When China informed the world in early 2020 that it had discovered a “novel” and “devastating” virus, it also claimed to have innovated a new way to “contain” it. The world listened. With breathtaking speed, most countries and states threw out their established pandemic management strategies to make way for an entirely new concept, the “lockdown.” China claimed that it locked down “so well” in Wuhan that COVID19 would bypass the rest of China — but the remainder of the world, down to rural South Dakota and Timbuktu — would need a Wuhan-style lockdown to avoid mass death.
Eight months later, the world now has data on hundreds of individual “lockdown” experiments of various durations and stringencies. Collectively, they yield fascinating results: lockdowns correlate with higher — not lower — all-cause mortality. Sweden, which famously failed to lock down, had higher per-capita mortality in 2015, when there was no pandemic. Lockdown-free U.S. States such as Wyoming, South Dakota, and Arkansas have average mortality this year, as do states with short and/or light lockdowns, such as Georgia and Florida. The areas with the tightest lockdowns — such as the New York City metro area, Italy, Spain, Peru, and Argentina — have the highest excess mortality in the world.
These statistics shock the conscience. Nations and citizens agreed to lock down on the premise that doing so would save lives. They accepted the cost of decimated businesses, lapses in education, healthcare interruptions, and perhaps worst of all, agreed to a divisive new morality in which we are each to blame when someone else gets sick. Given the indisputable data at hand that adopting these measures resulted in nothing but grievous societal decimation and additional, avoidable deaths, we must contemplate how, exactly, such a gargantuan mistake was made. How did we get here?
The China/WHO Lockdown Marketing Campaign
It is surprisingly easy to trace the genesis of “lockdown” through readily available online sources. Lockdown of healthy populations has never been tried before, and is not included in English-language pandemic management recommendations. The idea was not openly debated in the scientific community, let alone formally entered into the public health playbook. Yet when a “novel coronavirus” was discovered in China, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus went to great lengths to praise and congratulate China on its newly-designed “lockdown,” wherein dictator Xi Jinpeng welded people inside their apartments in the name of disease control. On January 30, 2020, the WHO issued a statement declaring this action was “good not only for that country but also for the rest of the world.” Tedros followed this up with a tweet: “China is actually setting a new standard for outbreak response.”
During this time period, hundreds of thousands of social media posts later traced to China praised the Chinese lockdown, and ridiculed and smeared world leaders who implemented less draconian measures. In February, the WHO convened a “Global Research and Innovation Forum” to study the disease and how to manage it. During a February 24 press conference to announce its findings, the Joint Mission declared: “there is no question that China’s bold approach to the rapid spread of this new respiratory pathogen has changed the course of what was a rapidly-escalating and continues to be deadly epidemic.” The data on which this conclusion was grounded was as follows:
“And there’s a couple of other graphics . . . here’s the outbreak that happened in the whole country on the bottom. Here’s what the outbreak looked like outside of Hubei. Here are the areas of Hubei outside of Wuhan. And then the last one is Wuhan. And you can see this is a much flatter curve than the others. And that’s what happens when you have an aggressive action that changes the shape that you would expect from an infectious disease outbreak.
This is extremely important for China, but it’s extremely important for the rest of the world, where this virus you’ve seen in the last few days is taking advantage to explode in certain settings. And it wasn’t easy because what I didn’t mention on this slide is every one of these lines represent a huge decision by policy makers and politicians in this country and leaders to actually change the shape with big measures such as, you know, the suspension of travel, the stay-at-home advisories, and other incredibly difficult measures; to make decisions about, but also to get a population to follow.”
Because this was a “novel” disease, there was no baseline for what to “expect from [this] infectious disease outbreak.” It was absolutely possible that the observed disease epicurve depicted the natural movement of a novel pathogen. It could also have resulted from testing protocols. However, the Chinese government ignored all of this and used post hoc, ergo propter hoc logic —“it happened after, so it was caused by” — to declare that “we did a lockdown, so the curve is a lot flatter than it would have been otherwise.” This is the same flawed logic used by primitive tribes when they attributed rainfall to their rain dance, or a favorable crop yield to sacrificial offerings.
