With ‘Zero Covid,’ China Proved It’s Good at Control. Governance Is Harder.

A widely circulated WeChat article speculated that the shortage of fever medications reflected the government’s lack of preparation for loosening control. And if the government had shown the same political will that it had in carrying out “zero Covid,” the article argued, it could have ensured there was ample supply of such medication.

“It doesn’t care about the ordinary people, leaving them to fend for themselves and even delighting in their chaos,” the article said, and it urged officials to show up where the public most needed them to win back trust.

The low confidence in the government is forcing people to help themselves and help one another. In local WeChat groups, people made arrangements to share their fever medicines and rapid test kits with their neighbors.

Tencent, the social media giant, also built a WeChat program where people could ask for medications from strangers with extra. The help requests are modest: six tablets of acetaminophen; four tablets of ibuprofen; two rapid test kits; one thermometer.

They are asking strangers for help because they’re not getting it from their government.

“Don’t expect anything from Leviathan — there’s no point in appealing, either,” Chen Min, a former journalist better known by his pen name, Xiao Shu, wrote on his WeChat timeline, referring to the central government. “In the end, we have to help ourselves.”

Only by building an extensive network of social connections, he continued, “can we weave a real social safety net in the darkest moment, build a real Noah’s ark and save countless lives.”

This is exactly the type of governance crisis about which Mr. Xi had once warned the party.

“It is not up to us to judge our party’s governance capacity or performance; they must and can only be judged by the people,” Mr. Xi said in a speech in 2013. “If we are pretentious and divorce ourselves from the people or put ourselves above them, we will surely be abandoned by them. This is the case for any party, and is an iron law which admits of no exception.”

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