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Date: 23 September 2021 Author: Patryk Szczotka
Is China’s Strategy of Mass Mobilisation Effective Way to Fight the Covid-19 Pandemic?
In 2020, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) notched up a crushing victory when swiftly containing the Covid-19 pandemic in China, which was used for propaganda purposes both at home and abroad. But is the Chinese model of fighting the pandemic sustainable in the long term?
China touted its successful effort to contain the Covid-19 pandemic to the “phenomenal leadership of the Communist Party.” Regardless of this propaganda overtone, the reason for China’s successful battle is its ability to massively mobilize society.
Mao Zedong developed the Mass Line back during the Yan’an Era. It became a key to the CCP’s victory in 1949 in its civil war it waged against the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang). After the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed, the Communist Party still leaned on the strategy to attain its goals, just to quote the Great Leap Forward or the chaos of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.
Seeking to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, China sticked with its zero infection approach, closing its borders to avoid new infections and putting under lockdown any area where cases are detected to prevent the virus from spreading onto other people. Yet this requires mass efforts of the entire society. Not only party cadres got involved in the battle; many more people work for state-owned enterprises, schools, hospitals, and other CCP-controlled public institutions and social organizations, which also become a source of mobilization. Medical and social workers implement lockdowns through street patrols, regular home visits, and distributing food and other daily necessities to the people. Regular people also endured great sacrifices losing personal freedom and going through financial difficulties.
The key to a successful mobilization effort is to shape a common goal for all mobilization participants. From the Great Leap Forward to the Cultural Revolution, the party propaganda machine convinced people that the mobilization served their interests. The Xi regime appealed to a similar narrative, focused on the message that combating the pandemic serves the interest of everyone. China started what it named the “people’s war” against the pandemic.
The longer the pandemic lasts, the more difficult it is to work out a common goal for the ruling party and Chinese citizens and to sustain popular support for the zero-tolerance campaign. After the initial national outbreak, the outbreaks in China have been localized and small while the number of new cases is extremely low. As people see the outbreak as somewhat less of a threat, they have begun to question whether it is necessary to introduce and keep rigid measures like lockdown or mass testing campaigns. This was the case in Yangzhou where people took to the streets to protest against high prices of necessary commodities supplied to people under quarantine. People started to place other interests, such as living a normal life, ahead of the common goal.
If China’s strategy of mass mobilization continues, people may put their own interests over the common goal. It is indeed a tool that proved successful, but the lesson from the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution is that if there is no coordinated strategy attached, this is too little to attain goals.
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