Editor’s note for Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Dear Access member,

Will the coronavirus change the way China’s millennials see their country? That’s the question asked (but not entirely answered) in a new essay (porous paywall) for the New Yorker by Jiayang Fan.

“Most people are just frustrated and become pragmatic,” says one of her interlocutors. Another “felt that the Party’s insistence on maintaining the political status quo — which has become much easier to enforce with the sharp rise of surveillance technology — is wearing down the likelihood of a mass call for social change.” This seems right to me, and I believe the surveillance state will only grow stronger after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

Propaganda is another factor. While the people featured in Fan’s essay are media savvy, many of their peers are not and are susceptible to government messaging. On Chinese social media, there is overwhelming evidence that people believe that China has successfully conquered the coronavirus and is now helping the rest of the world — which is in chaos. There is some truth to that, but when, this morning, a friend of mine in Beijing offered to mail me a box of face masks, I told him to hang on to them: This thing is not over till it’s over.

Counterpoint: “As China’s government promotes its successes in containing the coronavirus to audiences abroad, a heated backlash against a state-media reporter’s coverage of the pathogen shows that Beijing still faces a tough task selling its narrative at home,” reports the Wall Street Journal (paywall).

Meanwhile, with Trump tweeting about the “Chinese virus,” and Beijing crowing about its expulsion of a big group of American journalists, U.S.-China relations are at their lowest point in decades (see our first story below).

Our word of the day is “everything points to disaster” (凶多吉少 xiōng duō jí shǎo).

Buckle up! We’re in for a rough ride.

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief