The coronavirus was a big deal; it was something that I (and many other smug foreigners) misjudged but that the Chinese authorities accurately saw as a public health crisis. The thought and effort that went into the flyer were especially impressive in hindsight: organizing the hospitals and the hotline, the quick consensus on measures like face masks that many other countries, such as the United States, grudgingly adopted only much later. Rather than viewing the Chinese government’s reaction as a sign of its love of a lockdown, I now think of it as emblematic of the bureaucratic élan that underlies much of China’s rise over the past few decades, from the largely successful economic policies that went counter to the shock treatment advocated by many Western experts to its rolling out a national highway and high-speed rail network—public engineering feats that Western countries used to accomplish quickly but that now drag on for years or decades.


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