Gung Ho

China and the Corona Virus

Chinese aid arriving in Italy, quoting the Roman poet Seneca
Chinese aid arriving in Italy, quoting the Roman poet Seneca . | Photo: Galileo Galilei Italian Institute

By Lee Ross

When someone is called “gung ho” in English it generally means enthusiastic and dedicated, often with military connotations.

This is ironic, because “gung ho” is actually Chinese and Communist in origin, meaning ‘to work together’.  Back in World War 2 a US Marine Major in China was liaison with both the Nationalists and Communists fighting the Japanese.  He noticed that Nationalist ranks were rife with corruption, soldiers were cruel to civilians, regularly stole from them and had low morale.  Among the Communists he noticed the total opposite: no noticeable corruption, soldiers were taught to respect civilians and everyone worked together both to drive out the Japanese and to take care of each other.  A Chinese Cooperative association’s motto summed up this spirit as gung ho, which he learned meant “Work together—work in harmony”. He brought this back as an ideal to the US, where the concept first spread through the Marine Corps.

Moving from World War 2, in which China and the US were allies, to today’s pandemic, which some have called World War C…

When the novel coronavirus was first noticed in Wuhan, China last December, medical personnel didn’t know what they were up against.  In the first few weeks this meant the virus spread freely as proper countermeasures weren’t utilized, and many doctors and nurses themselves died from the disease—including Dr. Li Wenliang, who first recognized this was something new, highly contagious, highly dangerous.  Once Chinese healthcare workers realized the nature of the virus and alerted the national government to the scope of the crisis, the Chinese state, Communist Party and Center for Disease Control sprang into action in a way never before seen in human history—hearkening back to the People’s War waged against the Japanese invasion 83 years earlier. Chinese President Xi Jinping declared a People’s War to defeat the growing pandemic.  The entire population, economy and healthcare system were mobilized.  The novel coronavirus was even named a gweilo or “foreign devil”—exactly the term used to describe Western and Japanese invaders, and the first time the word has been utilized since World War 2.

Dr. Bruce Aylward of the World Health Organization team that visited China in February described the all-out effort:

I talked to lots of people outside the system—in hotels, on trains, in the streets at night. They’re mobilized, like in a war, and it’s fear of the virus that was driving them. They really saw themselves as on the front lines of protecting the rest of China. And the world…. They actually changed the course of a respiratory-borne outbreak without a vaccine, which was extraordinary…”

What China did:

  • Government and health officials notified the Chinese people and the World Health Organization about a novel coronavirus on December 31, less than three weeks after unexplained pneumonia symptoms were first noticed on x-ray
  • Completed a full genome of the virus within two weeks, releasing it to the world to help in the search for treatments and a vaccine
  • Imposed a 76-day lockdown of approximately 60 million people in Wuhan and other cities in Hubei province, including shutting down both urban mass transit and nationwide intercity rail lines during the Chinese New Year, when families coming together create the largest short-term human migration on Earth
  • Mobilized medical personnel from all over China to aid Wuhan, which had lost many of its own healthcare workers to the virus in its early days.  Doctors and nurses from the Communist Party and People’s Liberation Army led by example, volunteering by the thousands
  • Built a complete hospital with 1000 bed capacity within a week
  • Built a second complete hospital with 1600 bed capacity the following week
  • Saw to it that no one needed fear about losing their job or income—paychecks still came regardless of quarantine
  • Through the above they saw to it that no one needed fear eviction or piling up of rent debt
  • Saw to it that testing and treatment were free, so no one needed fear medical bankruptcy due to the pandemic
  • Expanded production of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), testing materials, ventilators and other medical equipment as if for war: from January 28 to March 31 there were increases of 20 times the production of PPE and 6 times of testing materials, with comparable increases in ambulances, blood gas analyzers, air disinfectant machines, and more
  • Ensured that food, fuel and other necessities of life remained in steady supply at normal prices, and offered financial support for small and medium sized businesses (which in turn if deemed essential and kept open were obligated to provide a safe working environment)
  • Created temperature checkpoints throughout society—especially transportation portals—to catch as many pre-symptomatic carriers of the virus as possible
  • Saw to it that everyone was tested at the first sign of symptoms, and if shown positive evacuated to separate quarantine away from their families (family spread of the virus being a prime vector)
  • Converted public buildings into temporary hospitals to house those quarantined, saving the main hospitals for severe cases
  • Traced contacts of everyone who tested positive to follow up with testing those individuals, regardless of whether they were symptomatic
  • Directed Neighborhood Committees to conduct daily rounds of every residence, asking if anyone was symptomatic, if any food, fuel, medicines or other supplies were running low, and to generally check in—anything needful was delivered within hours.  In these demanding and dangerous daily surveys 53 committee members were lost to the virus in the first six weeks of lockdown in Wuhan, 49 of them Communist Party members

What was this like to live through?  On YouTube you can watch the Chinese documentary One Month in Wuhan.

