During the worst of the pandemic, there was speculation that Communist China had hidden a massive outbreak complete with a sizable death toll. There was satellite footage of alleged burial grounds. And perhaps there was indeed some sort of localized outbreak that was contained with a sizable death toll. But once Zero COVID policies hit major cities, a breaking point may have been inevitable.
Lockdowns triggered protests, social dysfunction and varieties of political blowback in western nations.
Was China’s cultural resilience, deepened by Communist indoctrination and nationalist sympathies, going to be enough? We’ve seen the answer in the growing clashes between the authorities and the public.
Social media is filled with videos of ordinary people responding to attempts to lock down stories, businesses and even Disney’s theme park with aggressive breakouts. The recent violent clashes with Foxconn workers, a major supplier for Apple, are virtually unprecedented in a society where Beijing appeared to be in total control.
We haven’t seen anything like this since Tiananmen Square. But this isn’t political. It is likely to be very worrying to the authorities precisely because it isn’t political. It’s a sign that China’s 50 cent army patriotism is a mile wide and an inch deep, that ordinary Chinese despise the officials who govern them and when pushed far enough will fight them.
Democratic protests, like those in Tiananmen or Hong Kong can be crushed, but you can’t crush the kind of public contempt and rule-breaking that defined the Soviet Union in its final decades.