As the coronavirus pandemic that began in China makes its way among us, with a modest cough and a friendly handshake, it brings to my bookish mind another epidemic in that country, the one that sets in motion the classic Chinese novel “The Outlaws of the Marsh.” That was in the reign of Emperor Renzong (AD 1022-1063), the fourth ruler of the Northern Song dynasty.
How ‘three Chinas’ – Emperor Renzong’s, Xi Jinping’s Communist ‘Party-State,’ and little democratic Taiwan - each in their way grappled or are grappling with these two epidemics a thousand years apart makes for some instructive contrasts.
“Outlaws of the Marsh” tells how, when a plague struck the land in 1049 AD, and people all over China snowed the imperial court under with petitions for help, the scholar-officials of Renzong’s government labored to find ways to “save the people.” A thousand years later, when doctors in Wuhan warned that a dangerous new SARS-like virus was jumping from person to person, they found no such sympathetic ear from their government. Instead, the regime’s censorship and inaction helped the virus break free into the rest of China and the world. Meanwhile, liberal democratic Taiwan began testing travelers from Wuhan weeks before Xi Jinping's party-state had even admitted to a problem in that city. Taiwan drew on widespread civic participation and trust in its people to beat back a Chinese cyber-disinformation campaign that tried to subvert the country's elections on January 11. Now the country is using the same strengths to help beat back the coronavirus more effectively than nearly anywhere in the world.
Is it intolerably naive to think that the communist political system is more prone to spawning epidemics than the liberal democratic? True, all governments face the same dilemmas when confronted by the emerging threat of an infectious disease outbreak, including the temptation to lie and delay action. These choices can be summarized as a “Pandemic Game.” Not all political regimes have the same incentives to succumb to temptation, though. In particular, there is that irrepressible need of the communists to claim they are entirely correct about everything. I suggest that, given varying incentives, a communist regime is more likely to succumb to the temptation to lie and gamble with the health of the world than a liberal democratic - or than Emperor Renzong's enlightened scholar-officials for that matter.
“Men dozed off at noon midst gay birds and flowers”
The Song dynasty at its zenith was by many accounts a time when, according to a poem by the scholar Shao Yaofu, quoted at the beginning of “Outlaws of the Marsh,”
The clouds dispersed and revealed the sky,
Refreshing rain brought old trees new life,
Culture and learning once again were high.
Ordinary folk in the lanes wore silk,
Music drifted from mansions and towers,
Under the heavens all was serene,
Men dozed off at noon midst gay birds and flowers.
Poetic extravagance, admittedly, but historians concur on the basics. Despite the incursion of powerful tribes like the Khitans, Tanguts and Jurchens, “At the height of its prosperity the Song was one of the most humane, cultured and intellectual societies in Chinese history, and perhaps in all of world history,” says Dieter Kuhn in “The Age of Confucian Rule: The Song Transformation of China.”
Emperor Renzong was “one of the most able and humane rulers in Chinese history. Under him the Song government is generally believed to have come closer than ever before to reaching the Confucian ideal of just government,” says Encylopaedia Britannica. He was “merciful, tolerant, modest, lenient, and frugal,” according to the records of the official History of Song, adds Wikipedia.
In the first twenty-seven years of Renzong’s long reign, says “Outlaws of the Marsh”:
“all went well. Grain harvests were large; the people were happy at their work; no one kept articles lost by others on the road; doors were left unlocked at night.”
“In the third year of the Jia You period a plague struck the land. From the south to the two capitals, not a single hamlet escaped the contagion. The imperial court was snowed under with petitions for relief from every district and prefecture.
More than half the soldiers and residents in and around the Eastern Capital died. Bao Zheng, counsellor and prefect of Kaifeng [the capital city], published the officially approved prescriptions and spent his own money on medicines in an attempt to save the people. But to no avail. The plague grew worse. All the high civil and military officials conferred. Then they gathered in the Hall of the Water Clock and waited for daybreak, when court would be held, so that they could appeal to the emperor.”
At court the next morning, Premier Zhao Zhe advances respectfully and tells Renzong:
“‘The plague is raging unabated in the capital. Victims among the soldiers and the people are many. We hope Your Majesty, in a forgiving and benevolent spirit, will reduce prison sentences and cut taxes, and pray to Heaven that the people be relieved of this affliction.’
