Obedience – a Path to Freedom

Published March 2020

If there was a book titled “The Human Response to The Coronavirus”, we would only just be starting the second chapter. After a dramatic start in China, the rest of the world has clambered aboard this blind-folded motorcycle ride.

What has happened in the World in the Past Month

After the outbreak in China, Korean cases picked up in late February. Despite the Government’s requests to cancel public gatherings, the leadership of a religious sect decided to ignore this advice, claiming “We are not afraid of the virus. God is on our side!”. Within a couple of weeks, the nation’s infectious toll reached 4,000, with over 2,800 cases within this particular sect. The Korean government are now suing the sect’s leaders for homicide, causing harm and violating the Infectious Disease Control Act. On March 2nd, The 88-year-old leader and founder of the sect Lee Man-hee knelt down in front of multiple TV cameras to apologize to the whole nation.

In the Middle East, Iran reported its first 2 coronavirus deaths on 19th February. Iran’s cases of infection reached 100 within the first week and reached 1,000 in the following week. In Italy’s case, the virus appeared to have started spreading from a small town in the northern province in Lombardy. However, scientists suspect the virus didn’t hit Italy “quickly”- it was quietly emerging in early January, similar to what happened in Wuhan. Unaware of the true cause, the patients were treated for pneumonia, and records show a sudden surge of pneumonia cases and deaths. On March 11th, Italy finally announced national lockdown, closing all bars, restaurants and entertainment. By March 17th, Italy had 31,000 infected and 2,500 deaths, becoming the most infected country outside China. Similar rapid acceleration has now been observed in a number of other countries. It’s clear that there was a degree of mismanagement of the situation from the very beginning in China, Iran and Italy, and unfortunately, this is still being repeated in many other places today.

On March 11th, the WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic, followed by a number of countries declaring a state of emergency. Countries have closed their borders; mandated quarantine, self-isolation, and social distancing measures have been widely adopted. Events have been cancelled, non-essential retail has been are shut down, and military troops have been stationed in the central squares of major European cities. The virus has spread to 156 countries, with over 200,000 infected and 8,000+ death.

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What Has Happened inside China in the Past Month

After Wuhan’s lockdown, many local hospitals have had to close down their non-virus treatment departments in order to handle thousands of people flooding into the hospital to be tested daily. Over 3,000 medical staff were infected in Wuhan, and the Hubei region. More than 40,000 medical staff from all over China were dispatched to support the 100,000 medical staff on the ground. All of China has been under a state of isolation. The Government has wielded its unlimited power to shut down factories, office buildings, seal residential compounds, block roads, and quarantine any suspects. By mid-March, the new daily infectious cases in China have fallen to low double digits, with the vast majority stemming from inbound travellers (mostly overseas Chinese returning home). A great number of resources have now been diverted to China’s international airports and designated quarantine locations. As of mid-March, there are more people walking on the streets; shops and restaurants are re-opening (in Beijing, restaurants are permitted to open under a “one person per table” rule, though the rule has not been strictly enforced). President Xi’s March visit to Wuhan has been seen as the announcement of victory, although there is still no timeline for Wuhan to be set free from the lockdown.

After the death of whistle blower Dr. Li Hongliang, Li’s colleague Dr. Ai Fen, who is referred to as the whistle provider (for giving Li the information), reviewed her experience as a chief physician working day and night at the frontline., She spoke of her emotional struggle as she watched colleagues succumb to the virus and be criticised for “spreading negative information and disturbing a peaceful society” by local administrators. This media interview was quickly removed from social media, which led to a massive discussion about “How to Bypass the Censors”, with techniques such as replacing sensitive words , blending acceptable and non-acceptable content together, writing in a vertical format (rather than horizontally) and use of Pinyin (Romanized lettering to replace Chinese characters) as some of the most common tactics.

It’s worth pointing out that there has been clear evidence from China over the last few weeks that TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) treatments have achieved a higher than 90% success rate, which is under-reported in Western media. In the beginning, Chinese hospitals were heavily reliant on ECMO, and only through autopsy has it become apparent that without clearance of the infected airway to the lungs, oxygen ventilation is of limited impact. TCM has been proven to be effective in clearing the airway. Today, China has dispatched multiple medical teams with TCM experts to countries including Italy and Iran. Human learning often seems to be built upon a mountain of sacrifice, and such sacrifice does not always result in forward progress.

Wuhan achieved its first day of “zero new cases” on March 19th, although many are skeptical of the accuracy of Chinese statistics. For common Chinese people, they do feel they are starting to once again have a life beyond facemasks and hand washing. Chinese experts believe that as long as all the current strict measures remain in place, the chance of a second virus outbreak is unlikely. 

