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China Weaponizes Civil Society

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China Weaponizes Civil Society

Amid the pandemic, Beijing offers a disturbing contrast to America, where mutual aid is enjoying a revival. June 19, 2020
Covid-19
The Social Order

Since the Covid-19 crisis began, China has approached the pandemic in profoundly different ways than democratic countries. Earlier this year, officials concerned about a punitive response from the Chinese Communist Party apparently delayed their warnings about the virus. Then, reflecting the CCP’s penchant for secrecy, Beijing released questionable data about the number of infections. Now, we’re learning that Beijing has perverted the human impulse to help those in need into a weapon of the state.

Communist China views civil-society organizations—churches, mosques, the Falun Gong—as treacherous because of their independence from the state. Indeed, shortly after taking power in the 1940s, Mao Zedong expelled Protestant missionaries from the country. The CCP has gone so far as to dismantle the most basic unit of civilization outside government—the family—through its infamous one-child policy, which effectively bans the existence of brothers and sisters. Today, it’s impolite to ask if someone has children. Instead, one must ask, “Do you have a child?”

The CCP is taking no chances that independent forms of mutual aid might arise from the pandemic. As The Economist recently reported, “volunteers” delivering food to the self-isolating weren’t neighbors acting out of kindness but, rather, neighborhood-based CCP enforcers, whose presence dates to the Mao era. Though Party members delivered supplies, they also used webcams to ensure that people stayed inside. During the crisis, they’ve acted as guards at some 100,000 neighborhoods, “policing who could leave and enter.” In addition, they have deployed the government’s latest instructions via WeChat.

These policies represented much more than an energetic effort to enforce local lockdowns. As The Economist notes, the central government had become increasingly concerned that homeowners’ associations and apartment residents’ groups didn’t necessarily include Party members. In response, the government is moving to ensure such representation through “red property management,” which allows the CCP to become the residents’ voice. The pandemic, in other words, has helped the Party weaponize civil society and stop the growth of independent voices and groups.

By contrast, in America, the pandemic has renewed the tradition of mutual aid, from neighbors helping isolated seniors to nonprofits helping struggling restaurants to feed health-care workers and those suffering from “food insecurity.” Americans take it for granted that such efforts arise independent of government and are laudable. The pandemic has served as an important reminder of the independence and vitality of American civil society, with its multitudinous institutions, including new ones that have formed in response to Covid-19.

It’s a reminder, too, that socialism—with central planning in its DNA—will inevitably view civil society as a threat. Indeed, in Resilience, an American democratic-socialist journal, Russel Arben Fox has acknowledged as much. “We serve socialism poorly by failing to recognize how much of the opposition of conservative people, rural people, and most particularly church-going people to democratic socialism is the result of the sense that there would be no space under the socialist order for their communities and traditions,” Fox wrote. He raises a disturbing question: “Given that many of those traditional beliefs and local practices are inegalitarian or exclusionary, why should we take their fears seriously?”

Even framing the question that way reveals all one needs to know about socialism or Communism. If anyone needs further information, Beijing is providing it.

Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

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