And not only all this to defeat the pandemic at home—as soon as different strains of the virus manifested in other countries, China sent brigades of coronavirus-experienced medical volunteers to help treat patients, as well as donated immense quantities of PPE, ventilators, testing materials and other supplies to 16 countries in Europe, 28 in Asia, 26 in Africa, 10 in the South Pacific, 9 in Latin America and even to New York City in the US itself.  China’s New Silk Road global trade project has a health component, the Health Silk Road, developing dozens of countries’ health infrastructure to enhance development and safe trade—the Health Silk Road has been expanded, moved to forefront priority and updated specifically for the novel coronavirus.

The pandemic had gone global and China rose as an ally to all humanity.  In beleaguered Italy the quarantine-empty streets were filled in gratitude with the sound of the Chinese national anthem, The East is Red.  Tedros Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director-General, described China as “setting a new standard for outbreak response” that heroically bought the rest of humanity six to eight weeks’ time to prepare for its spread.

This is gung ho in practice: “work together—work in harmony”.  This is human beings rising to a deadly challenge and working in global solidarity to end it—a People’s War on a deadly foe.

As of the end of April China began reopening its locked down cities, provinces and national transportation systems.  While it has had local resurgences of the virus, these have been successfully met with immediate quarantine and testing and tracing of contacts that have allowed reopening affected cities within days—as we speak 9 million people are being tested over five days to quell an outbreak in Qingdao.  They have reopened international borders—with stringent testing requirements for incoming travelers as at least two of the resurgences were imported by international travelers rather than from domestic transmission.  While it took a significant hit from the lockdown of the first four months of this year, China’s economy is on track to post modest 2-3% growth (as opposed to their normal 6-8% growth/year).  Allowing for strong anti-pandemic measures remaining in place, life is more or less returning to normal: as capitalist Europe gets ready to quarantine again for the pandemic’s second wave—and in the US the first wave hasn’t even crested yet—in China schools, theaters and theme parks are all open, and in Wuhan itself a water park has hosted what can only be described a massive pool party.

I’m sure we remember how all through January and February the US corporate media couldn’t stop grinning with schadenfreude as it reported the news from China:

  • It was “the beginning of the end” for Xi and the Communist Party
  • Lockdown was not for public health but a totalitarian move for more power
  • When China reported hundreds of deaths per day it was a sign of their incompetence; when death counts decreased it was proof they were lying
  • When global health organizations say anything remotely critical about China it was proof China must be isolated and sanctioned; when they said anything positive it was proof they were bought off by the Chinese
  • When China was still reeling from the first onslaught of the virus and it was first appearing in Italy, Iran and other countries, China was held to blame and vilified for not sending aid; when they did send aid it was portrayed as a propaganda stunt
  • When Chinese citizens complain about their government it’s a sign the state is on the verge of collapse; when they praise the government it’s called brainwashing or asserted to be under duress
  • When China isolated the first novel coronavirus strain US media sources promptly accused Beijing of having created it as a bioweapon, else how could they have such knowledge of it so quickly

Well, well, well… On March 21 US government guidelines were leaked specifically instructing how to use all pandemic news to attack China!

China’s response to this baiting was restrained, cautionary and clearly coming both from their socialist perspective and their very long view on history.  On March 2 in China’s Global Times a viewpoint appeared titled, “Gap between rich and poor in the US laid bare in face of virus”.  Its author Li Qingqing wrote:

”Some Americans like to compare the US system with those of other countries. These people tend to describe how other systems are inferior to theirs, as if the US system is the standard in the world. But what really tests a country’s system? It is whether the government has the ability to let all people receive equal and timely assistance.

”…. Currently, many Western media and experts are judging China’s system through China’s epidemic prevention. In fact, countries are also closely watching how the US will react next and observing the US system, because it provides us a chance to compare.

”This is a test of the US system, and it remains to be seen whether the country can adjust its policies in time. Based on China’s experience, we want to kindly remind the US that more attention should be paid to the poor. The epidemic is a challenge faced by all human beings and hollow bragging about its own system cannot help the US overcome the difficulties.”

Li wrote this at the beginning of March.  Over the past 7 months and counting we have had no end of chances to compare.

There is but one stroke difference between the Chinese character for danger and the character for opportunity.  Because of capitalism’s intrinsic contradictions we are now on the brink of great risk and danger.  Enter the novel coronavirus, a foe so small it’s arguably not even alive, and that billionaires can’t bomb, bribe or sanction into submission.  In less than a year it has ripped the veils from the contradictions of capitalism, exposing them for all to see, giving us an opportunity to make history.

But there’s something we need.  Something we can learn from China: to work together—work in harmony.

Gung ho.

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Some background quotes and sources:

PLA’s 3 Rules of Discipline & 8 Points for Attention

One Month in Wuhan:

Chinese national anthem (The East is Red) rings through Italy’s streets:

WHO: China bought the world six to eight weeks time:

US anti-China guidelines leaked:

Global Times article by Li Qingqing:

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