The emperor at once ordered the Hanlin Academy to draw an edict proclaiming a general amnesty for all prisoners and canceling all taxes. He also directed that every temple and monastery in the capital offer prayers for a termination of the disaster.
But the plague only became worse. The emperor was very disturbed and summoned his officials for a conference.”
Deputy Premier Fan Zhongyan suggests the emperor summon the Divine Teacher of the Taoists to the capital, to conduct a great prayer service in the imperial park, for in this way, “the people will be saved.”
“Emperor Ren Zong approved Fan's proposal…He ordered that Marshal Hong Xin go as his emissary to the Dragon and Tiger Mountain in Xinzhou Prefecture of Jiangxi Province and fetch Zhang the Divine Teacher. While incense burned in the imperial hall, the emperor himself placed the edict in Marshal Hong's hands and told him to set out immediately.”
It is tempting to saddle up and join Marshall Hong and his cavalry on their dash 600 miles southward from the capital, Kaifeng, to Jiangxi province, and to witness Hong’s misadventures on Dragon and Tiger Mountain, which comprise the next pages in the exuberant tale of “Outlaws of the Marsh.” (Incidentally, Marshall Hong’s route south would have taken him near or through Wuhan, the incubator for the worldwide coronavirus plague of 2020.)
But let’s stay with Renzong and his worried ministers. How far can one trust the novel’s account of their efforts to stem the epidemic?
One probably shouldn’t use a “Robin Hood” adventure story stitched together out of folk narratives some three or four hundred years after the event as an authoritative historical source. Still, it is comforting that, in outline, “Outlaws of the Marsh” does rest on a skeleton of historical facts. For example, it places the epidemic in the 27th year of Renzong’s reign, or AD 1049, a date confirmed by William McNeill in “Plagues and Peoples,” a study of infectious diseases in world history. (An appendix to McNeill’s book lists some 291 epidemics somewhere in China between 243 BC and 1911 AD, one every 7-8 years, on average.)
More important, perhaps, is what the "Outlaws of the Marsh" reveals indirectly, in passing references and unstated assumptions, not about this or that policy detail, but rather about what were likely widely shared attitudes about the right political relationship between rulers and ruled.
The most telling, if easily overlooked, detail in the novel's account of the plague is this:
“The imperial court was snowed under with petitions for relief from every district and prefecture.”
That is, local people and governments in counties, prefectures, and provinces were not afraid to report the bad news to the imperial court, appear to have had no reason to shut up and stay quiet. Instead, the stout fellows expect, and forthrightly, loudly, petition for help from their rulers.
They are not mistaken in this expectation. The sense of obligation, the sympathy with which the rulers react, and try to “save the people” is apparent. The high officials confer anxiously all through the night; they try first one thing and then another; they grope forward by trial and error. There is no boasting, no effort to shift the blame, no presumption of omniscience.
Renzong’s government was ignorant of the modern microbial theory of infectious diseases, and hence of the preventive measures used today based on that knowledge, like ‘social distancing’ or vaccines. But, within the understanding of the times, its efforts are impressive nonetheless. It publicizes approved medicines and helps defray their cost. It cancels all taxes, in line with the hefty coronavirus social relief and stimulus packages that governments are rushing through today. Prisoner amnesties, unusual elsewhere, were common in the legal system of Imperial China, especially from the Han through the Song dynasties, a useful proof of the benevolence of a ruler who rightly enjoyed the favor of Heaven. Opinions will differ on the efficacy of public prayers as a method to combat the plague. But they must have been a potent reminder that, absolute autocrat though he be, the Emperor could not act arbitrarily or unjustly, but always within the moral order of Heaven.
The description of the humane, pragmatic spirit animating Renzong’s government in “Outlaws of the Marsh” accords quite well with the account of Song politics at this time in F.W. Mote’s great “Imperial China 900-1800.”
The Northern Song (960-1127 AD), was a great age in China’s intellectual history, says Mote. There was the consolidation of a scholar-official governing class selected more impartially and from a more diverse social background than ever before, through the system of civil service examinations. Some of the leading statesmen of Renzong’s reign were ‘new men,’ from relatively humble origins, who championed morally idealistic Confucian precepts and reforms at the court. Alongside the revival of Confucianism, with its supreme value on ‘ren’ - ‘humaneness’ or ‘humanity’ - Song political thinkers also valued ‘gongli sixiang,’ ‘utilitarian thought’ or ‘beneficial effectiveness.’ Reformers in the 1040s sought a practical focus on social and political problems. They tried to improve the quality of the government, for example by changing the content of the civil service examinations “from demonstrating skills in writing correct and ingenious poetry to skills in thinking about practical statecraft,” by rewarding the able and weeding out the incompetent, and by leaving more resources in the hands of the local governments.
