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Coronavirus: China's Struggle for Public Confidence

To understand the Corona virus outbreak, many are looking to comparisons with China’s SARS epidemic 17 years ago. Then as now, officials have been pinched between competing motivations – spread word of the infection in order to maximize awareness, minimize spread, and develop a track record of aggressively pursuing the public interest; versus keeping their jobs.

Xu Zhiyuan, a known critic of the government’s handling of SARS said in a recent New York Times interview, “I thought SARS would force China to rethink its governance mode… I was too naïve” (Yuan, 2020). While response time and medical facilities have all improved dramatically since then, Beijing remains tragically “old school” in its reliance on censoring the internet, media outlets, and civil society. In fact, since Xi Jinping’s rise to power, in many ways the Chinese government has experienced a revival of heavy-handed attempts to limit public knowledge in favor of "Weiwen" ( 维稳)- preserving social stability.