• Daniel Ethan Finneran

On Chinese Culpability

April 2020

While words have the startling ability to wound, epigrams can be positively fatal. The former, though responsible for the leaving of scars upon their exit, have a tendency, mercifully, to heal. The latter, on the other hand, almost always take with their departure a corpse.

Karl Krauss, the Austrian satirist and wit—a man in whose eloquent quiver a remorseless handful of such sharp arrows and apothegms restively stood—was epigrammatically deadly. In particular, he shot off one epigram by which a life, albeit one rather of an idea than of a person, was cut permanently short. Writers, such as he, are always the most efficient of killers; their casualties are legion, their sentimentalities, barren and ink, unlike a dagger, always leaves a mark.

So frequently recited, Krauss—in commenting on the practice of psychoanalysis, the voguish breakthrough in the science of the mind of which he was, at his most withering moments, quite pungently critical—declared the field of study founded by his countryman, the brilliant Sigmund Freud, to be the very disease of which it purported to be the cure. It was, in the idiosyncratic wit of his opinion, the “mental disease for which it regards itself as therapy”. Save a few grasping acolytes and academic followers of this extraordinary school of thought, Krauss’s remark has become, for all intents and purposes, the definitive subtitle by which the story of psychoanalysis is remembered today.

An epigram’s utility, so far as it is at all useful, must exceed the context of its original use. It mustn’t be constrained to the peculiarities of the circumstance out of which it emerged. Indeed, for it to be counted as truly “epigrammatic” in any real and lasting way, it must do exactly that. Should it fail to do so, it would be considered nothing better than an ephemeral and an unremarkable remark—one to which, given the breadth of our literary options and the latitude of our vocalized realm, we’d be extraordinarily wasteful and careless to return.

Yet I think, indeed I’m quite certain, that Krauss’s insight is as applicable to the work of Freud as it is to the current global situation by which we’ve all been collectively roiled, and very nearly—in not only an economic, but a biological sense—destroyed. In this case, the Chinese Communist Party, that authoritarian regime under whose Maoist methodology a nation of over one billion people knowingly toil, and unknowingly suffer, is the disease of which it peremptorily asserts itself the remedy. It is, in every way, the ineradicable blight by which the international body politic is ailed, the ugly infection by which it’s pervasively ravaged, the malign influence by which its marrow, once ruddy and strong, has been enfeebled and bled almost completely dry.

The Chinese communist government—not the Trump administration, nor that of Great Britain’s Boris Johnson, nor the family of Rothschild, nor the brothers Koch, Karamazov, or Grimm, nor, if any such entity was overlooked, any other convenient and powerful scapegoat upon whom, in our desperate search of guilt and for answers, we ordinarily fall back—is responsible for what has happened across the globe. This responsibility is much more narrowly localized and, despite its ambiguity of needed detail, much clearer than our conspiratorial minds desperately want it to be. There is no quantity of state-media machinations by which this sober reality can be altered. There is no number of shadowy propagandistic clouds by which this terrible truth can be obscured. While far from a vaccine (for whose arrival, impatiently, we’ll await the passage of at least a full year), the light of the truth of this entire situation will be the most salutary disinfectant for which we can hope. We mustn’t further injure ourselves by refusing the radiance of its dose.

The truth, despite its unpalatability for the refined stomachs of the bien pensant, is that this disease is of a distinctly Chinese origin. Irrespective of the Sinophilic impulses by which your worldview might be excited, regardless of the broad-minded sympathy by whose extension you feel yourself an inhabitant of each and every land, and, therefore, a critic of none, you must acknowledge the guilt of the Chinese government in the midst, nay, the peak of this pandemic. This is a government, flagitious to its core and communistic in its creed, by which the entire world has been seriously imperiled. This is a government responsible for, at the somber time of this writing, over one-hundred-and-eighty thousand deaths. The world and its inhabitants were put in so acute a state of danger because of the Chinese government’s commitment not to sincerity and the truth—to which, when given the choice, it never opts to deign—but to its mendacity, obfuscation, concealment, and deceit.

Perhaps as far back as early December 2019, doctors working in the city of Wuhan—and, because there is no speck of information to which the Party’s eyes aren’t equally privy, the Chinese government—were aware of the presence of a novel virus about which, at the time, disconcertingly little was known. It seemed, by their hesitant expertise, to be very much akin to a viral pneumonia of which the millennium’s early SARS outbreak was reminiscent. They weren’t far off in thinking as much. As it turns out, part of this new disease’s novelty was its rampant and eager transmissibility—the facility with which it jumped from one man to the next. Evidence of its transmissibility seems to have been obvious from the start, when cases began exponentially to grow in the city and, in due time, the entirety of the province.

