentanyl, resulting in a hundred thousand overdoses last year — and has allowed violent crime to run rampant, drug overdoses and murder are now rare in China. Also, people drive fewer cars, and speed limits are rigidly enforced by the ever-present CCT cameras.
All these factors and growing prosperity, which no one who has traveled in China can deny, make official life expectancy figures credible, in my opinion — especially in light of a similar rises in other East Asian countries.
China Didn’t Fake Its Low COVID Rates in 2020
“The Chinese government claimed to have COVID under control in 2020. Ridiculous! How could a nation of 1.4 billion people see fewer deaths than Idaho? There must have been a massive cover-up. But no one can know the truth, because China is the dark side of the moon.”
“And look at Shanghai! Watch those videos of people in their apartments banging their pots and pans! People are desperate!”
Strangely enough, some people made both these arguments without realizing that they’re contradicting themselves and the facts.
Is China the dark side of the moon, or isn’t it? If we can get plenty of info about a few hundred thousand cases of Omicron from one city in 2022, why not the tens of millions of cases that, by hypothesis, must have occurred around China in 2020?
In fact, China is not the dark side of the moon. However evil the CCP may be (and it is plenty evil), if it had failed to suppress COVID in 2020, it could not have suppressed that news. Eight thousand expats lived in Qingdao alone, where I worked. Many have friends who are doctors or officials. People never stop talking in China.
Nor was it impossible to shut down COVID Classic. Taiwan, just across the straits, had a death rate in 2020 that was one tenth per capita that of mainland China. No one accuses Taiwan of hiding thousands of deaths!
According to legend, the first Chinese dynasty formed when a chieftain led the tribes to finally control the waters of the Yellow River. Chinese governments have long been good at managing large public works.
Which does not mean the Chinese government will succeed in shutting down Omicron. This updated version spreads more easily, and hides among those who show few or no symptoms. The Chinese “Zero COVID” policy looks like another pandemic-induced obsession, with the Chinese economy likely to be collateral damage.
‘Know What You Don’t Know’
St. Paul said, “Love hopes all things.” So, in a different way, does hate.
On a bad day, it is pleasant to think all manner of evil about our enemies, foreign and domestic. But to do so would not only make us uncharitable. It would also make us marks for wild rumors.
The ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius said, “To know what you know, and know what you don’t know — this is knowledge.” (Or “wisdom.”)
The Internet makes us all instant experts on everything. But it is still wise to take Confucius’s sage advice. After “I love you,” “I don’t know” may be the sweetest words in the English language.
David Marshall holds an undergraduate degree in the Russian and Chinese languages and Marxism, a masters degree in Chinese religions, and a doctoral degree in Christian thought and Chinese tradition. His most recent book is Jesus is No Myth: The Fingerprints of God on the Gospels.