One writer tells me the posts from the SARS bloggers are becoming predictable and redundant, and I’d probably agree (at least about my own blog). Still, I think there are enough nuances to make it worthwhile to tell how the SARS phenomenon is affecting life here. The first story on the news this morning (it’s approaching 8am China time) was “Officials confirm martial law will not be imposed on Beijing.” That’s good news. The remarkable thing is seeing how anouncements like this are actually soothing, as opposed to bizarre — the city is at a point where the announcer could take the “not” out of that sentence and no one would be surprised. Shocked, upset, furious, but not really surprised.
I have very little to say about SARS itself; other bloggers can do that a lot better. What to me is blogworthy is the effect it’s having on the people and the way of life in Beijing, which was a relatively complacent city just two weeks ago. I have learned volumes about the Chinese people and their government; I have seen first-hand just how weak the government’s platform is, supported almost entirely with propaganda and brute force. And now, the propaganda is irreparably weakened; no one believes a thing they hear at the moment, and thus the never-ending wave of rumors.
My own opinion is that this panic is irrational beyond words. The hysteria is absurd, as are the witch-doctor remedies people are racing to buy. It’s a case study of panic and, in some cases, stupidity. I want to flee Beijing not because of SARS but because of this hysteria, which has made life here painfully difficult and nerve-wracking. OK. the movers come in 30 minutes and they’ll be pissed if I’m sitting here blogging….
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.