Might the coronavirus bring freer speech to China?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

Chinese citizens are currently upset and panicked, and their online communication might exceed the ability of the censors to control it. Some censorship is done algorithmically, but much of it is performed by humans, if only because the algorithms are far from perfect and cannot pick up on the rapidly changing allusions and code words people use.

What happens if there are too many subversive messages to censor? The system might break down, and speech might become more free. Reimposing censorship might be difficult, politically and logistically.

There is yet another reason censorship might prove difficult. If you feel desperate and fear for your health, the penalties for speaking out online might not seem so bad by comparison. You might not care so much about that promotion at work or your standing in the party. Moreover, the stress of the situation may lower your inhibitions. And if public criticism becomes more common, it may seem safe to join the growing crowd. The eventual result of all this would be a partial collapse of censorship.

The link also considers the entirely possible scenario that Chinese liberties could instead decrease.


Censorship also suffers from the Beaumol disease as China get richer. So it's not that bad after all.

Interesting. Elaborate?

well... "China seizes hotels, hospitals and cars to fight coronavirus" https://www.ft.com/content/cf24d4b2-4d5a-11ea-95a0-43d18ec715f5

"X could produce Y outcome, but could also produce the opposite!"

Tyler, please devote your not insignificant talents to social science research, and spend less time with this inane punditry.

Spot on, Henry!

Agreed. This is pure clickbait.

You guys are too harsh. Tyler is writing about something few people have thought of and he's humble enough not to assume he knows the answer. A poor pundit would have picked a side and hoped he was right. Tyler just laid out some ideas to chew on.

Yeah, no one has ever thought about "how might a regime respond to crisis."

Tyler's column was a lot more specific than "how might a regime respond to crisis.".

His is the first columnist I've read that promoted the idea that China's bad handling of this crisis might lead to freer speech. I have seen some people who thought that this might bring down the Communist party, but I consider that to be much less likely to happen.

Harsh? Grow a thicker skin, snowflake.

Online speech might be temporarily less restricted.

One assumes that a state able to build mass concentration camps and mass hospitals will also be able to make mass arrests of those taking temporary advantage of an overloaded online system. It isn't as if the logged data disappears.

If I told you, I'd have to shoot me.

From Wilipedia:

Some jokes allude to notions long forgotten. These relics are still funny, but may look strange.

Q: Will there be KGB in communism?
A: As you know, under communism, the state will be abolished, together with its means of suppression. People will know how to self-arrest themselves.
The original version was about the Cheka. To fully appreciate this joke, a person must know that during the Cheka times, in addition to the standard taxation to which the peasants were subjected, the latter were often forced to perform samooblozhenie ("self-taxation") – after delivering a normal amount of agricultural products, prosperous peasants, especially those declared to be kulaks were expected to "voluntarily" deliver the same amount again; sometimes even "double samooblozhenie" was applied.

I see. So maybe an epidemics can save America from the most terrible brand of totalitarianism. Maybe. It is cold confort.

I built small fires as if to indicate there was no need for him to accompany me. He was about two feet across and six inches high, soon I learned he was old because his tolerance outweighed his patience.
“What was his name?”
“Never named him.”
“How come?”
“He most swam along the sides and every once in a while came onto the land.
Then he dug a hole that I found. That was his name for all I knew. A hole that I found. I suppose now I’d called him June if I had the chance again.
“You can call me June,” she said, sleepily, sitting down, despite the wet grass, she lay on her side.

historically, brutal totalitarian governments are toppled only by force or economic collapse

China isn't even close to 'totalitarian'

tolitarian -relating to a system of government that is centralized and dictatorial and requires complete subservience to the state.

Centralized: Check - The Chinese government is a single party with a very large amount of internal power

Dictatorial: Check - Xi is now President for life and even for the move to complete dictatorship, it was an oligarchy

Subservience to the state: Check Required by the Communist party, including direct loyalty oaths by any public official.

China is authoritarian. Totalitarian is more North Korea.

Your opinion doesn't seem to agree with the actual definition.

authoritarian - favoring or enforcing strict obedience to authority, especially that of the government, at the expense of personal freedom.

Authoritarian doesn't imply dictatorial or centralized control. So, I disagree with your point.

It was a stupid mistake to send police after the guy who figured out that there was an epidemic starting. It was a stupid mistake to try to hide what was happening in Wuhan, and it is a stupid mistake to try to contain information that cannot be contained.

What is the difference between mass panic due to an epidemic driven by rumours and mass panic due to an epidemic where the government is using force to quell rumours?

The second case no one believes anything the authorities say, even in the off chance that they are right.

Blithering stupidity, the illusions of control of authoritarian governments everywhere. All they are doing is making sure no one gets a picture of them with 'deer in the headlights' look in their eyes.

This is a miserably hard problem, with no good outcome. There is little upside no matter what you do; it will run it's course. There is huge downside including getting your neck stretched if you make it worse by being stupid.

The real problem here is that information is very important. You can't trust the official channels because they are as corrupt as you are. The uncontrolled information is information. Much is noise, but everything from the location of outbreaks to the localized knowledge of paucity of supplies, to the state of the populace in general is all there. If the Chinese authorities were smart they would recognize the value of the chaotic flow of information. But they aren't, so they won't.