Infectious diseases never spread evenly across the globe. Some areas are always harder hit that others. Attributing that effect to “government action” is a logical fallacy — there are many natural explanations, such as geography, climate, demographics, population health, travel patterns, pre-existing immunity, vaccination programs, and more. Even the most hubristic politician knows that the mere issuance of a government mandate does not automatically mean it “worked” — they are just hoping to convince voters that it did. Yet China ignored all of this. Exploiting a basic logical fallacy, it made what it knew would be economically devastating recommendations to other political leaders, who it knew were facing down terrified populations grasping for a lifeline. This was the perfect setup to ensure popular approval for lockdowns, making them a “good” political decision, at least in the short term.
Hanlon’s razor requires us to default to assuming that actions were stupid before they were malicious. As of late February 2020, when the COVID19 epidemic was a mere 7 weeks old, there was grossly inadequate data available for China to represent in good faith — knowing the devastating consequences that lockdowns would cause — that its Wuhan lockdown “eradicated” the virus. The virus could have just abated on its own — perhaps that’s how this new virus behaves. There was no way to eliminate that possibility. Furthermore, China did not test all of its citizens, so declaring the virus — which presents very similar to the flu — to be “gone” was also superficially ridiculous. Yet that’s exactly what China did, and the WHO validated the conclusion.
“China didn’t approach this new virus with an old strategy for one disease or another disease. It developed its own approach to a new disease and extraordinarily has turned around this disease with strategies most of the world didn’t think would work . . . What China has demonstrated is, you have to do this. If you do it, you can save lives and prevent thousands of cases of what is a very difficult disease.”
How did China know it saved lives? It had no baseline for this new disease. How could China declare that Paris, London, New York City, Peru, and even rural South Dakota needed a lockdown? Propaganda later traced to China viciously bullied Governor Kristi Noem for not issuing a stay-at-home order, accusing her of genocide. (South Dakota has average mortality in 2020.) How did China know the virus wasn’t yet to arrive in Beijing or Shanghai?
It is hard to conceive of an innocent answer to these questions.
Even more suspiciously, China and the WHO claimed to know as early as February 24 — before large-scale tests had even been manufactured— that there would be no danger to other nations posed by leaving borders open with China. In fact, other nations should accept “help” from the Chinese — the danger was dropping in China, while rising everywhere else.
“And this brings us to what I think is one of the most important recommendations we would make in respect to getting China fully back on its feet after this crisis. The world needs the experience and materials of China to be successful in battling this coronavirus disease. China has the most experience in the world with this disease, and it’s the only country to have turned around serious large-scale outbreaks. But if countries create barriers between themselves and China in terms of travel or trade, it is only going to compromise everyone’s ability to get this done. And those kinds of measures need to be anything that goes beyond what’s been recommended by the IHR committee, has got to be reassessed, because the risk from China is dropping, and what China has to add to the global response is rapidly rising.”
This is very convenient for China. A few weeks later, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office granted exclusions from import tariffs for “dozens of medical products imported from China, including face masks, hand sanitizing wipes and examination gloves.” A few weeks after that, most of the world population was living under never-before-heard-of “lockdown” orders.
A Prescient Chinese Book
In 1999, two former Chinese People’s Liberation Army (“PLA”) senior colonels, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, published a book, Unrestricted Warfare, in which they reimagined warfare in a post-nuclear age.
Recognizing that the ubiquity of ultra-powerful nuclear weapons meant a reality of mutually-assured destruction, the authors posit that going forward, nations seeking to attack (or merely control) an adversarial superpower would need to wage war in an innovative and intelligent manner. Qiao and Wang believed that in the post-nuclear age, rules of engagement would fundamentally change, making customary rules of war obsolete.
“The only point which is certain [about future warfare] is that, from this point on, war will no longer be what it was originally. Which is to say that, if in the days to come mankind has no choice but to engage in war, it can no longer be carried out in the ways with which we are familiar. [W]ar will be reborn in another form and in another arena, becoming an instrument of enormous power in the hands of all those who harbor intentions of controlling other countries or regions.”
Published by PLA Press — and therefore at least tacitly endorsed by PLA leadership — the book sets forth various tactics whereby developing countries, “in particular China,” could compensate for military inferiority to the United States. It foretells a “weapons revolution” in which societies would pivot away from expensive warheads and mass casualties, and instead launch attacks of the mind — weapons would be “symbolized by information” and powered by psychological rather than traditional weaponry. Future wars would thus be waged on “a level which is hard for the common people — or even military men — to imagine,” grounded in the concept that even the most sophisticated military force “does not have the ability to control public clamor, and cannot deal with an opponent who does things in an unconventional manner.”
