Chinese Response to Corona Nothing to Write Home About

On the surface, quarantining the population of Spain looks impressive and decisive. But it conceals that there were many decisions that are unlikely to happen in advanced country democracies:

(1) The lax regulations or biosafety standards that resulted in this zoonosis event in the first place.

(2) The Wuhan local government keeping the whole thing under wraps for more than a month after the first confirmed infection on December 8, up to and including arresting eight people as rumor-mongers – then launching a massive festival, including a banquet for 40,000 people, on January 17-19. This seems to be a classic illustration of the principle that “the mountains are high, and the Emperor is far away.”

(3) The ban on private cars (and public transport), leaving just 6,000 taxis to service a city of 11 million. Problem being, you are much more likely to get infected in a taxi, which carries dozens of different people every day, than in your own car. So why.

(4) The extravagantly publicized construction of that 1,000-bed hospital in 5 days (or whatever). Looks impressive from the air. But, again… what’s the point? It’s not lack of physical space that’s the limiting factor – for that, one can always requisition other public places, such as schools, supermarkets, etc. At the end of the day, the Army can set up a field hospital. This is going to be much quicker than constructing a new building from scratch. It’s trained doctors, nurses, equipment, and isolation wards that are the vital element. This might be a reflection of the wider problem that is China’s “Construction-Industrial Complex”… at some point, the solution to any problem starts becoming more construction.

In short, it seems like the usual pattern of Communists not understanding things but issuing “strong” top-down directives to appear competent and decisive. It can certainly be expected to beat the sheer incompetence and dysfunction you’d see in responses to an epidemic in the Third World. But I expect Western Europe and the Anglosphere to perform better.

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


  1. Please keep off topic posts to the current Open Thread.

    If you are new to my work, start here.

  2. reiner Tor says

    The Germans are already put to a test. They are immediately testing dozens (perhaps hundreds?) of people who might have come in contact with the infected. I can imagine that they can nip it in the bud.

    But Western countries need to stop all flights from China, for which they have been too stupid so far. Maybe the Americans today. Which would pave the way for others to do so.

    Meanwhile, in Hungary the foreign minister just celebrated a few days ago a new flight from China, currently there are 14 flights a day to Budapest. I hope it won’t appear in Hungary, but if it does, the official response might be little better than in China.

  3. They are immediately testing dozens (perhaps hundreds?) of people who might have come in contact with the infected.

    Do they have a test? How many samples (blood, saliva, sweat…) you must take form one person who has no symptoms?

    Coronavirus Detection Test in the Works for Wuhan. (Jan 24)

    It is expected that validated PCR tests will become available soon. (Jan 14)

  4. Felix Keverich says

    You guys went from Sino-worship to Sino-trashing so quickly!

    Still think this country will be global superpower?

  5. Reg Cæsar says

    This might be a reflection of the wider problem that is China’s “Construction-Industrial Complex”… at some point, the solution to any problem starts becoming more construction.

    China uses more concrete every three years than the United States did in the entire 20th century.

  6. When did I do Sino-worship? I am extremely realistic about it. You are the one who says Russia can easily conquer it because it’s basically a big South Korea or something inane like that.

  7. reiner Tor says

    I don’t think it changes long term trends.

    But their response is still incompetent. Granted, it’s one of the most third world provinces, but I’m not sure it’d be way more competent in Shanghai. Japan doesn’t look very good at tackling emergencies either. Yet it’s still a very impressive country. And it’s ten times smaller than China.

  8. reiner Tor says

    Yes, you are probably correct. But I think there’s constant supervision, and if any of them shows any mild symptoms (it starts like a common cold), they should be able to test it.

  9. But I expect Western Europe and the Anglosphere to perform better.

    What about Russia, the rest of Eastern Europe, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore?

  10. Felix Keverich says

    When did I do Sino-worship?

    You can google one of your earlier “Sinotriumph” articles… How do you square it with China having this ineffective Communist governance system, “which doesn’t understand things”. You don’t think it will be a hindrance at all?

  11. reiner Tor says

    They have a much bigger population than the USA, so even assuming a 50% less efficient population (in terms of GDP generating ability, at least), they can afford to be less competent than the Americans. And it’s not like the Americans have been super competent so far. They will probably close air traffic today, but until yesterday they weren’t even monitoring all passengers from China.

