Must Have Chinese Characteristics

Brutal, draconian zero-Covid measures are often contrasted against the seemingly laissez faire approach of governments in the West. These measures have somehow been identified as characteristically “Chinese” and more superior to the West early in this pandemic. Many people are still scratching their heads, wondering how some of the most prosperous and progressive cities in the world could descend into a dystopian nightmare with people starving, dying from neglect and suicide.

Actually, it’s not that difficult to understand. The mindset here is very similar to that seen in martial arts and the quitting from international university ranking. I don’t take such rankings seriously either, but there’s a difference between taking things with a pinch or salt and arrogantly denouncing it.

Even though it has been proven time and again that wushu, the way it is being practised today, is impractical in the competition arena, the authorities continue to proudly promote wushu as something superior. To stop mavericks like Xu Xiaodong from proving otherwise, they banned competitions between different martial artforms and scrubbed Chinese social media clean of all video footage that make them lose face.

Fighting Covid the way they are doing now is like insisting on using Taiji to fight MMA and hoping to win – by disallowing competition. They reject mRNA vaccines. They reject living with the virus. There is only one way – the one with Chinese characteristics.

The idiom 闭门造车 used in the video can be understood as shutting one’s doors to make a chariot at home and admiring it as the best in the world without seeing what others have achieved. Thinking Chinese people have been using the idiom to describe those claim superiority and give themselves the gold medal without a fair competition.

That however, is not the original moral of the 闭门造车(出门合辙) story. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The insular ancient Chinese people actually did not see 闭门造车 as a bad thing. 闭门造车,出门合辙 means that a chariot that was built indoors without any references from the outside can still run on its wheels. This piece of ancient “wisdom” supports the inward-looking, self-centered nature of the ancient Chinese.

Unfortunately, this belief has given generations of Chinese people the confidence to claim superiority without referencing the outside world. It pretty much explains the “pride” of the Chinese authorities with their 闭门造车,出门合辙 mentality in refusing to follow the “Western” strategy of living with the Covid.