Coronavirus Crisis Shows China’s Governance Failure

The Four Percent

“But the most important comfort,” he added, “came from Party Secretary Xi Jinping.”

Mr. Xu, the novelist, said Mr. Ma’s remarks demonstrated how officials had more concern for pleasing their bosses than taking care of the people they allegedly served.

“If they can rearrange the order in their hearts,” Mr. Xu said, “we’ll see a very different governance style.”

As they try to contain the spread, local governments are showing that they are better at looking busy than they are at finding a solution. Many are now finding ways to track down and even expel residents from Hubei Province to keep the coronavirus from spreading. Tracking potential spreaders is sound policy, but punishing or persecuting them risks driving them underground, making it even harder to fight the outbreak.

Even outside the hardest hit areas, local officials are showing they don’t make rules with the well-being of the people in mind. A video that went viral across China showed a couple stuck on a bridge connecting Guizhou Province to the city of Chongqing. The two governments had halted travel between them, and the couple — she from Guizhou, he from Chongqing — had no place to go.

On social media, low-level cadres are complaining that they are receiving so many instructions from the higher-ups that they spend most of their time filling out spreadsheets instead of getting real work done. In a social media post headlined “The Formalism Under the Mask,” the author wrote, “Most people in the system don’t do things to solve problems. They do things to solve responsibilities.”

After the epidemic, the Chinese leadership will have to punish a few officials, even severely, to save face and win back some credibility. But for people who are suffering from the epidemic and the failure of governance, the Communist Party may have a hard time winning them back.

“I know before long this country will go back to being a peaceful, prosperous society. We will hear many people screaming how proud they are of its prosperity and power,” a Wuhan resident wrote on the social media site Weibo. “But after what I have witnessed, I refuse to watch the applause and commendation.”

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