just when you thought it was okay to think…

To believe or not to believe? China has a “Big White Earth God Shrine” corona test site. Is it performance art or is it an actual test site? After all, zero-Covid is based on science, not irrational commitment to a political policy, which in practice looks a lot like, well, in practice zero-Covid looks a lot like folk religion:

(L) The original TikTok post included a sound track of the Heart Sutra, editing the words to say, “Big White, when practicing deeply corona testing, sees that all five skandas are empty. Omicron, covid is not positive, positive is not negative…” The clip went viral and within a few hours a new cartoon had appeared. The header reads “test site” and the couplet says, “Fight the pandemic with one heart, Great courage and wisdom ensure safety.” (R) The cartoon made the religious impulse even more explicit, the header has been replaced with the mantra, “If there is a nucleus, it must be negative” and beneath the header, the cartoon assures the supplicant that the “nucleic acid throat stabbing immortal (核酸捅喉真人)” resides in this shrine. The actual 14-character couplet remains the same.

The point, of course, is that among Chinese intellectuals, folk religion is equated with superstition and ignorance, so the critique is explicit and sharp. However, and here’s the rub: an unstated contempt for rural practices, especially rural religion predicates the joke. Indeed, the punchline is a common complaint among intellectuals that government leaders are just a bunch of uneducated peasants and therefore incapable of governing a modern nation.

Indeed, the way in which the government is hardening its position on zero-Covid and the explicit ties between Xi Jinping’s legitimacy as General Secretary and the policy highlight the social fact that compliance with and enforcement of zero-Covid is no longer a question of public health, but has become an expression of moral citizenship; zero-Covid is increasingly a question of belief in the party and government (信党信政府). The poster below, for example, reads, “Profoundly, completely and comprehensively understand the central committee of the communist of China’s policy for epidemic prevention and control. Resolutely overcome problems such as insufficient knowledge, incomplete preparation and insufficient work. Resolutely overcome thoughts such as contempt, indifference, and pride. Resolutely be united in fighting words and deeds that distort, doubt and deny the national principles and policies of epidemic prevention.”

Thought du jour: Are the policies stupid? Clearly. Are the party and government increasingly relying on “stupid governance (愚民政治),” which is generally understood as not giving ordinary people access to learning about diverse forms of knowledge, differing opinions and public debate? Again. Clearly. Do we need to critique and resist these measures and attendant ideology. Without a doubt. But. The question remains: how do we make the case for more democratic government in inclusive terms, rather than deploying contemptuous, indifferent and prideful language and actions to make the point?!!

If this predicament sounds familiar, it’s probably because it resembles some antifa activists’ emphasis on “owning” liberals, rather than figuring out how to work with them. It also looks a lot like second wave feminism and its implicit centering of whiteness, rather than including the liberation of cis and trans- women of color. The problem isn’t that the antifa insight that we need to fight fascism is wrong. The problem also isn’t that white feminists have mistaken the way patriarchy operates. The problem is that if we are going to grow any kind of sustainable and more just society, then we on the left really do have to become aware of our own biases because they are critical to how the system maintains itself, even when and despite achieving justice goals. I mean, how truly different were Trump and Clinton? Trump and Biden? (And yes, in both 2016 and 2020 I voted against the populist fascist, rather than for the carrying-on as usual candidate.) But seriously, we had the choice between two late boomer candidates, who were white, rich and disconnected from the US-now in contrast to the US of their shared youth.

Similarly, the Big White Shrine isn’t wrong when it points to the ideological transformation of a public health program into a new and enforceable form of political correctness. And the joke is funny, especially when we remember that the party and government demand obligatory belief even as they present themselves as being rational and scientific and fundamentally opposed to superstition–hee! The point du jour, however, is that if China is going to grow any kind of sustainable movement out of and away from a form a form of techno-medical authoritarianism that relies on the relentless and continued exploitation of rural people, then intellectuals are going to have to find new words and deeds for their most righteous protest.

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