However, as is my wont I am following it with interest as yet another window on the ways of mysterious Cathay under the Xi regime. Many commentators have lauded the (relative) openness with which the Chinese have made information available on the current outbreak, in stark contrast with the SARS episode. Of course their idea of what impresses people - mostly, their own people, I suppose - is a little quirky by our standards: those pictures of earthmoving kit, working 100 to the hectare, on "a new hospital to be built in 10 days", are "impressive" in the way that 10,000 drummers were at the start of the 2008 Olympics. And it was a little two-edgey to hear the expert roped in by the Beeb, saying that it was a good job the outbreak happened in China, because "they can do remarkable things" - i.e. they are a dictatorship.
Xi doesn't seem to mind ordinary Chinese people being interviewd in the street about the outbreak, and they seem to say, quite spontaneously, things he'd be gratified by: "China is a very strong country, we can fix this" etc. We needn't doubt that's what they'd naturally want to say, and want to think.
Still, I can't help thinking ... isn't this just another small step along the road to "westernising" Chinese thinking? The idea - dinned into so many instinctively dictatorial western CEOs - that openness is its own reward, tht the cover-up is infinitely worse than the original cock-up, that honesty in the face of potential embarrassment is a sign of strength raher than weakness; that if you suppress the truth, the rumours get seriously out of hand, etc etc etc. And that eventually, when you take these small progressive steps and multiply them by 1.3 billion, with the further multiplier effect of social media ... And, not all of Chinese public reaction will be quite so congenial to Xi.
But I've been wrong many times on this, notably over the 2008 Olympics which I (and many others) felt would inevitably force upon China a step-change towards liberality. Well, there wasn't much sign of that. And one could float a couple of contra-indications.
Firstly, perhaps (after a putative success on the part of the Chinese authorities in getting on top of the outbreak) it'll be spun as a triumph for the dictatorial, controlling ways of Chinese government. See, telling people what to do for the best, and making them do it instantaneously, via habits of unquestioning obedience and trust in a wise government, is the way to solve 21st C problems ...
Secondly, take a look at the CiF BTL comments on the Grauniad piece cited earlier, reacting to articles on how "wet markets" for meat are to blame. The trolls (state-sponsored? freelance?) are out attacking any idea that China has to change its ways: e.g. this, from a commenter imaginatively calling themselves "ID9634782"
"Guardian articles that cover the spread of the virus in China carry a racist undertone and as expected bring out a whole lot of racists crawling out of the woodwork. But in this case the racists are mostly from the so-called enlightened left who demands the Chinese people to change their living habits to suit their world view... how arrogant some commenters are to demand the closure of wet markets, which is an essential fixture of Asian cultures. Because your taste bud is used to the stinky smell of the frozen cold meat, it does not mean that Chinese people have to do the same."Old habits die very hard. And not just the culinary habits.