  12. The Big Red Scary says

    “lax regulations or biosafety standards”

    This is a gross understatement with respect to the early actions of the Wuhan city government concerning the “rumour mongers”, but with respect to Chinese virus researchers, I haven’t yet seen evidence of negligence (though I haven’t been following carefully). In particular, the article to which AK linked about shipping Ebola to China states that

    Scientists at the National Microbiology Lab sent live Ebola and Henipah viruses to Beijing on an Air Canada flight March 31, and while the Public Health Agency of Canada says all federal policies were followed, there are questions about whether that shipment is part of an ongoing RCMP investigation.

    For convenience, here is the link:

    “But I expect Western Europe and the Anglosphere to perform better.”

    What evidence do we have for this? I shudder to think what will happen if this corona virus gets loose in Baltimore or the banlieues of Paris.

  13. There are varying levels of competence. It’s still way higher than the global average.

    It’s just that averages tend to be very unimpressive:

  14. What evidence do we have for this? I shudder to think what will happen if this corona virus gets loose in Baltimore or the banlieues of Paris.

    Addressed in next post:

    Historically, it seems like simple wealth, and the advantages it brings – larger state capacity (e.g. to effect quarantines), more physically robust constitutions, greater physical space (e.g. private cars, detached houses), etc. – have played a critical role.

    OK, the Chinese political system may give it an edge in imposing quarantines, but everything else favors the still richer West. Also note that air pollution and widespread smoking in China should make them more vulnerable to pneumonia.

  15. The Big Red Scary says

    “Addressed in next post”

    OK, read that now. Your observations about India are almost certainly correct. I have not yet been to China (and at this rate, my planned visit is going to have to be postponed), so I cannot compare it to, say, Paris, which while still beautiful is downright filthy in the large parts inhabited by the less functional members of Francophonie.

    With respect to Russia, if it gets really bad, then I suppose we might see a recurrence of the historical pattern: initial incompetence and negligence followed by a heroic, against-all-odds over-coming of disaster.

  16. John Burns, Gettysburg Partisan says

    But Western countries need to stop all flights from China, for which they have been too stupid so far. Maybe the Americans today. Which would pave the way for others to do so.

    Yeah, for all of Karlin’s talk about how the westerners will do better, apparently we’re too stupid to do something this basic because ….. mah globalism, I guess. Mah free trade. Probably we WILL do better but that’s small comfort to me – I have elderly relatives, after all, some of whom may be at risk because my country just has to have tens of thousands of Chinese wandering around for some reason that benefits our noxious elites.

  17. You guys went from Sino-worship to Sino-trashing so quickly!

    If you were aware of their bias against muh Merika vis-a-vis countries X, you wouldn’t be surprised by such.

  18. Showmethereal says

    Yeah some of these characters are behaving as if it is a plague or even Ebola. Truth be told it is about as deadly percentage wise as a strong strain of a particular flu.

  19. Rattus Norwegius says

    Is the CCP, Communist in any meaningful way, besides the name?

  20. I tend to think that communism is more about the power structure – and about how power is handed over – rather than the economic model.

    Of course, that is just a personal definition, but what I am really trying to say is that the most significant difference between China and the West remains and will be a force for decades to come.

    BTW, it would have been interesting if this outbreak emerged in the context of gerontocracy, such as the USSR and China were in the late ’80s.

  21. The Big Red Scary says

    Since any bug that’s bad for the goose is usually bad for the gander, I’m rather skeptical any rational actors will be interested in developing bioweapons, unless they can somehow find a genetic vulnerability to target a specific population. You could imagine someone developing a doomsday bug, but a doomsday bug would only be useful if I know that you know that I know… So I find a natural source or an accidental leak from a research laboratory much more plausible.

    It would seem reasonable to have an international open-source protocol for infectious agent research, and I find it rather odd that even Canada apparently has a secretive research program. What are they planning to do? Kill off the Newfies before they catch the last codfish?