Empire of Lies
Into how different a moral universe we fall in turning from Renzong and the enlightened scholar-officials of the Northern Song to Xi Jinping’s Communist Party-State.
Here, the officials closest to the ground - the Wuhan doctors who in December last year were treating an escalating number of patients with some severe new respiratory ailment – found no sympathetic ear for their warnings. Here, instead, the regime’s inaction and censorship helped the virus break free into the rest of China and the world, as detailed accounts in Axios, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Caixin Global, National Review and other outlets show.
On December 27, doctors in Wuhan began to hear back from Chinese genomics testing companies that patient samples from local hospitals pointed to a dangerous SARS-like coronavirus. The doctors were also independently concluding that the virus was spreading from person to person. Dr. Ai Fen, head of the emergency department at Wuhan Central information reported this terrifying news to the hospital and the regional branch of the China CDC. But when a colleague, Dr. Li Wenliang, posted it to a social media group for doctors on December 30, and the information leaked to the public, the party-state jumped into action. Dr. Ai was reprimanded for “spreading rumors,” causing panic, and “damaging the stability” of Wuhan. The Wuhan Public Security Bureau hauled in Dr. Li and other doctors to recant their mistakes while arresting several members of the general public for passing on the truth that a deadly virus was afoot in Wuhan.
It was not until January 23, 2020, that the central authorities put Wuhan and three other cities under lockdown, almost four weeks after the first results from the genomics testing companies. These weeks in January are when some 150 million Chinese travel around the country to their ancestral homes for the Chinese New Year. Cell phone data suggest some 7 million people left Wuhan in these weeks, as shown in this engaging graphic in the New York Times, many of them carrying the coronavirus and helping to seed new outbreaks all over China. Thousands also flew abroad from Wuhan. As many as 15,000 flew to Bangkok, the most popular destination, where the first international coronavirus case appeared in mid-January. A recent study suggests that earlier action to curb the Wuhan outbreak could have reduced the reported number of infections in China at the end of February by up to 95%.
Playing the Blame Game
So why did Xi Jinping’s party-state, with its ambition to direct every aspect of Chinese life, fail to act sooner, setting off this great pandemic? Was it due to the dysfunction of a specific level or region within the party-state? Or is the communist system itself to blame?
“There is a lot of commentary out there blaming various parts of the Chinese governing system for the epidemic. Some place personal blame on Chairman Xi, others on the provincial party standing committee of Hubei, or on the mayor of Wuhan. Frankly, we still do not have enough information to make that call. We likely will not have a detailed picture of who knew what when, and who directed whom to do what, for several months still. Those who try to convince you otherwise are rumor-mongering. “
One wonders if now, two months later, there is enough data for the specialist China-watchers to make that call. The New York Times seems to think so: an informative but ultimately unpersuasive article in the paper on March 29, “China Created a Fail-Safe System to Track Contagions. It Failed,” puts the blame firmly on the heads of the Wuhan city and Hubei provincial party-state functionaries.
Thus, after China’s humiliating loss of face due to its earlier cover-up and inaction during the 2003 SARS epidemic, the country put in place a “world-class” infectious disease reporting system that was “fast, thorough and…immune to meddling.” Hospitals would input patient data into a computer and instantly notify the central health authorities in Beijing. A model of transparency! But, if the system had a flaw, it was in not accounting for the incentives that would face the all-too-human players in a real crisis. Thus, with a new SARS-like coronavirus spreading between persons in Wuhan, hospital administrators chose not to use the system, taking the bad news directly to the local party-state functionaries, on whose approval, presumably, their futures depend. You’re the boss, you decide!
According to the Times article, it was the city and provincial party-state officials, who, afraid of “upsetting Beijing,” covered up the facts from the central authority. But this is implausible at several levels. The fact that the local bosses led a cover-up from the public does not imply that they also hid the bad news from their bosses at the center. Wouldn’t such a subterfuge be a rash, career-ending act, given the severe reinforcement of centralized, top-down Communist Party-State control under Xi Jinping?
Further, there is both circumstantial and direct evidence that the center was well aware of the real situation in Wuhan from early on.
