The Contradictions of the Party-State: China’s Experience with the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has reignited the debate regarding the relative merits of democratic, illiberal, and authoritarian rule; specifically, which system has more effectively responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, and more broadly, which political system has better addressed the expectations (and anxieties) of its citizenry? The response of the Peoples’ Republic of China’s (PRC), the world’s most powerful autocracy to the pandemic has been paradoxical. On one hand, Beijing has done everything to deny, obfuscate, cover-up, and stubbornly refuse to provide full disclosure or share vital information that could have helped mitigate the spread of the virus from its place of origin in Wuhan before morphing into a full-scale global pandemic. On the other, notwithstanding Beijing’s rigid zero-COVID policy (which contributed to a surge in infections, hospitalizations, and deaths), the authorities have handled the aftermath well, keeping fatalities relatively low when compared to the United States, Western Europe, and other large countries. This study argues that understanding the nature and workings of China’s party-state provides a nuanced explanation regarding Beijing’s contradictory response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including its relations with multilateral organizations, in particular, the World Health Organization.


The Peoples’ Republic of China’s (PRC) response to SARS-CoV-2 (or COVID-19) has been paradoxical. On one hand, Beijing has done everything to deny, obfuscate, cover-up, and stubbornly refuse to provide full disclosure of vital information that could have helped mitigate the spread of the virus from its place of origin in Wuhan before morphing into a full-scale global pandemic.¹ On the other hand, Beijing never misses an opportunity to claim that its “zero COVID” policy has been the most successful in combating COVID-19 by containing its spread and limiting the number of fatalities within its borders—which totals to  120,896 deaths at the end of September 14, 2023, compared to 1,126,252 deaths in the United States.² As the world’s most populous nation where millions live in densely populated mega-cities, Beijing’s ability to contain a highly contagious virus from spreading is remarkable. Indeed, this has led some to grudgingly conclude that the world’s most powerful autocracy had mounted an effective campaign to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and save lives, standing in sharp contrast to the incoherence and incompetence demonstrated by the world’s most powerful liberal democracy: the United States. According to American political sociologist Larry Diamond, “If, when this pandemic finally abates, the dominant global narrative becomes ‘It was China’s authoritarian system that helped us, while the democracies of the West floundered and selfishly turned in on themselves,’ humanity will emerge from this devastating crisis into a radically different and more dangerous world, one deeply hostile to freedom and self-government.”³

Following Beijing’s initial success, its subsequent rigid zero-COVID policy greatly tarnishes its seemingly impressive record in combating the virus by directly and indirectly contributing to a surge in infections, hospitalizations, and deaths within the country. It is only in the fullness of time, a more sober and balanced assessment of Beijing’s role, experience in fighting the virus, and what lessons can be learned on how to prevent future challenges will take place. However, in the interim, the following argues that understanding Beijing’s behavior, in particular its duplicity, intransigence, and refusal to provide and share critical information about the virus while also its seemingly remarkable ability to contain the pandemic in the initial phase, is rooted in the nature of China’s party-state.

The Chinese Party-State

In part, the failure to adequately understand the structure, functions, and institutional-administrative capacities of the Chinese party-state is because research on autocratic systems have not received the attention they deserve, especially following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the optimism, euphoria, and triumphalism surrounding the promise of liberal market reforms and the coming democratic third wave. This era of liberalism led many to underestimate the staying power of despotic and tyrannical systems with their Manichean disdain, contempt for open democratic systems, and seemingly unlimited potential for vice, violence, and evil. Indeed, an overemphasis on the pathologies of illiberal, authoritarian, and totalitarianism systems and their seemingly imminent collapse have inadvertently stymied a nuanced understanding of the political and institutional foundations of various autocratic systems, including its quotidian practices and how everyday relations are structured, negotiated, and contested between the ruling elites and their disenfranchised subjects.