  22. last straw says

    I heard the Chinese isolated, sequenced the whole genome of the virus, and made it available world-wide on Jan.10, about one month after the first reported case on Dec. 8 last year. They also developed diagnostic assay rather quickly, and has tested at least 30,000 people (old news from a few days ago). They also put at least 60,000 people under observation (again, old news from a few days ago). They might develop some partially effective monoclonal antibody therapy or vaccine in a few months as well, although it’s a long shot.

  23. So far Chinese performed very well. I agree with the dings AK gives them however other things such as potential cure and speed of identifying the sick is impressive.

    I wonder if all those cameras were utilized to trace back those the patients interacted with.

  24. dogbumbreath says

    Let’s take a more sinister approach to the response. If this Coronavirus was a biological weapon released by the West, then as a country would China really want to contain it that quickly? You want to demonstrate to the rest of the World that weapons of this nature can spread and cannot be isolated/contained; therefore never be used. If China were to respond in such a way that everything is contained, then as a country you would just be inviting the aggressors to use biological weapons at whim without consequence.

    This virus is just another “flu” virus and the government probably had this info early on; otherwise a different strategy/response. So far the death toll has been small (much lower than your seasonal flu virus) so in reality only the old and unhealthy are victims. This is similar to the HIV virus. Only those which practice unhealthy living are susceptible to full blown AIDS and death. Certainly from a governments perspective the people living at the lower reaches of society are expendable and can be sacrificed for the benefit of the majority.

  25. prime noticer says

    “The extravagantly publicized construction of that 1,000-bed hospital in 5 days (or whatever). Looks impressive from the air. But, again… what’s the point?”

    this is how their supercomputers are too, as i pointed out. they do a lot of stuff like this. i think it’s fair to say there’s a good amount of disconnect between the Chinese and even the Japanese and the Koreans when it comes to a general character and personality of the people.

    i doubt the Chinese could ever be trusted at large, and increasing their tech and money levels will make them more authoritarian and draconian, not less, as almost all leftists seem to believe about humans broadly. a mistaken idea that underpins all leftist thought.

    reviewing more in depth tech history of the Cold War, and how much the Soviets were able to steal to be able to stay in the game, it’s hard to see how PRC does not come out victorious in a clash of civilizations by 2100 with the west. they’ll be able to steal most of the stuff they need to remain competitive, while the west slowly crumbles. in the Cold War it was the other way around – the west was sure of itself, it’s identity, and was technologically and economically ascendant.

    one of the biggest threats to the world in a more serious way is western developed AI stolen by the Chinese. if you thought bacteria and viruses escaping the clumsy and ham fisted Chinese authorities was an issue, wait a few decades.

  26. prime noticer says

    “You guys went from Sino-worship to Sino-trashing so quickly!”

    i bonk them pretty regularly in these discussions.

    i think that the Chinese are still able to generate new and ‘interesting’ virus epidemics in 2020 because the country is such a filthy backwater, whereas it’s gonna be the Americans, yet again, who come to the rescue and develop the vaccine, says all there is to say about what the actual Chinese capabilities are.

    the Chinese are so smart, that if the entire planet HAD to rely on them to say, deflect an extinction level asteroid heading for Earth, humans would 100% for sure perish. whereas if pale penis persons were called on to save the day yet again, there’s a chance we wouldn’t all be wiped out.

    the Chinese are good at stealing stuff then pushing it too far, and that’s about it. but there’s a billion of them, and they want to win, and as Stalin said, quantity has a quality all it’s own.

  27. “PRC,… they’ll be able to steal most of the stuff they need to remain…”

    Yeah, steal your way to world dominance, another novel idea from yet another sour loser. Chinese probably steals their quantum satellite from your brain, and steals their 5G from some non-existence US 5G companies.

  28. The infatuation of this author on this topic is amusing. But who am I to argue with this instant world renounced virologist, infectious disease specialist, public health expert, crisis management guru, sinologist, statistician,…

    “1,000-bed hospital … what’s the point? … one can always requisition other public places, such as schools,”

    Pretty sour grape. Why do you need a brand new hospital if an old building would work, right? As if the doctors and nurses are the ones doing the construction of the hospital.

  29. “The ban on private cars (and public transport), leaving just 6,000 taxis to service a city of 11 million. Problem being, you are much more likely to get infected in a taxi, which carries dozens of different people every day, than in your own car. So why.”