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Impact on Education | Chinese Students Studying Abroad

China has closed all universities, schools and childcare facilities. Contrary to many European youths who can still go out to play sport or to attend social events and party after school closures, China has imposed strict control over movement, and students are studying at home under strict parental supervision. Thanks to the recent rapid growth of online education, most of the schools, universities and extra curriculum providers are able to offer an online solution.

For students who wish to study abroad, the impact is severe: all face-to-face recruiting opportunities have been cancelled and the online recruiting options are limited. All major exams have been deferred. Students applying to US colleges won’t be able to complete internships, community volunteer work and other necessary CV broadening activities. China’s economy has been stagnant in the first quarter of this year. Many families will need to review their financial position and will become more price sensitive. A large Chinese agency platform is expecting a 5-10% decline in study abroad applications in 2020. Some US universities even forecast a 30% decrease in students arriving from China. The reality is that many students who are in the international system have no way to re-enter the Gaokao path, and will have no choice but to study abroad. Most of the students in their final year have already decided their study destinations, so the impact may not be as significant as predicted, but may linger into the 2021 intake.

While countries impose travel bans for Chinese travellers, many Chinese students are either trapped in their lockdown regions or being rejected entry by their study destinations. Some have spent weeks returning to campus via 3rd countries, only to find there is no toilet paper, no masks and only online classes. Unable to feel secure in such an environment, some of these students rushed back to China, where upon arrival, they found themselves facing a 10 hour-long health check procedure followed by 14 days of compulsory isolation away from their families.

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A Divided View – China vs. the West 

While some are asking the Chinese Government for an apology for mismanaging the situation, many mainland Chinese families feel the reverse: Brought up on Chairman Mao’s ideology of “Man can surely defeat Nature” (人定胜天), the Chinese believe through enforcement of quarantine and self-isolation, the virus will be exterminated from human society, and the statistics from China are proving this could be true. The western view of this virus – that it will likely be a part of our lives for many years to come – is viewed by many Chinese as the outcome of a weak government and an undisciplined population.

Many mainland Chinese are wondering why all of China can stay at home peacefully for two months yet upon the isolation announcement, the Italians were marching in the streets demanding freedom of movement? They are frustrated with the rest of the world for not implementing more forceful measures to completely remove the bell curve rather than just aiming to “flatten” the curve. A Chinese social media contributor with the moniker “the Trojan Horse” pointed out that China has been taking an exam which combined Politics and Biology and has done well (so far). Most Chinese are used to thinking there is only one correct answer to the question, and China had got the right answer.

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From the Editor

According to the WHO, amongst the infectious diseases, Tuberculosis causes 1.5m deaths each year, Hepatitis 1.3m, and HIV / Aids 770,000 deaths per year. In Hubei Province (of which Wuhan is the Capital city), heart disease, cancer and stroke are the top 3 causes of death. For cancer alone, there are 160,000 new cases each year in Hubei and 110,000 deaths. While society has become completely focused on battling COVID-19, fewer medical resources are left for other illnesses. It’s estimated that the deaths from other causes in the last few months are 20 times higher than deaths caused directly by COVID-19 in Hubei.

Maybe this is a great time for educators to provide frameworks to guide the thinking of the younger generation, to help fully develop their empathy and kindness, and encourage them to identify issues and causes, look for the optimal solutions, and build their own logical and independent thinking.

Whether it be shutting down schools or isolating the elderly, selective testing or compulsory testing, telemedicine or drive-thru clinics, or GPS tracking, each nation is acting according to its own situation and judgment. Wearing a mask or not, stocking up on toilet paper, or ammunition; strictly following a self-isolation rule, or marching on the street against a lockdown, individuals are behaving in accordance with their value sets. With trust, even a totally biased / hallucinated trust, a glorified vision of the correct solutions can be developed and spread fast. Both in China and beyond, while some complain about boredom from the lack of entertainment, others are struggling to make ends meet. Some of us will lose jobs, some of us will lose our homes, some of us will lose our loved ones. The desperation to live seems to have made everyone compliant, at least to a degree. Yet the cry for a “normal life” can also lead our action against the best interests of virus prevention. Is obedience a golden path to freedom? Or is it a paradox? When should a society adopt a mitigation approach and when does this interference escalate into suppression? Fear and concern have long been with us, and COVID-19 is just one of the many threats we are facing. There is no absolute “correct measure”, no winner in this war, only survivors who will live to tell the story.

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