An exception to this rule has been the seminal writings of Minxin Pei.⁴ With reference to the PRC, Pei has lucidly illustrated how China’s deeply embedded totalitarian institutions—such as the Leninist party-state, the party-state’s control of the of the economy, and its formidable surveillance, coercive, and control apparatus—have given the Chinese party-state a seemingly stoic resilience and ability to discretely adjust and manage change.⁵ This explains why over four decades of economic reform and modernization, deep integration into the global economy, and the resultant ever-expanding web of economic interdependence have failed to democratize the People’s Republic. To the contrary, the party-state has not only demonstrated a remarkable capacity to steer and manage the social forces unleased by decades of sustained and high economic growth (e.g., co-opting the burgeoning middle class and civil society to serve nationalist goals), but it has also created an environment conducive to totalitarian aggrandizement and restoration. Indeed, Pei suggests that the systematic political repression, ideological indoctrination, and a new personality cult of the dominant ruler is heralding the reincarnation of a neo-Stalinist strongman in the form of Xi Jinping—reminiscent of what happened under the nation’s founding patriarch, Mao Tse-Tung.⁶ With the accession of Xi as the unquestioned leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in November 2012 (when Xi assumed both the position of the party’s general secretary and military commander in chief), the removal of term limits for the presidency and securing a third term as CCP General Secretary in October 2022 underscored that the CCP has returned to its Maoist roots. Arguably, no one better understood the dangers inherent in a highly centralized and closed political system led by a strongman than Deng Xiaoping—the sturdy victim and survivor of Maoist purges. Perhaps, the collective-leadership system he devised, and which Xi Jinping overturned and scuttled, could have moderated Beijing’s response.  If state strength is measured using the archetypal Weberian attributes of centralization, rationalization, and bureaucratization, China’s party-state is certainly strong. In fact, China’s ubiquitous party-state is characterized by high levels of discretionary autonomy and capacity—possessing monopoly powers of surveillance, enforcement, compliance, and coercion. Democracies characterized by reciprocal relations between the state and civil society and functioning within normative and legal judicial and political constrains simply cannot match in the party-state’s mobilization, compliance, and enforcement capabilities. Moreover, and contrary to conventional thinking, the Chinese state and central government enjoys relatively high levels of trust—rooted partially in Chinese deferential tolerance of authority and the ability of the party-state to deliver both physical security and material prosperity. It has made it easier for the authorities to garner broad consent and acquiescence and to adopt various measures, including punitive ones, to respond to the pandemic.⁷ Indeed, trust between government and civil society is essential if societies are to organize and mount an effective collective response to threats such as pandemics. Since several of the key COVID-19 policies, such as hand washing, wearing face masks, social distancing, and limiting outside contact, are difficult to enforce, their success greatly depends on broad buy-in from the citizenry. If people have trust in their government, voluntary compliance from individuals and the larger society will be more forthcoming. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer in 2020, 90 percent of Chinese citizens have trust in government. In contrast, only 39 percent of Americans trust in government.⁸ Arguably, broad compliance to COVID-19 policies has been a challenge in the United States. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in September 2020 of more than 10,000 Americans showed that only 51 percent of adult respondents would definitely or probably get a vaccine to prevent Covid-19, were it available. The share who would definitely get a vaccine was only 21 percent. The reluctance to take the vaccine had much of do with the respondents’ political affiliation, their level of trust in government, and how individuals processed the messaging by politicians and government officials.⁹

These distinctive characteristics were amply demonstrated in the party-state’s unscrupulously efficient handling of the COVID-19 pandemic once the news, or more aptly rumors, of a deadly infectious pneumonia of unknown origin spread into the public domain, and especially after the first case of the new coronavirus strain was reported by Chinese media on 17 November 2019. To quell panic and reassure the public, the Chinese government and public health officials dismissed the news as a false rumor and repeatedly announced that the situation was under control and that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission. In fact, Min Ye writes, “the public was repeatedly assured of the non-contagiousness of the disease despite evidence of human-to-human transmission seen as early as mid-December 2019. Residents in Wuhan, unaware and unprotected, continued their celebrations for the upcoming Chinese lunar new year, including a mass community banquet that involved 40,000 families.”¹⁰ On December 31, 2019, Beijing informed the WHO  that there was “no clear evidence” of human-to-human transmission, and the following day detained the eight Wuhan doctors who questioned the government’s claim.¹¹