    It’s a lot easier to escape quarantine in a private car if you get close to the edge of the city. You can run the checkpoint, pay a bribe, or find a hidden road. If you’re in a car, you can get beyond the quarantine limit a lot faster after that. Having taxis in limited number that can be tracked is safer and most are not likely to use them for the reason that you mention and will be using bikes instead. Can’t get that far on a bike before someone takes a picture of a quarantine runner from a drone.

  30. Change that Matters says

    Avoiding responsibility is a major component of Chinese culture, which is why “”strong” top-down directives to appear competent and decisive” mostly fail. The guys at the bottom don’t want to left holding the can and thus pass the buck or flat out lie. It’s China’s Achilles heel.

  31. Good point.

  32. The people blogging here (or most other places) can typically only be considered experts or something close to it in perhaps 10% of what they blog about.

    If you want strictly expert opinion (if filtered through PR), just hang out at the WHO website.

    A productive comment would have pointed out why this take is wrong. As it is, your comment is entirely pointless, as I never claimed expertise in any of those domains. Hence my usage of the Troll tag.

  33. Korenchkin says

    Avoiding responsibility is a major component of Chinese culture

    It’s also a major component of modern American culture

  34. Blinky Bill says

    d dan I’m afraid you might get a skewed view about Anatoly’s overall opinion on China by reading only his most recent blog post concerning the Wuhan Coronavirus. If you have the time please take a look at these informative and nuanced past blog post about China that Anatoly regularly composes.

    My favourite:

    Anatoly is one of the few English language bloggers who provides a well rounded and balanced view of China. Don’t let his Coronavirus blog posts turn you off the rest of his work. It really is A Grade !!

  35. Oscar Peterson says

    Still think this country will be global superpower?

    Yes, probably.

    China has been in the past, and the Black Death didn’t ultimately stop the West from attaining global dominance.

    Nothing guaranteed, but until we see how this plays out, there is no reason to engage in knee-jerk assertions about how the world will be 50 years from now.

  36. Felix Keverich says

    No one says that China will be destroyed by a flu. But this incident exposes the incompetence and limitations of Chinese system. I think it will take an exceptional country to assume the role of global leader in 21st century, not just a big “above average” country.

  37. Pointing out where Chinese mess up shouldn’t get such a response. They should be able to take criticism. I did not feel like his comments were harsh, they were simply true.

  38. Blinky Bill says

    Can’t Quarantine the Corona-Chan
    Anatoly Karlin • January 24, 2020 • 408 Comments • Reply
    Dreadilk says:
    January 28, 2020 at 9:03 pm GMT
    Too many easy to circumvent.

    d dan says:
    January 28, 2020 at 1:00 am GMT
    @Daniel Chieh
    “Weird psychotic rambles are hilarious.”

    Simply too many anti-China trolls here to take this thread seriously. Besides the usual trolls, notice how many new commenter names are created just for this article. They must be paid with overtime rate.

    • Agree: Dreadilk
    • Replies: @Ungrateful, @Daniel Chieh

    I would never presume to speak for another man but I have had previous interactions with d dan and I think I can see where his coming from. If your new to Anatoly’s work and you walked into that comment section(Can’t Quarantine the Corona-Chan thread) it’d be like walking into a shit storm.

    Just to be clear if it isn’t abundantly clear already I’m a fan of Anatoly’s work and of your comments also.

  39. sudden death says

    Maybe this is the right answer? Really not enough qualified myself to tell is it truthful or not:

    Why can’t you convert an existing hotel to a hospital? Because a infectious disease quarantine hospital needs a quarantine system where there are separated red, yellow, and green areas. You can’t even allow air to escape in a real quarantine site, so you can’t put people who are really infected in an existing hotel. An existing hotel is okay for separating suspect cases. So for example the 200 some people that went back to Japan, suspect cases, they have been separated. A real quarantine site, the air pressure needs to be negative. The pressure inside has to be less than the pressure outside. A special system needs to make sure all contaminated air and sewer has to be contained so they aren’t released outside.

    taken from r/Coronavirus/comments/ew2tjo/local_report_why_has_there_been_no_news_from/

    Also worth attention if true:

    He asked, can I just get a test kit? The doctor said, “No it’s not up to you to decide. We have to make an estimate and then prioritize those with more severe symptoms. There are not enough test kits.”

