My plan was to go

My plan was to go back to Beijing after my three-week tour of South China, but conditions there seem to have deteriorated to the point that I simply can’t return. I have rebooked my flights to go to Singapore from Shanghai, where the SARS infection rate has, for some mysterious reason, remained low. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Tomorrow we fly to Yunnan, the highlight of the trip and a place I’ve dreamed of visiting for two years. Now I’m worried that, like Guilin, entire areas may be blocked to tourists, making the trip an exercise in frustration. Too late to change things now, so we’ll just have to go with the flow and make the best of things.

Meanwhile, the Chinese media continue with their usual propaganda, at times making the SARS menace seem more a nuisance than anything else. Earlier this week China Daily held “interviews” with students quarantined on Beijing university campuses. Each had the same comment: It was dull at first, but then it was actually kind of fun, with TV and games and a great opportunity to read and meditate. No one had any complaints. Then there were threee “letters to the editor,” all of which congratulated the government for its courage and stressed that now was the time to stand behind these brave leaders in the fight against SARS. The letters expressed annoyance that the Party had fallen under criticism for the Beijing cover-up, and stressed that it was time to “put all of that behind us.” Then I saw at the top of the same page a lengthy editorial that said, more or less, exactly what the three letters said. Coincidence? I don’t know, but I found it all too reminiscent of the government’s heavy-handed, clunky attempts to “maintain social stability” by repeating the same rosy scenario again and again and again, until the public finally despairs and accepts it as Truth.

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