Confucius wears Mask

Bustling Beijing
4 min readDec 23, 2020
Masks- one of the most essential products of 2020

Why China’s successes in the fight against Corona have little to do with communism and much with tradition.

How can it be that in many, too many countries in the West, a virus that is far less aggressive than Sars or Ebola is causing such a shock? The real economy is down. Hospitals fill up to the pain threshold. Clearly, politics and society are overwhelmed.

Feel-good ignorance

Yet, for decades it was clear to everyone that the West is prepared for everything enjoying some kind of moral leadership. Worldwide modernity is a product of the West and the Enlightenment. After the fall of the USSR the end of history was claimed. The West´s own societal system seemed to have an almost mystical dominance, and it succumbed to complacency. Soon communism seemed like an aberration.

Long forgotten bogeyman

And then came Corona. By reflex, people took refuge in old prejudices. The red or optional yellow danger is being invoked. At the same time, long-buried colonial ideas are creeping in.

The lack of hygiene, the supposedly widespread consumption of for Western palates unimaginable food, the supposedly medieval living conditions and ideas are brought up. In short, one knows how primitive these ant-like people are over there in the east.

To condemn is more blessed than to act

When China changed course to avoid an even worse outcome, this was again a good reason to point fingers. Dictatorial methods, unimaginable atrocities were imagined from afar. Look at these communists, the tenor. And while it was easily possible to figure out, what would happen soon in the West as well, politics and society were mainly preoccupied with showing what was supposedly wrong somewhere else. Preparing for the inevitable at home would have been too unpleasant. What would the electorate say, worse, how would the economy react?!

History repeats itself

Then the virus hit the West. Throughout history, people have always reacted similarly to epidemics and pandemics that occur at regular intervals. The theoretical availability of information in our connected world seems to help little. Again, quite a few thought that everything was just a lie, a conspiracy and if real, then at least a nasty plot by the Chinese. The Westerner knows that the danger always comes from the East.

Extreme reactions

Others wonder, which system is more efficient. Authoritarian communist systems are the most appropriate to control unruly masses, they say. According to them, coercion is the only true remedy against mask deniers. When will religious terms be brought up? Then, mask deniers quickly will become mask sinners or corona heretics.

Justification by success

The actions of the Chinese Government, as far as an impartial analyst can tell, were crowned with success and, in their radicalism, seem to have been the only adequate way.

Here most people wear masks. And if not, they will not be allowed into public buildings and means of transport.

Community matters

Everyone has the right to do whatever they want in their own home. But when one meets others, he has to abide by the rules and protect himself as well as others.

The common good in Asia is above the freedom of the individual, which is perceived as absolute in the West. And herein is the gist of the matter. East Asians live this tradition because it is their own culture.

After initial criticism, the government has received a lot of praise. To many Europeans and Americans, it is clear that China is an oppressive state. How could it act like this otherwise? After all, we in the West are fully informed, aren´t we.

But, oh wonder, the Communist government in Beijing has received more support during and after the crisis than it has for a long time. Precisely because of their actions! And in other East Asian industrialized countries, the situation is similar. But wait a minute! The Japanese and Koreans are not communist.

The real reasons

The common denominator in East Asia is Confucius. The common good beats private interest. Hard work and austerity are perceived as the only true path to success. If the situation requires it, you fall in line.

This is often interpreted negatively in the West. Media and public alike are gleefully imagining how the system will collapse once Western fundamental individualism has penetrated these societies.

Yet, the everyday life of many Chinese city dwellers is highly individual and much less determined by the state than by tradition and family.

In the West, on the other hand, starting slowly and beneficially in the Enlightenment and the industrial revolution (some might discuss the antique seeds of this attitude as well) since the 1960s at the latest, the individual has come first, come what may. What is better, what is worse?

How can we judge?

An honest answer must be neither and nor. Different traditions develop hand in hand with different mentalities. And because a society unconsciously decides for one way of development or another over a long period of time. Our perspectives are inescapably linked to our own culture. So how could one or the other be absolutely condemned?

The root of the matter

The problem, however, is not individual or collective. The problem in many Western countries, and also partly, but far less, here in Asia, is ignorance.

Since when does individualism allow me to endanger my fellow human beings? Why should I have the right to unnecessarily endanger others in the quest for maximum fulfillment of my own freedom? Is it really acceptable that I, as an individual, ignore the right of my fellow human beings to health?

Many do not understand or do not want to understand that they wear a mask not so much to protect themselves from others, but others from themselves.

There is a term for such an attitude: selfishness.



Bustling Beijing

Long-term German Expat in China. PHD in History. Deep understanding of Chinese Culture. Commentate current Affairs and question the western Stereotype of China.