Thus, for example, China made its first report to the World Health Organization on December 31, according to its obligations under the International Health Regulations (IHR) of 2005. These Regulations were strengthened in 2005 to preclude just the sort of cover-up and inaction that China had perpetrated during the 2003 SARS crisis. They require each country’s National IHR Focal Point to report within 24 hours of assessing public health information “of all events which may constitute a public health emergency of international concern within its territory.” By this point, the center already knew of the evidence pointing to a dangerous SARS-like coronavirus and the likelihood of person-to-person transmission, if for no other reason than because, as the Times article notes, the center was aware of the social media outcry over the information leaked by Dr. Li Wenliang on December 30. In all likelihood, that information had also gone up the internal party-state channels.
Yet China’s December 31 communication with the WHO refers blandly to only a “pneumonia of unknown cause,” with “no evidence of significant human-to-human transmission.” A second communication to the WHO on January 12 reports a “novel coronavirus,” but continues to maintain “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission.” China repeatedly refused offers of investigative help from the WHO and the US CDC. Only on February 14 did it disclose that 1700 health care workers were infected. Little wonder that a professor of international law can claim that China has – again! –breached its obligations under the IHR, and that under international law it is liable for the vast human and economic damage the coronavirus pandemic is wreaking on the world. A decision packed with such danger for China’s international standing could only have been made at a high central level.
But the most direct evidence that the highest levels of the party-state were responsible for the cover-up is simply that Xi Jinping tells us so. The party journal Qiushi (“Seeking Truth”) has released a speech by Xi Jinping to the politburo on January 7, in which he takes command and gives instructions on how to handle the crisis. That is more than two weeks before the lockdown on Wuhan and other cities.
Those were weeks when the virus was spreading fast in Wuhan, even as the Wuhan Health Commission insisted there were no new cases. That was when the Wuhan and Hubei party-state organizations held their lavish annual meetings in the city without ever mentioning the epidemic, culminating in a ‘pot luck’ banquet to celebrate the Chinese New Year for some 40,000 families. That was when infected people were streaming out of Wuhan to other parts of China and other countries; when China was continuing to mislead the WHO. An article in the Straits Times records the bewilderment among many China experts: why would Xi want to associate himself and the top party leadership with all that?
Playing the Pandemic Game: Communist Party-State versus Liberal-Democracy
Let’s put aside that particular mystery, conclude that there is enough evidence to implicate all levels of the Chinese party-state in the initial cover-up and failure to act, and return to our original question. Why would the party-state want to pursue this disastrous course for the first month of the crisis anyway? Is the communist system inherently more liable to spawning pandemics?
“I'm also unconvinced that the Communist system itself deserves special blame for the epidemic. The truth is that the cycle of denial, political games, and over-reaction that has marked this virus' spread fit a historical pattern that democracies have often fallen victim to (consider the events surrounding San Fransisco's brush with the bubonic plague in 1900). Down playing news of a novel disease only to pivot to an extreme, coercive response when public panic begins is common ... human pride, not something unique to Communist politics, drove those decisions.”
I agree with a lot of this. All governments do face the same strategic dilemma when confronted by an emerging infectious disease threat, including a temptation to lie and delay action. But I want to respectfully push back against the proposition that a communist one-party state has no greater political incentive to succumb to that temptation than a liberal democracy.
“Especially in the early stages, there may be considerable uncertainty whether a disease outbreak will develop into a more serious epidemic. Sometimes a rash of illness from a known or unknown source will raise concerns but then just peters out and is forgotten. Given that the outbreak might simply fizzle out of its own accord, there is an incentive for the authorities to “wait and see”. This incentive will be particularly strong when a premature announcement could lead to severe economic losses because of panic, excessive preventive actions by the public (for example flight from affected areas), declines in foreign tourism and severe and often unwarranted trade restrictions on the country’s exports imposed by other governments…
There could also be large political costs for a government that is seen to “cry wolf” and cause losses “unnecessarily”. In 1976 an outbreak of swine flu in the US raised concerns about a potential human pandemic influenza. Instead of downplaying or concealing the threat the authorities “did the right thing” and launched an aggressive public communication and preventive immunization program to counter it. Unfortunately this effort turned into a political disaster for the administration when a pandemic failed to occur and, instead, the vaccination program itself led to medical complications, some deaths and a “litigation nightmare”.