    I heard the news that Tianjing city gave us 10,000 test kits but this whole city has 10 million people. You distribute that among all the hospitals and each gets a few hundred. Some locals were complaining they are reserving some for doctors and health staff. I don’t think that’s a problem. If doctors collapse, who’s going to save us? We shouldn’t worry about how to split the cake. Right now the cake isn’t fucking big enough to be split. As a doctor, how do you split a few hundred kits among 10s of thousands? So people went to 5 to 6 hospitals and got in line for kits. Once you get the kit and verified only can you be admitted to the hospital.

  40. OK, based on recommendation of Blinky Bill, a commenter I respect, I am willing to entertain the idea that I may have thrown out the baby with the bathwater with this author. Yes, I have not read much from you in the past. However, regarding your several recent threads, consider my points below.

    1. The excessive coverage. Maybe this coronavirus will be a major worldwide disaster like some of you predict, or it could just be a nothing burger (my guess), but we can agree much of the info is still in flux, and there are little known facts and much more unknowns and unknown unknowns, so why is this indulgence of article after article? It is not like the world is lacking of important but little reported events, e.g. the progress on the “deal of the century” – the opening of Russia-China gas pipeline last month.

    2. Content of this article. The content seems opportunistic. Hindsight comments like “biosafety standard” and “Wuhan government should have…” are unhelpful for the current situation, and appear insensitive when thousands are working overtime with countless sleepless nights. It reminds of my exchange with some boneheads that defended Boeing with comments like poor training of pilots in developing country, corruption in Indonesian government and lack of common sense to disable the MCAS. Some even cited the fact there was no crash in US to “prove” it was the quality of the country system that counts – something you seem to allude to too. Yes, your comments might be taken more positively when the media hype and the demonization campaign die down. Other comments like “taxi” and the construction of hospital look like nitpicking. I could easily think of a dozen reasons why allowing taxi is better than private car, e.g. enforcing multi-layer quarantine/zones, monitoring of travel pattern vs disease spread, easier sanitization of taxi comparing with uncontrolled car pooling, tracking of foreigners or counter-spies, etc.

    3. Comments of the thread. The anti-China psychopaths are extremely frustrated with the results of the 2-year multi-billions trade war and all other efforts to damage China so far. The extensive virus coverage is therefore an heaven for them to fuel the fear and racism against Chinese. Currently, there is a 24/7 info war against China. Some is calling for worldwide ban of travelers from and to China. Others are calling for quarantine of ethnic Chinese worldwide, or to cut off all businesses with China. Not surprisingly, US is leading the way by withdrawing diplomats from Wuhan and cancelling flights, and UK (who else) is following. The intention is clear: a total global embargo on anything Chinese so as to cause a severe if not irreparable damage. The efforts can only succeed if the risks of the virus is exaggerated to the maximum and the coverage fully extended, which incidentally is also what your various articles are doing and help facilitating.

    4. Chinese government performance. Chinese government just implemented the biggest quarantine in human history amidst the biggest annual human migration (spring festival) known to mankind. Xi announced there is a full government effort from all levels. Maybe you think it is an easy task and they should implemented it faultlessly. As we speak, tens of thousands of healthcare workers, government officials and volunteers are arriving in Wuhan, plus thousands of tons of equipment. They are also implementing the world largest screen tests in Wuhan. Researchers have sequenced the genome of the virus in days, and shared it with WHO and other countries. Fast and easy test kits developed and mass produced. Test procedures are developed. Furious efforts are on the cure and vaccine. Viral proteases has been isolated, and 3 lead molecules identified as inhibitors. A huge education (ok, propaganda if you prefer) campaign for the 1.4 billion people is on-going. Millions have volunteered throughout the country, each trying to chip in with whatever small ways they could (including those lowly construction workers). And then there are foreign consultants and medical teams and donations (e.g. over a million face masks arrived in Wuhan from Japanese charity groups, 2 millions from Korea, 12 millions from Vietnam, others from Belarus), massive logistics that need to organize,… In comparison to how Australia and California fought the wild fire, or how US handled the hurricanes, I can say with certainty that no country can match the scale, mobilization, logistic, responsiveness and management of Chinese government.