In early January 2020, the Trump administration and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “repeatedly offered to send U.S. infectious disease experts to China. China rejected these requests and criticized the U.S.’ responses—including travel restrictions on non-U.S. citizens from China and the evacuation of its citizens from Wuhan—as ‘overreactions’ and ‘setting a bad example’ for other countries.”¹² This is despite the fact that Trump publicly praised Xi Jinping’s management of the coronavirus pandemic several times during January and February of 2020.¹³ It was on January 20 when the highly respected Dr. Zhong Nanshan (also known in China as “the SARS hero”) warned on national China Central Television that the novel coronavirus could be transmitted between humans, followed by a similar announcement by the country’s Health Commission. After these announcements, Beijing jumped into action with lighting speed. On January 23, the authorities completely shut down the wet markets across Wuhan and restricted the movement of over 60 million people across the sprawling province. In a matter of hours, more than 80 cities and towns came under the strict lockdown measures. Except for a few approved outlets, all shops and businesses were ordered shut and only one person in each household was allowed to leave every other day for a few hours to purchase basic essentials; their movements diligently monitored by armed security officers, human informants, drones, and other surveillance technologies. Moreover, the central government expeditiously dispatched thousands of medical personnel to Wuhan; over a dozen makeshift hospitals were set up as quarantine facilities; and two large hospitals were built in Wuhan in a matter of days to accommodate the growing numbers of the sick and infected.¹⁴

China’s healthcare system, which had been overhauled in the aftermath of the 2003 SARS epidemic, proved effective in identifying, diagnosing, treating, and mitigating the spread of the virus through advanced disease surveillance (necessary for isolating carriers), accessibility to skilled medical personnel, and an efficient procurement system that ensured a ready availability of needed medical supplies.  More specifically, China’s three-tiered healthcare system, which involves numerous small community health centers and Class I facilities providing first-contact care and larger Class II and III facilities for more specialize care, allowed the authorities to quickly respond to the pandemic. This system is supported by public insurance programs which provide affordable care for even the rural population.

The Party-State, and the Limits of Cover-Up

Contrary to conventional assumption, Beijing’s failure to provide timely warning to its citizens and the rest of the world regarding the outbreak should not be dismissed as an aberration nor as the result of an inevitable authoritarian dysfunction. Rather, as Nobel Laureate, Amartya Sen warned long ago, the raison d’être of autocracies has always been secrecy, misinformation, denial. Given the lack of accountability, the rule of law, and an independent media, the cloistered ruling elites are prone to reckless behaviour.¹⁵ Arguably, the essence of autocracy is most exemplified by the fact that President Xi first publicly acknowledged the existence of COVID-19 on Chinese soil on February 23, 2020, calling the virus the “largest-ever public health emergency” and “a big test” for the country.¹⁶ However, by then, the damage was already done as about four months had passed when the new coronavirus strain was first identified. By the time Beijing began its mitigation efforts on 23 January 2020, almost nine weeks after the virus was identified, countless numbers were either infected or had died from the virus.

Although, Beijing’s swift and decisive action in closing down Wuhan and all the large cities in Hubei province by imposing strict quarantine rules,  what should not be forgotten is that the delay cost lives. Equally troubling, Beijing refused to ban flights out of Wuhan. By January 23, 2020, over five million people had already left Wuhan to different parts of China and abroad. Only in late January 2020, all domestic flights from Hubei to other parts of China were grounded, but international flights continued. The Italian government who was reeling from a fast-growing number of cases within its borders was forced to ban all flights to and from China.¹⁷ Reiterating Sen’s observation, Ferguson has aptly observed, “In China, the one-party state responded to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in much the same way that its Soviet counterpart had responded to the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster: with lies.”¹⁸

Indeed, a report by the US Department of Homeland Security bluntly notes that “Chinese leaders ‘intentionally concealed the severity’ of the pandemic from the world in early January [2020] … held off informing the World Health Organization that the coronavirus ‘was a contagion’ for much of January [2020] so it could order medical supplies from abroad.” The report further notes China’s personal protective equipment exports declined significantly in January and February 2020.¹⁹ Although one can only speculate if these were deliberate and premeditated decisions, what is certain is at the very time when Chinese authorities should have been engaged in mitigation and control efforts, such as assisting the international community in isolating symptomatic carriers and identifying their contacts via contact-tracing, the Chinese central government with the full backing of its complaint party apparatchiks and regional and local functionaries went into overdrive to protect the party-state’s reputation and provide its own narrative of events. Predictably, under Beijing’s watchful-eye, the party-state methodically quashed all dissenting voices which included censoring and banning the WeChat group of eight doctors, vilifying and detaining party-member Dr. Li Wenliang for “spreading rumors” about the appearance of a new coronavirus strain in early November 2019, and later punishing the whistleblower doctor by denying him medical assistance after he became infected with COVID-19, eventually dying on February 7, 2020.²⁰ In addition to mounting disinformation campaigns against critics, both domestic and international, the authorities aggressively censored social media by suppressing information regarding the outbreak of the deadly virus as soon as news about it began circulating more widely in late December 2019. As Rosenberger notes, “From the first days of COVID-19’s appearance in the city of Wuhan, China’s leaders focused on control—not only of the coronavirus itself but also of information about it. They suppressed initial reporting and research about the outbreak… They called for ‘increased internet control’ and… even sent ‘Internet police’ to threaten people posting criticism of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its handling of the virus.”²¹