Alongside these putative benefits from delaying risk communications, there are also, of course, major potential costs. An obvious one is the increase in epidemiological risk from delays in launching public health measures and in calling on international partners for technical and financial help to counter the outbreak. This risk may be profound for new diseases such as SARS or a new pandemic influenza virus.”
We can pose this dilemma as a two-stage “pandemic game” between the government and nature. In the first stage, faced with an emerging but uncertain infectious disease threat, the government has two choices. It can cover-up and wait, or tell the truth and take prompt preventive action. At a second stage, nature acts: the infectious disease threat either just fizzles out (a false alarm), or it ramps up into an epidemic. The following two-by-two matrix outlines the four possible outcomes. Each outcome cell contains likely features of that scenario and some examples.
Note that communist and liberal democratic regimes seem to have different “revealed preferences,” at least at an impressionistic level. China consistently prefers “cover-up and wait,” as in SARS and the present coronavirus crisis. Liberal democracies like the U.S. are more willing to take a chance on truth-telling, as in the swine flu epidemics of 1976 and 2009.
The Pandemic Game matrix shows there are two ways for a government to “get it right.” Box (1), when the government covers-up and the threat fizzles out, is the best, “zero cost” outcome for any political system: there is no death, no economic disruption, and no political cost. In Box (4), in a real epidemic, the government’s early action limits death and economic damage, winning credit for its farsightedness both at home and abroad. In both these cases, there is no apparent reason why the costs or benefits should differ between a communist party-state and a liberal democracy.
The crucial difference across regimes, though, is how they handle “getting it wrong.”
Under the communist system, the Party cannot admit to getting anything wrong. Its claim to absolute political power rests on an assertion of its superior scientific wisdom and its technocratic ability to foresee and solve any problem whatsoever. Hence the endless, intolerable boastful lying in the propaganda of communist regimes. In “The Coronavirus is a Disease of Chinese Autocracy,” the political scientist Minxin Pei says:
“It should be no surprise that history is repeating itself in China. To maintain its authority, the Communist Party of China must keep the public convinced that everything is going according to plan” (my emphasis.)
Consider Box 2, where a government tells the truth and takes preventive action, but there is no epidemic. In these situations, the announcement of a potential threat itself can cause a certain amount of panic, spontaneous social distancing, and economic damage. The political cost to the government in Box (2) will be higher under a communist than under a liberal democratic regime. Under liberal democracy, no one expects the government to be right all or most of the time. The government may even get some credit for “trying to do the right thing.” If it loses the next election, there will be another a few years later. For a communist government, the public ridicule of “getting it wrong while trying to do the right thing” would be intolerable. Even with full control over the media, it would be hard for a communist government to cover-up its own highly visible campaign against an epidemic that did not happen.
The relative political costs are reversed under Box (3), in which there is a government cover-up, followed by a full-blown epidemic. Under a liberal democratic regime, a free press, separation of powers, and competition among political parties would quickly expose the original cover-up. The shame of having gambled with the lives of millions would fling the ruling party from power and keep it from recovery for long after. A communist government, on the other hand, can do the very things the Chinese party-state is doing now. It has all the tools of repression and control to cover-up the original cover-up. “East Asia has always been at war with the coronavirus,” as it were.
“But I feel there is more going on here than the usual human overreaction in the face of crisis. The commands cascading down the chain of the Chinese government, from Xi Jinping’s meetings of the Politburo Standing Committee down to the management of individual city districts and even individual residential compounds, are not simply technical public health measures. They are the product of a mindset that perceives the virus outbreak as a challenge to the power and authority of the Chinese party-state, to which the only appropriate response is to demonstrate that the Chinese party-state indeed has the power and authority to overcome it…
No global public health expert advised locking down the city of Wuhan, or forbidding people to leave their homes even in other cities with very few cases. Indeed some experts think the whole focus on drastic measures to stop the spread of infection is misguided. There is clearly an element of theater, of performance for the public, in China’s response, but the theme of this theater is not so much security or health as it is state power. By its overwhelming response and massive disruption of everyday life, the Chinese party-state is showing just how much power it has…
The leaders of the Chinese party-state believes their distinctive version of socialism is superior, and that this superiority consists of an ability to exercise state power more forcefully and effectively than other governments…Whatever finally happens with the outbreak, the one thing that the propaganda narrative will not allow is a full debate over the costs and benefits of the government’s response. The only possible answer is that only state power could solve the problem, and it did.”