Yet, despite an internal acknowledgment of the alacrity with which it moved from one human to the next, the Chinese government maintained that no such mode of transmission, certainly not one of such speed, was possible. Multiple doctors, most notably the late Li Wenliang, circulated information to the contrary. Dr. Li Wenliang, since departed, was a member of a group of physicians among whom the ominous findings were initially spread—upon whose ears they ultimately fell dead.

He, in turn, was deemed himself contrary—that is, contrary to the smiling mask of progress, technological acumen, modern achievement, vitality, and sanitation behind which the Chinese government still hopes to shield itself. Dr. Li Wenliang—if not an outright whistleblower by whose clarion call the West might’ve been saved, then at least a martyr for his own cause—was summoned before the Wuhan Public Security Bureau and accused of “spreading rumors”. In a scene of coerced admission, the type of which a Lenin, Stalin, Pot, or Mao would’ve been proud, the good doctor Wenliang “confessed” to his interrogators his “misdemeanor”, promising no longer to commit such odiously “unlawful acts”.

Apparently, he was forgiven. What seemed a victory (he was neither stripped of his professional license nor, despite its moribundity, of his life—small are the “victories” in socialist China) became tragedy, became defeat. The reward for his confession was an opportunity to silence his evidence and return dutifully to his work. The upshot was that he’d keep his head, but he’d be made to keep it down. Sure, he’d keep his tongue, but never again would it be given the liberty to be cut from his government superior’s censorious leash. And so, he carried on, dutifully and fatally. While treating patients between whom, in the mute confidence of his suppressed opinion, there were obvious signs of inter-personal transmission, he was infected. The length of time spent in his struggle with the disease was mercifully brief. Like so many others, it was a disease to which he quickly succumbed, violently, but with haste.

From this point on, from then till today, the Chinese government’s conduct only grew worse. When it ought to have been obliged to tell the World Health Organization of the true etiology, the probable virulence, and the transmissibility of the disease, it thought better of so unnaturally candid an act. Instead, it withheld from the WHO for at least three weeks the fact that it could be transferred through droplets, and possibly the air, between humans. In a term more innocuous than that which is here required, this is what’s known to the scientific community as an act of omission—when a fact, usually an instructive and a valuable one, is deliberately left out of a work. Attempting further to omit, if not fully to annihilate from its archives the facts surrounding this disease, the Chinese government ordered the destruction of all the viral genomic sequences into which it had come into possession, and by which, with further sobering analysis, the unprecedented cruelty of the virus might’ve been more fully appreciated.

The Chinese communist government had only just begun. This was but its introduction to a long and terrible agenda, a circuitous story of spin, perfidy, and death. Sensing the loss of its grip on the dissemination of the information by which this fledgling virus was surrounded, the Chinese government decided forcefully to strengthen its hold. It ordered the inquisitive researchers and virologists to whom this novel disease was an exciting and harrowing attraction to refrain from publishing anything they might learn about it. Any scientist worth his salt, regardless of the country whence he arrives, knows the difficulty of adhering to so suppressive a decree. He is, after all, one of the few professionals on earth to whose inveterate quest for truth, the state’s interference is nothing short of a detestable menace. In this case, however, the law of nature and of a higher professional calling succumbed to the fiat of apparatchiks and man. Their lofty morals availed them not, as the gag order became for them their newest universal law—not unlike a heavy gravity to which they had no choice but to submit.

So too were the options limited to the labs in which the virus was studied, a network of otherwise distinguished places through whose sterile flasks and glass-laden observation units the viral particles carefully floated. Of these samples, precious few remain. The labs once in possession of these samples were given something of a Hobson’s choice: they could choose either to transfer their specimens to a designated, centralized unit (over which, unsurprisingly, the Chinese government had full control), or they could destroy them, leaving behind no trace. It’s no wonder, then, that the quality and the quantity of the samples by which we might’ve been enlightened and better prepared for the impending outbreak is so frustratingly small. The Chinese government guaranteed a paucity of knowledge, and it swiftly effectuated this end.

These are most, though doubtless not all, of the internal edicts and measures of which the Chinese government, with the strength of its totalitarian might, availed itself. Considering the measures that the Chinese government pursued domestically, one can only hope to satisfy his righteous curiosity with a superficial and blurry view. The image, on the other hand, to whose clearer detail and nuance he’d be perceptive would be that of China’s external interactions—those by which it conducted itself with the rest of the world. Surely, the Earth’s eye would have to be of a sharper acuity if, in fact, it were to the detect the nimble movements of China’s deceit.