Why did China’s Centers of Disease Control (CDC) which is set-up with an advanced “real-time surveillance system to detect and facilitate mandated reporting of even the smallest outbreaks of a wide range of viruses” apparently fail? According to Katherine Mason, China’s CDC is required to send “virus reports… upward step by step, from district- to city-level institutions or from city to provincial levels, via an online form. But Beijing mandated that novel influenza viruses be reported directly to the central government, whose health officials would receive an alert on their cell phones.” To date, there is no clarity on what actually happened. Mason writes, “a June 2020 Associated Press expose suggests that public health officials up and down the reporting ladder in China dragged their feet in transmitting information about early cases of COVID-19. This lack of transparency and relatively slow reporting kept the outbreak from the public eye—both internationally and domestically—during its early stages, when containing it still might have been possible. Local Wuhan officials, afraid of being blamed for a politically inconvenient truth, were reluctant to take responsibility for the outbreak and failed to report upward as they were supposed to. Once the central government eventually found out about the outbreak, it did not immediately share the information with the WHO, likely out of reluctance to face the inevitable geopolitical repercussions.”²²

Similarly, there is much skepticism regarding Beijing’s claim that its response to the COVID-19 pandemic under its scientifically based “dynamic zero” COVID policy is far superior to that of the inconsistent, if not haphazard, measures adopted elsewhere, especially in the United States. Specifically, Beijing’s claim that its COVID related mortality only totaled 5,241 deaths in 2022 is widely viewed as a result of severe undercounting—the result of risk averse local officials and medical staff deliberately keeping numbers low, lest they get blamed and punished for failing to perform their duties for the public.²³ In any case, the official numbers seem highly implausible in the light of death count relative to population. The lack of transparency has made it impossible to independently verify the number of COVID related deaths in China. As Ferguson has aptly noted, “The problem is that the Chinese data lack credibility. It’s implausible, to put it mildly, that Shanghai has to date experienced 200,000 recorded cases but zero deaths. Hong Kong reported 8,886 deaths out of 308,705 cases. An anonymous official reportedly admitted that the criteria for confirming cases and deaths were ‘susceptible to political meddling.’ This echoes last week’s leaked recordings from Dr. Zhu Weiping, an epidemiologist at the Shanghai Center for Disease Control, who spoke of deliberate official hiding of and tampering with data.”²⁴ Moreover, the zero-COVID policy does not always guarantee protection—despite the punitive lockdown and surveillance needed for its implementation. In March and April 2022, when SARS-CoV-2 mutated into the highly contagious omicron variant, it spread rapidly in southern China, engulfing Hong Kong, Shanghai, and other major centers in the mainland—leaving searing social media images of residents, who had been locked in for weeks in tiny high-rise apartments, screaming for help. 

The Party-State, the Global Order, and Multilateral Organizations

The party-state’s dismissal attitude towards the WHO and other international organizations is fundamentally rooted in its disdain for the post-war international liberal order. The expectation that China would become a responsible global stakeholder and an integral part of the liberal international order has not materialized despite over four decades of China’s hyper economic growth and systematic integration into the global economy. In large measure this is because Beijing has long viewed the liberal order as contingent and revocable—to be ideally replaced by a new international order that more explicitly advances China’s ambitious goal of regional and global suzerainty.

The failure to recognize this is ultimately rooted in liberal internationalism’s cognitive dissonance reflected in their seemingly blind adherence to conflate teleological belief in human goodness and historical progress. In this sentimentalized rose-tinted worldview, China’s developmental trajectory was romanticized and fictionalized in equal measure—predicated on the assumption of linear progress towards modernity, prosperity, and democracy. Economic growth coupled with global integration and interdependence would transform the China from a backward socialist autocracy into a thriving democracy reminiscent of South Korea and Taiwan. In time, China would become a responsible global stakeholder and an integral member of the liberal international order. Thus, even as China’s unprecedented miraculous economic growth rates were celebrated and seen as a model for other states, the party-state’s deep-rooted disdain and condescension for democracies and the liberal global order; toxic blend of apocalyptic nationalism rooted in an unduly aggrieved and xenophobic revisionist interpretation of history; and new imperial zeal to correct the century of humiliation was conveniently overlooked.²⁵ The predictable endgame is of course the rise of a China that is revisionist, aggressive, and arrogant.