Returning to the Pandemic Game, I hope to have shown that, compared to liberal democracy, the communist system always has more reason to “Cover-up and Wait,” rather than “Tell the Truth and Act Early.” The qualification is essential. I have not shown that a communist system will always choose the cover-up strategy. But it is always more likely to go down that path and gamble with the world’s health than is a liberal democracy and is deserving of special blame for that reason.
It is perhaps impossible to make a meaningful comparison on this score with Renzong’s government, so vastly greater are the knowledge and state capacity available in our times. Still, it is hard to imagine that a government as steeped in traditional Confucian values of humanity and piety as Renzong’s would want deliberately to go down so impious and cynical a path.
Another China is Possible: The Democratic Taiwan Model
To squash news of the virus in Wuhan was not the only reprehensible act of the Chinese regime in December and early January. It was also pushing a powerful cyber-disinformation campaign to undermine the January 11 elections in Taiwan and defeat President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party.
Tsai Ing-wen won by a record majority of 8.2 million. China’s cyber-assault failed abjectly, beaten by Taiwanese digital initiatives based on civic participation and trust in the people. Taiwan has now deployed these tools to devise one of the most effective coronavirus campaigns anywhere.
“Arguably the most critical Taiwanese response to disinformation has been civic tech initiatives that harness the digital power of the people… According to [Digital Minister Audrey] Tang, immunizing democracies against disinformation from below requires trusting citizens and civil society rather than viewing them as a fickle mob ready to believe whatever outrageous rumors are being spread by the enemies of democracy. In short, when it comes to countering disinformation, citizens of democracies should be treated as a resource, not a liability.
Inside government, Tang’s approach has helped cut response time on disinformation down to two hours or less. Moreover, cooperation with civil society organizations such as g0v (pronounced “gov-zero”) has allowed Tang’s Anti-Troll Army to collect and analyze reams of data and carefully target its response in order to optimize efficiency and reach... [Such tools] can help stop the spread of disinformation in the otherwise fertile ground of end-to-end encrypted messaging services, but without resorting to surveillance, censorship, or draconian measures such as Internet shut downs.”
Taiwan, only two hours flying time from Wuhan, is one of the countries most at risk from the coronavirus. Half a million Taiwanese work in China and a million mainlanders visit Taiwan in a typical year. Yet it had experienced only 339 confirmed cases and five deaths as of April 2, in a population of 24 million. Taiwan imposed travel restrictions early – it began testing inbound travelers from Wuhan at the start of January, weeks before China had even admitted to a problem in that city! It has successfully limited local community transmission, in part with “top-down” integrated databases of health and travel information to identify cases and classify risks, but also with “bottom-up” online tools to provide transparency and foster civic participation.
“ A small but technologically cutting-edge democracy, living in the shadow of the superpower across the strait, Taiwan has in recent years developed one of the world’s most vibrant political cultures by making technology work to democracy’s advantage rather than detriment. This culture of civic technology has proved to be the country’s strongest immune response to the new coronavirus…
The value of Taiwan’s tech-enabled civic culture has become abundantly clear in the current crisis. Bottom-up information sharing, public-private partnerships, “hacktivism” (activism through the building of quick-and-dirty but effective proofs of concept for online public services), and participatory collective action have been central to the country’s success in coordinating a consensual and transparent set of responses to the coronavirus. A recent report from the Stanford University School of Medicine documents 124 distinct interventions that Taiwan implemented with remarkable speed.”
Lanier and Weyl conclude:
“Taiwan has achieved similar successes in a range of other policy areas, including in striking a balance between protecting privacy and enabling citizen-organized “data collaboratives”; achieving exceptional environmental standards and climate emission abatement; protecting workers in the “gig economy” without preventing the rise of innovative digital services; and fostering civic participation with creative engagement and voting tools…
Taiwan offers an alternative to both the top-down surveillance of the Chinese state and the advertising-driven Western tech giants. It has harnessed technology as a tool of democratic creativity (rather than, like Europe, focusing just on limiting the frightening harms of surveillance). And by doing so, Taiwan has created a model that holds great promise in the ongoing fight not only against the coronavirus but also against menacing dystopian technological futures.”
The Mandate of Heaven has descended from Emperor Renzong not to Xi Jinping's Party-State but to plucky little liberal democratic Taiwan. It is a sight that, I feel sure, will gladden the heart of that “merciful, tolerant, modest, lenient, and frugal” Emperor, as he looks down from Heaven.