The Party must keep up the pretense of being infallible.

Everything under the Party is progress. Anything else is foreign propaganda.

The GOP is learning.

One day they'll catch up with the DNC.

A big reason the virus has spread is because 5 million people in Wuhan left after the outbreak and before the lockdown (Wuhan's total population is more than 11 million). With freer speech would even more have left Wuhan before the lockdown? Would China (and the world) be better off or worse off with freer speech in China? Arguably, fewer would have left because, with freer speech, China would have imposed the lockdown earlier. Think about that: more freedom of speech, less freedom of movement.

This coronivirus thing is essentially a common cold with a higher propensity for transitioning into viral pneumonia, which... given China's numerous coal fired power plants around Wuhan... provides reason to suspect it isn't capable of the same mortality in regions with lower endemic air pollution.

Because the quality of monitoring went up a lot, we are now at the point where novel variations of the common cold can set off pandemic panics. Maybe the next panic is a rhinovirus that pops up in an industrializing rather than post industrial region?

China is going to address this in their traditional manner where China's problems may be small, but they become very small when divided by the Chinese people. The USG is going to keep trying to press the "Color Revolution" thing they started in Hong Kong. Meanwhile reduced transit capacity inside and outside the world's largest economy is going to cause pain across the board.

I am pretty sure that smoking tobacco is bad for your lungs, and way worse for your lungs than Chinese air pollution. And plenty of places in the world have pretty poor air quality. Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India all have air quality that is on par or worse than that of the industrialized parts of China. And I wouldn't be surprised if cities in Southeast Asia and Africa also have pretty bad air quality.

The problem isn't that the virus will kill lots of non-smoking people in developed nations with good air quality. It likely won't. The problem is that it will cause serious illness in vulnerable populations and totally overwhelm the health system of most nations, causing a lot of deaths because the system doesn't have the capacity to get adequate treatment to all the people with severe cases of viral pneumonia. Which is what is already happening in Wuhan, by all non-CCP accounts.

It is also harder to conceal the truth about logistics and supply. Going online to beg for donations may evade censors but would reveal shortages the central government rather you not advertise.

Any discussion about vindictiveness in the column? That used to be a concern around 3 years ago, when looking at leadership and its negatives .

Though being vindictive is not a matter of censorship, as anyone on twitter can readily affirm.

Lol, he said “China” not “Germany”, Prior.

The consensus on China-watching twitter seems to be that it is wishful thinking to forecast any political change from the the virus situation.

It is very hard to believe that things will be the same as they were before. But maybe the quarantine in Hubei works, and the rest of the country doesn’t have too many infections. Even then, I suspect that at the least you will see renewed interest in emigration.

Has New Hampshire's primary been the shot heard round the world?! Was it America's cruiser Aurora. According to Wikipedia: "One of the first incidents of the October Revolution in Russia took place on the cruiser Aurora, which reportedly fired the first shot, signalling the beginning of the attack on the Winter Palace."

Can it really happen here? https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Bq_C21Ksk_w&list=PL6B42A52B2363A16C&index=12&t=0s


I doubt the outbreak will lead directly to freer speech, but at some point the Coronavirus outbreak may be considered something like Chernobyl is for the Soviet Union--the point where it became clear to everybody living in the country that having a repressive government was not a trade-off (repression in exchange for competence), but that the government was both repressive and incompetent, and that the two were directly related.

While China might benefit by fostering free speech,
the United States might benefit by culling old people (ZMP's), whom the Coronavirus targets (only 1 person under 15 has died).
If our President would cut the CDC (Center for Disease Control) budget, Coronavirus could spread, reducing social security costs and medicare costs. Coronavirus makes a good wolf, culling the weak and unproductive. Be an optimist, welcome Coronavirus. Hmm, except I'm 66 years old.

Afraid to die?

Death, the most frightening of bad things, is nothing to us; since when we exist~ death is not yet present, and when death is present, we do not exist.

Wilful wishful thinking. Surely, you know better.

I'm interested in the parallels to Chernobyl, wherein the initial reaction of the state was to keep it secret, until foreigners figured out what was happening indirectly.

IIRC the news of the virus spread to the west through unofficial sources such as online medical communities. The Chinese government was trying to keep a lid on it. That secrecy may have led to the further spread of the virus as the general public and local medical experts could not have alerted the public.

A more close parallel would be if the Chinese government itself didn't know what was going on because local medical officials were covering it up. In the HBO Chernobyl series, it was seen that the cause of the accident was ultimately the Soviet government classifying the reactors flaws so as to prevent foreigners from finding out about it, which simultaneously prevented the reactors own operators from knowing about it.

The show also highlights how local officials, including the plant manager, refused to believe the reactor had exploded. The behavior of the Wuhan police in denying and covering up the existence of the outbreak is eerily similar to the behavior of the managers of the Chernobyl reactor in the show.

Tyler, that's another excellent column. You are doing a great job writing in a thoughtful and a concise way about issues that not many people are talking about and yet are topical to current trends. Kudos.

Got an apple for the teacher too? :-)

;) It does read that way.

But it's not like I haven't harshly criticized Tyler's views in the past. I just like to give positive feed back as well negative feedback.

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