On 13 March Xi Jinping dusted off his Maoist vocabulary textbook and called on the Chinese people to wage a “People’s War” against Covid-19. China’s leader appeared resolute for the television cameras despite confronting an unprecedented crisis coming immediately after a tumultuous year.
“The trade war with America has hit everyone,” Xue Ye, a curator from Hebei province told me at a dinner party in December 2019, not long before the novel coronavirus outbreak became public. “The leadership don’t know what to do about it, nor the Hong Kong issue.”
The massive protests in Hong Kong were a popular indictment on the Middle Kingdom’s lapse into authoritarianism under the newly crowned “Emperor for Life”. The Stars and Stripes flags and the Union Jacks waving amid a sea of Hongkongers sent a message to the world. “If Hong Kong fails, so goes the world’s first line of defence,” wrote democracy activist Joshua Wong, framing Hong Kong as a new West Berlin.