“Some morning people will awake to discover with surprise that quite a few gentle and kind things have begun to have offensive and lethal characteristics.”
“Gentle and kind things” such as social media, or popular mass-media outlets, perchance? The authors specifically imagined as much, stating that China could “create many methods of causing fear which are more effective [than casualties],” including the use of “media weapons . . . focused on paralyzing and undermining [the United States].”
“We can point out a number of means and methods used to fight non-military war, some of which already exist and some of which may exist in the future. Such means and methods include psychological warfare (spreading rumors to intimidate the enemy and break down his will), [and] media warfare (manipulating what people see and hear in order to lead public opinion along). Methods that are not characterized by the use of the force of arms, nor by the use of military power, nor even by the presence of casualties and bloodshed, are just as likely to facilitate the successful realization of the war’s goals, if not more so.”
Everyone who has lived through 2020 appreciates the enormous force of media in fomenting public fear. The level of fear achieved in early March not only permitted politicians to impose lockdowns, but allowed them to become more popular for doing so. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo even admits on tape that lockdowns “are not the best” way of dealing with a pandemic, but are used because “people are scared” and “they want everything closed.”
Lockdowns harm us. They fracture society. They lead to the shaming of former friends, to apps created exclusively to snitch on neighbors. They kill people. Yet they are being imposed, and reimposed, everywhere.
Except in China.
China escaped lockdowns. Life is normal there. It is hard to ignore that China (1) fomented public fear with astroturf propaganda efforts, (2) knew that the concept of lockdown-as-sensible-policy would find fertile soil in the imagination of a terrified public, (3) knew that the average person has never contemplated the variety, effectivity, or limitations of pandemic management measures, and (4) knew that politicians would be trapped once their voters were terrified and offered a purported “lifeline.” We know that China depicted a killer virus that strikes people instantly dead while walking down the street. We know that China promoted lockdown through official channels: one official spokesperson posted a video in which a 7-year-old girl promoted social distancing for children, and Chinese state media described the “strategy” of “herd immunity” — a scientific phenomenon as unavoidable as gravity — as a violation of “human rights.”
China both graphically depicted the problem and sold the remedy. Simple. Like a liquor store hawking antacid tablets or a casino teaming up with bankruptcy attorneys, China made sure we knew how terrified we should be, and then marketed its desired action— an ingenious weapon of unrestricted warfare? — as a “solution.”
We fell for it. Entire populations became convinced they would be “grandma killers” if they didn’t assent to the suspension of constitutional rights, forced closure of businesses, and discontinuation of education. As data rolled in that we may have made a massive error, elite Americans fought the implication that they could have “been wrong”; politicians with upcoming elections could not admit that the policy they endorsed had been a mistake.
To the benefit of China and the great detriment of everyone else, much of the world is still stuck living under the false pretense that “lockdown” is a remotely acceptable tool to manage a pandemic. Unequivocal data establishes that COVID19 does not even cause excess mortality when you don’t overreact to it, and that the tightest lockdowns have produced the world’s worst mortality outcomes, along with economic devastation, yet we remain stuck, our societies fraying at the seams.
Whether by design or by chance, we are witnessing the exact outcome of successful “economic warfare” foreseen by PLA’s Liang and Xiangsui:
“A defeat on the economic front precipitates a near collapse of the social and political order. The casualties resulting from the constant chaos are no less than those resulting from a regional war, and the injury done to the living social organism even exceeds the injury inflicted by a regional war.”
Is this a pandemic? Or is it a war? We know that Xi Jinpeng has a vision for Chinese world domination. We know that his party has leaked memoranda describing the ideas that threaten China with “major disorder,” including “separation of powers,” “independent judiciaries,” “universal human rights,” “Western freedom,” “civil society,” “economic liberalism,” “total privatization,” “freedom of the press,” and “free flow of information on the internet.” Xi Jinpeng’s party believes that allowing the Chinese people to contemplate these concepts would “dismantle [our] party’s social foundation” and jeopardize the party’s aim to build a modern, socialist future.
So the motivation is there. The post hoc, ergo propter hoc logical fallacy — “lockdown eradicated COVID19 in Wuhan” — occurred. The recommendations made to world politicians for management of COVID19 were wrong. We failed to stop the virus, we destroyed our economies and societies, and we are still trapped.
China could not have designed a better weapon of Unrestricted Warfare.