The WHO’s failure to hold Beijing accountable has further exacerbated the problem. Indeed, the WHO’s Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, is ostensibly beholden to Beijing for his position and has on several occasions ended-up literally serving as Beijing’s mouthpiece. Dr. Tedros has failed to press Beijing for more information, which include his failure to immediately gain permission for WHO medical teams to visit the site of the outbreak which could have helped address the global concern that the virus was man-made and accidentally released from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Rather, Dr. Tedros has repeatedly chosen to meekly accept and justify Beijing’s explanation as to why the WHO investigation team could not be granted permission to enter ground zero. In fact, the Chinese government not only failed to immediately cooperate with the WHO, but Beijing also waited till the end of December 2019 to inform the WHO about the outbreak of a “novel” coronavirus and forty days before it let WHO officials into Wuhan.

It was not until the first week of February 2021 that Beijing, under growing international pressure, finally gave access to a specialist 14-member WHO team to enter Wuhan and investigate the origins of COVID-19. During the 12-day visit, the team was allowed to visit laboratories, disease control centers, and live animal markets in the city. However, these sites and investigations were selected in advance by the Chinese government. Predictably, the WHO report failed to provide any new insights and except endorse Beijing’s narrative.²⁶  Clearly, Beijing prioritized national reputation over international cooperation, even as the pandemic was rapidly spreading and taking a deadly toll and scientists were cooperating to find the source of the virus and its potential cure.

In the end, this systematic domestic suppression and failure to comply with international norms is not simply borne out of a desire to protect the reputation of the party-state and its senior leadership. It also reflects the certitude, indeed arrogance, that the party-state endowed with the epistemological, technocratic, scientific and managerial expertise, and extensive propaganda machine would be able to quickly and quietly bring a seemingly manageable problem in some obscure Wuhan wet market under control. Today, the world is paying an exorbitant price for this unforgivable presumption. Admittedly, if the Chinese party-state had promptly shared the available scientific information about the new coronavirus and taken immediate measures to address the outbreak in Wuhan and the surrounding regions, including warning the rest of the world about the potential dangers, much of the tragic fallout from COVID-19, both in China and abroad, could have been mitigated, if not avoided.


[1] Although the location where Covid-19 started is still unclear, it is believed that the virus originated either in a live animal food market, the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market in Wuhan, or the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a large medical research center in the city.

[2] World Health Organization. “WHO Coronavirus (COVID-19) Dashboard.” Accessed September 7, 2023. 

[3] Larry Diamond, “America’s COVID-19 Disaster Is a Setback for Democracy,” The Atlantic, April 17, 2020,

[4] Minxin Pei, China’s Crony Capitalism: The Dynamics of Regime Decay (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016); Minxin Pei, China’s Trapped Transition: The Limits of Developmental Autocracy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006); Minxin Pei, From Reform to Revolution: The Demise of Communism in China and the Soviet Union (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994)

[5] China’s party-state has not only developed sophisticated technologies to control and manipulate information, but also use censorship to divide and manage public opinion. For a nuanced analysis, see Margaret E. Roberts, Censored: Distraction and Diversion inside China’s Great Firewall (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018).

Similarly, Economy has noted that the Chinese state under Xi has constructed a “Chinanet” which by controlling the flow of information both from the outside and within the country has been able to effectively close all the “vibrant virtual political space.” Elizabeth C. Economy, The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), p. 57.

Also, recent research confirms that revolutionary regimes, in particular communist ones, tend to be more durable than other types of autocracies because the ruling party is cohesive, security organizations are both loyal and powerful, and all potential centers of power and opposition are effectively neutralized. See Jean Lachapelle et al., “Social Revolution and Authoritarian Durability,” World Politics 72, no. 4 (2020): pp. 557–92,

[6] Richard McGregor, “Party Man: Xi Jinping’s Quest to Dominate China,” Foreign Affairs 98, September–October 2019, pp. 18–25.

[7] Edward Cunningham, Tony Saich, and Jessie Turiel. “Understanding CCP Resilience: Surveying Chinese Public Opinion Through Time,” Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, July 2020.

