I found this as I was cleaning up some old Ninefax files. I must have submitted it on the way to the airport because we flew out for Europe the day it was published. That was the last time I flew anywhere for a long time, and we seemed to be a couple of days ahead of the bug everywhere we went. It feels odd, too, that I nailed the pandemic to Xi Jinping’s forehead well before SloMo got in trouble for doing the same thing.
How light it all feels. Like any other passing fancy, I might blog about on a Tuesday. Certainly not something to concern yourself with two or three years later.
Chinese Big Brother is watching you, and glowering fiercely at your pyjamas. Fair enough, unruly citizen, since you wore your PJ’s out of the house and down to the local meat smugglers’ bazaar to buy a bag full of smuggled koala chops and…
Oh, wait, no. It was just the pyjamas.
Sometimes the Middle Kingdom’s Orwellian shenanigans make for a delightful chuckle about the bugshit crazy lengths a murderous superstate will go to in order to keep everyone toeing the line. Last week’s story about authorities in the eastern city of Suzhou naming, shaming and video-doxxing enemies of the state who—gasp!—left the house in their jim jams, made for just such charming drollery. Who has not popped out for some bokchoi or dumplings and thought, “You know what? I look good in my Cheeky Monkey bedtime snuggle suit. I’m just gonna roll with it.”
And sometimes, not so much with the chuckles.
This week’s story about the authorities in the central Chinese city of Wuhan being inexplicably slow to flex the old authoritarianism as a Stephen King-style Comrade Trips virus ripped through the province and literally flew out into the wider world had none of the charm of the pyjama party of the proletariat in the previous week.
It just kind of sucked and got scary, quickly.
It feels eerily similar to previous viral outbreak stories like SARS and Bird Flu. In both cases, Chinese bureaucrats at the lower levels moved slowly, opaquely and with one eye to the neo-imperial court in Beijing, rather than focussing solely on the public health requirements. Only when the bodies started to pile up did things accelerate.
The bodies are starting to pile up a little quicker now, but because of Beijing’s reflexive secrecy health authorities outside China can’t really be sure yet just how toasty warm the Wuhan hot zone might be. The video on Chinese social media quickly deleted and just as quickly re-released, of dead bodies lying unattended on the floor of a provincial hospital, did not inspire confidence in official pronouncements that everything was fabsolutely ticketyboo.
Things may indeed be munted.
But we wouldn’t know that until the munting was too far gone.
Anyway, just a tip, if this doesn’t go so well for us and you see four guys named Larry, Stu, Ralph and Glen wandering through the post-apocalyptic landscape with their dog Kojak, do NOT agree to tag along with them.
I think what's a little sad and innocent about the column is what I see as the underlying assumption that the virus won't get out of hand, or morph into the pandemic we're experiencing today. We had close calls with SARS and MERS and in the early days we seemed to be assuming that COVID would go the same way. Ah, what sweet summer children we were!
This thinking still seems to be prevalent though; the notion that we can return to a pre-COVID world seems to be running through the exhortations to open up and learn to live with the virus etc, and the collapse of this denial, when it comes, will be brutal. As someone far more insightful than me on the Burger pointed out some time ago, we're probably going to end up in a world far more like the alternate world in Counterpart. The pre-COVID world is gone, never to return.