The following article addresses “central government policymakers” and poses ten direct questions about China’s long-running “zero-COVID” policy, which was in effect until a sudden policy shift on December 7, 2022. Its form and some of its content echo an earlier list of ten questions translated by CDT in late November. The more recent document has been circulating on Twitter with unverified attribution to former United Front Work Department cadre Ma Xiaoli, on whose personal WeChat Moments it reportedly originated.
Like her childhood friend Xi Jinping, Ma Xiaoli hails from a revolutionary family. Her late father, Ma Wenrui, was a young Communist revolutionary who rose to hold a succession of senior Chinese Communist Party posts, including deputy chair of the State Planning Commission, vice-president of the Central Party School, party chief of Shaanxi Province, and vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. He had a close relationship with Xi Jinping’s late father, Xi Zhongxun; both men were persecuted and imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution for allegedly leading an “anti-Party clique.”
With a forthright style and a history of being willing to voice uncomfortable truths, Ma Xiaoli has in the past exerted some moral suasion within her cohort. In May 2016, she wrote an open letter (which went viral) that criticized CCP organizers for including Cultural Revolution-era “red songs” and slogans in a concert commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Cultural Revolution. Later, in an interview with Phoenix.com, Ma stated that she was “horrified” by the “farce” and emphasized that it was the responsibility of this generation to reflect on the mistakes of the Cultural Revolution. She also warned about possible ulterior motives on the part of concert organizers. In July of 2016, she was one of a number of signatories to a letter to Xi Jinping urging him to introduce corruption-fighting measures at 19th Party Congress that would require high-ranking cadres to disclose their personal and family assets. More recently, she was rumored to have been in the audience for a 2020 speech in which retired Central Party School professor Cai Xia vigorously criticized Xi’s leadership.
Regardless of their true authorship, the “Ten Questions for Central Government Policymakers” translated below raise trenchant issues about China’s “zero-COVID” policy and the sudden U-turn that eliminated it:
Since the outbreak of the COVID pandemic, various countries have adopted a range of measures in response. The policies and measures adopted by each country are a litmus test that reveals the attitude of the ruling authorities towards their people. In view of this, I put forward the following ten questions to discuss among friends.
Question 1: Is China’s pandemic prevention policy based on medical science, or on political considerations? What is the rationale for “zero-COVID” being assigned as a political task to Party committees and local governments at all levels?
Question 2: Does the “zero-COVID” policy tally with our experience of viruses throughout human history? In view of the fact that the virus has been steadily becoming less lethal, why have we stubbornly adhered to “zero-COVID” for three years?
Question 3: In light of the principle of “strict accountability” regarding political tasks, why are public officials and hired personnel at various levels and in various locations not being held accountable for illegal and criminal acts in which people were harmed, injured, arrested, or locked up?
Question 4: During these three years of “zero-COVID” policies, how many people have died due to the spike in mortality rates for non-COVID patients? How many patients have struggled due to being turned away by medical institutions or denied treatment because they could not produce proof that they were COVID-negative? Comparing this situation to the coronavirus itself (which is becoming less lethal over time), which one is more harmful to the people?
Question 5: What incident drove policymakers to make the peevish and retaliatory decision to completely lift COVID controls? Was it the mass protests of people under lockdown in Guangzhou? Or was it the Foxconn employees in Zhengzhou who, after being duped, fought back so angrily?
Question 6: Pandemic prevention and control policies should be formulated and adjusted with respect to the laws of medical science and in accordance with current circumstances, and should proceed in an orderly, step-by-step fashion. So may I ask why you didn’t choose lift controls in the summer when the virus would be more dormant and less lethal? Why on earth would you choose to “let it rip” in winter, the season most favorable to allowing the virus to reproduce and thrive?
Question 7: Why the overnight shift from “stringent control” to “let it rip”? This has left Party and government agencies at all levels in the lurch, rendering them helpless and unable to respond, while the public is panic-stricken, scrambling to buy and hoard medicines and medical supplies.
Question 8: Despite the extreme hardships and privations suffered by the general public during three years of stringent COVID controls, no one had any unrealistic expectations about material assistance or cash allowances from the government. All the people expect is that you give them a heads-up before letting loose (unlike two years ago in Zhengzhou, when discharging floodwaters led to sudden, devastating floods), so that they have time to mentally and materially prepare for the impending wave of mass infections. And why didn’t you leverage the institutional advantages of the rationing system to ensure an adequate per-capita supply of basic medical necessities (home test kits, essential medications, N-95 masks, rubbing alcohol, plus a basic guidebook with instructions about how to isolate at home)? This sort of rationing system is our strong suit, a birthright from your forefathers. How could you simply wash your hands of the matter at such a critical juncture for our country, when the life and death of the people hangs in the balance? How could you abandon them to their fate, leaving them to fend for themselves, and let the chips fall where they may?
Question 9: Even more frighteningly, how could you allow temporary field hospitals to be dismantled overnight? Won’t rushing COVID-positive patients back into society intentionally accelerate the spread of the virus? Allowing the virus to spread unchecked is the sort of thing American imperialists do, isn’t it?
Question 10: Faced with a tsunami of infections, patients lined up for over ten hours in the bitter cold waiting for medical treatment, and grieving families waiting for days or even weeks at crematoriums, I would like to ask the just and incorruptible official from on high: What do you have to say for yourself? Shouldn’t someone be held accountable for this mess? The official media is still singing the same old tune, boasting that everything is fine and dandy here at home, while everything outside our borders (in the imperialist U.S. and other Western nations) is mired in chaos. Even now, they’re still reporting things like: “Nearly a hundred people demonstrated in Belgium to protest the rising cost of living.” Lastly, do you dare to ask, or even try to quantify, just how angry and resentful the Chinese people are about the gap between their reality and your hypocritical preaching about your “model of governance”? You claim that you “put the people and their lives above all else,” but then practically overnight you go from “zero-COVID” to “letting it rip”—do you even know how much that makes the people despise you, how much it makes them see you as a pile of worthless garbage? [Chinese]