Tony Saich. 2016. State-Society Relations in the People’s Republic of China Post-1949, (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2016),

Tony Saich, “How China’s Citizens View the Quality of Governance under Xi Jinping.” Journal of Chinese Governance vol.1(1) (March 2016), pp. 1-20,

Daniela Stockmann, Ashley Esarey, and Jie Zhang, “Who is afraid of the Chinese state? Evidence calling into question political fear as an explanation for overreporting of political trust.” Political Psychology 39(5) (2018), 1105–21,

[8] Edelman. “Edelman Trust Barometer 2020,” Edelman Trust Barometer, 2020,

[9] Pew Research Center, “U.S. Public Now Divided Over Whether to Get COVID-19 Vaccine,” September 17, 2020,,a%2021%20percentage%20point%20drop; Cevat Giray Aksoy, Barry Eichengreen, and Orkun Saka, “Vaccine challenges,” VOX CEPR, November 16, 2020,

[10] Min Ye, “China in 2020: A Year of Converging Crises,” Asian Survey 61 (1) (February 1, 2021), p. 22.

[11] World Health Organization, “Listings of WHO’s response to COVID-19,” January 19, 2021,—covid-19

[12] Min Ye, China in 2020: A Year of Converging Crises, p. 25.

[13] Myah Ward, “15 times Trump praised China as coronavirus was spreading across the globe,” Politico, April 15, 2020,

[14] Hanming Fang, Long Wang and Yang Yang. “Human Mobility Restrictions and the Spread of the Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in China,” National Bureau of Economic Research, NBER Working Paper No. 26906, March 2020,

[15] Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); Amartya Sen, Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation, (London: Oxford University Press, 1983)

[16] William Zheng, “Coronavirus is China’s fastest-spreading public health crisis, President Xi Jinping,” South China Morning Post, February 23, 2020,

[17] This in turn angered Beijing, forcing China’s vice-minister of foreign affairs, Qin Gang, to call Italy’s ambassador to China Luca Ferrari to complain about Italy’s rash decision.

[18] Niall Ferguson, “The Next Global Disaster Is on Its Way, and We Aren’t Ready,” May 9, 2021,

[19] Will Weissert, “DHS report: China hid virus’ severity to hoard supplies,” Associated Press, May 4, 2020,

[20] Anthony Green, “Li Wenliang.” The Lancet, February 18, 2020,

[21] Laura Rosenberger, “China’s Coronavirus Information Offensive: Beijing Is Using New Methods to Spin the Pandemic to Its Advantage,” Foreign Affairs. April 22, 2020.

For a similar account by Chinese scholars, see Chaolin Huang, Yeming Wang, Xingwang Li, Lili Ren, Jianping Zhao, Yi Hu and Li Zhang, “Clinical Features of Patients Infected with 2019 Novel Coronavirus in Wuhan, China.” Lancet 395 (2020), no. 10223: 497–506.

[22] Quotes from Katherine A. Mason, “Did China’s Public Health Reforms Leave It Prepared for COVID-19?” Current History, September 2020, pp. 203-09.

[23] David Stanway and Nancy Lapid, “Analysis: How accurate are China’s COVID-19 death numbers?” Reuters, December 22, 2022.

[24] Niall Ferguson, “China’s ‘Zero Covid’ Has Become Xi’s Nemesis,” Bloomberg,  April 17, 2022,

[25] For example, Khan notes that the Chinese leadership remains deeply concerned about foreign interference and are “terrified that [China] would fall apart again” (p. 246). See Sulmaan Wasif Khan, Haunted by Chaos: China’s Grand Strategy from Mao Zedong to Xi Jinping (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018).

[26] According to one report, “the W.H.O. experts… delivered praise for Chinese officials and endorsed critical parts of their narrative, including some that have been contentious. The W.H.O. team opened the door to a theory embraced by Chinese officials, saying it was possible the virus might have spread to humans through shipments of frozen food, an idea that has gained little traction with scientists outside China. And the experts pledged to investigate reports that the virus might have been present outside China months before the outbreak in Wuhan in late 2019, a longstanding demand of Chinese officials.” See, Javier C. Hernández, “China Scores a Public Relations Win After W.H.O. Mission to Wuhan,” New York Times, February 9, 2021,

Shalendra D. Sharma
Shalendra D. Sharma

Shalendra D. Sharma is Associate Vice-President and the Lee Shau Kee Foundation Chair Professor of Political Science at Lingnan University, Hong Kong. He has authored numerous books and published multiple articles.