  41. reiner Tor says

    Some is calling for worldwide ban of travelers from and to China.

    China quarantined a region the size of a medium size country, not because the Chinese government is Wuhanophobic, but simply because they don’t want the rest of China get the same epidemic, or at least to slow down its spread to gain time to prepare for it. The same is true of the rest of the world: we’re calling for a worldwide travel ban on China not because of some Sinophobia (we’re mostly anti-Globohomo, and thus in the context of the current Sino-American conflict not very supportive of the USA), but because we don’t want the pandemic to cause the same disease and destruction it does in China. It’s pretty obvious that as long as there is such a devastating epidemic in China, but not in the rest of the world, we have every reason to restrict travel to and from China. Once there is an epidemic everywhere, we’ll need to restrict travel anywhere (a total ban will probably not be practical), because travelers are ideal vectors for the different strains of the virus.

  42. “we’re calling for a worldwide travel ban on China …because we don’t want the pandemic to cause the same disease and destruction it does in China.”

    LOL, as if you can fool anyone in believing it sounds reasonable. There are 3 cases of coronavirus in California, are you calling for travel ban to and from California with the rest of 49 states too?

  43. last straw says

    The relatively low severity and fatality of the new coronavirus is really a double-edged sword. If it were as bad as SARS, then people would be scared into self-quarantine, which will probably be more effective than forced quarantine.

    In other news, Chinese institutions developed a high sensitivity rapid diagnostic test kit that can detect the virus in 8-15 minutes. They developed it in about 10 days, and can now produce enough kits for 4,000 people a day. So far, only Xinhua, RT and a Ukraine news site have reported it.

  44. reiner Tor says

    You are showing a sign of national psychopathy. You clearly don’t care for the lives of non-Chinese, hurt feelings of Chinese matter more to you than the lives of others. Good to know.

    You know, in Beijing alone there are more cases than in the whole world outside of China. The same is true of Shanghai, and several provinces of China, like Zhejiang, Guangdong, Henan, Hunan, Anhui, etc. etc. The Chinese government itself ordered areas producing some 80-90% of Chinese GDP (so most of the country by population) to close down production, because it doesn’t want infected Chinese people to infect those still healthy. Apparently it’s very hurtful if others try to prevent them from spreading the disease abroad, where the vast majority of cases are still Chinese tourists or people who have recently been in China.

    It makes a lot of sense to restrict travel to and from China, which has a very large concentration of cases. You show your lack of empathy for peoples of the outside world by not understanding it.

  45. “You show your lack of empathy for peoples of the outside world by not understanding it.”

    LOL. Can’t answer my question whether you agree to ban traveling on California with the other 49 states, so start attacking me personally.

    You have to form a cogent argument about why you disagree with ban on California but agree to ban on China. Otherwise, you are just trolling, and I am not interested in waste my time and the readers’ time.

    Just to help you a bit, argument like:

    “in Beijing alone there are more cases than in the whole world outside of China. “

    does NOT cut it. I can form similar argument like California alone has more cases than all the 49 states combined.

  46. reiner Tor says

    You don’t have rational arguments.

    Ideally you would want to restrict travel from anywhere with even one reported case, including the USA or Germany. (Being in Central Europe, I’m more concerned about the latter.) That’d, however, be impossible. On the other hand, it’s quite possible to just shut down China travel, which would already cut off 99% of known 2019-NCoV cases. So doing 99% of the job is way simpler than doing 100% of it, which is why smart people are recommending it. (Of course, I wouldn’t be opposed to doing 100% of the job and closing the borders to any country with even one case. I don’t think a political consensus could be mustered, but I personally wouldn’t oppose it.)

    You probably knew that yourself if you had just a modicum of empathy for non-Chinese, but apparently the concerns and well-being of non-Chinese are of such little importance to you that you didn’t even give a minute of thought to it. Or, alternatively, you are not extremely biased and ethnocentric, just simply an idiot.

  47. Thorfinnsson says

    Let me guess–you are Chinese.

  48. reiner Tor says

    He’s a wumao.

  49. “But I expect Western Europe and the Anglosphere to perform better.”

    They didn’t with the 2009 H1N1 Mexican Swine Flu…