Sadly, it was not—especially if the World Health Organization is taken to be the representative of the world. The Chinese government, unencumbered by those strings of veracity by which our own liberal governments are so maddeningly entangled, hoodwinked the WHO into believing its lies. Availed of its dauntless abilities of persuasion, the Chinese government led the WHO to believe that the virus was not transmissible between humans—a fact of which, by this point in time, the Chinese government had been knowledgeable for at least an entire month, though probably longer.

Echoing the statements of which it was the faithful, if not servile recipient, the WHO stated, “Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus identified in Wuhan, China”. It went on heartily to applaud the efforts of the Chinese government, to whom the organization has since proven itself nauseatingly obsequious. “Preliminary identification of a novel virus in so short a period of time”, it exclaimed with unmitigated approbation, “is a notable achievement and demonstrates China’s increased capacity to manage new outbreaks”. This, at around the time Wuhan city authorities were encouraging the massive celebrations by which their nation’s Lunar New Year is frequently accompanied, a time at which some forty-thousand residents gathered in close proximity to share hugs, meals, and—by extension—the virus.

The Chinese government, now donning a carapace impenetrable to the truth, continued to lie to the world. At this point, it was committed, like an open grenade, to the explosiveness of its brazen deceit. After all, as Lenin once said in his unpublished yet obviously influential notes, “speaking the truth is a petty-bourgeois prejudice. A lie, on the other hand, is often justified by the end”. The first of those two sentences is purely a product of Lenin. The latter, on the other hand, is better affixed to the name of Machiavelli.

What then, is the end toward which the Chinese government is striving? To what outcome, ignoring the infection of millions, the deaths of hundreds of thousands, and the loss, in terms of the economic data, of tens of trillions, does it ultimately aspire? It wants, in many ways, to be seen as the cure of the disease for which it is, at least in its own mind, so obviously not responsible. It wants its massive country and the brutal system upon which it’s based to be seen as the peculiar force by which an outbreak of this magnitude, should ever it happen again, is best controlled. It wants to demonstrate to the world the supremacy of a centralized response, the broad-chested and tight-lipped power of a government executed by one. It wants to be seen as having given—at a time of insuperable danger and want—international aid and succor to all those in need. It wants to be seen as the benevolent parent, the noble guardian by whose expansive reach, empathic concern, and boundless magnanimity the nations of the world, playing the role of its ailing children, were miraculously restored and brought back to good health.

It has, out of the kindness of its benign and bleeding heart, already dispensed to the nations of Europe and Asia multitudinous testing kits and personal protective equipment—of which it certainly could’ve made ready use for itself. Except, knowingly, it assuredly couldn’t; the materials of which the Chinese government unburdened itself were sent to Spain, Turkey, Australia, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic and, once put into use, were found to be faulty. Indeed, despite the effort, they were of very little use. I don’t think it too ungrateful to say, in a circumstance such as this, that it’s not the thought, but rather the efficacy that counts. And China has been completely inefficacious, and completely nefarious.

A further fear of mine, misbegotten and callous though it may be, is that the Chinese government will be the first to develop a vaccine for this disease, a remedy for whose eventual creation we’re all huddled indoors and blindly hoping. Consider the fact that its research scientists, from whom there’s to be tolerated very little rest, much less dissent, have been working on novel coronaviruses for months, if not years (SARS, which in 2003 leaked out of an especially pervious facility in Beijing, was such a virus). As outlined above, they’ve had quite the “head-start” on their genomic knowledge of this particular virus—from which, with any luck, a vaccine will ultimately be developed. Given that this is a virus they concealed for months from the world, they’ve had that much more time to attend to its cure. Such a cure, I think, will be an epochal boon for which all of humanity can and will be enduringly grateful, but will we, in the midst of our salubrious celebrations, neglect to hold accountable the Chinese government, this rogue state actor by whose ineptitude and mendacity this event was precipitated, by whose repeated failures said vaccine was made necessary at all?

I can only hope that we do not. Above all, in thinking about how this situation might unfold before us (a situation, one might add, of which there’s still no end in sight), I can’t help but call to mind the famous words of Krauss: China, in this case rather psychotic than psychoanalytic, is the disease of which it purports to be the cure. It is the illness, ideological, cruel, and swaggeringly proud, for which it affects itself to be the therapy. It is the virus of which it declares itself the vaccine, the blight of which it claims itself wholly ameliorative. Luckily for us, ours isn’t a nation contented with nostrums. We’re not easily taken by quacks. We’re not a people with whom persuasive mountebanks will have their play, certainly not one over which they’ll gain the upper hand.

No. We’ll be clear of eye and sober-minded. We’ll be forgiving, perhaps, but not forgetful. We’ll look to the East and see the autocrat’s hand in flagrante delicto, in a mess of its own making, and covered, as always, in red.

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