China's victory over COVID-19 underpinned by noble values
Zhang Weiwei
Medical workers pose for photos after seeing cured patients off at the Wuchang temporary hospital in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, March 10, 2020. /Xinhua

Medical workers pose for photos after seeing cured patients off at the Wuchang temporary hospital in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, March 10, 2020. /Xinhua

Editor's note: Zhang Weiwei is the director of China Institute of Fudan University in China. The article is excerpted from a Chinese manuscript first published on The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

In early May 2020, President Xi Jinping said that it took China over a month to achieve initial success in curbing the spread of the coronavirus and three months to win a decisive victory in defending Wuhan City and Hubei Province. For China, with a large population of 1.4 billion, this achievement did not come easy. The great success should be partly attributed to the millions of ordinary Chinese people who uphold many noble values. Comparing China with other countries fighting against the pandemic, I am convinced that these values should be made universal.

First, respect for lives. In its fight against COVID-19, China has been committed to putting people's lives first. This should become a universal value. Some Western countries keep preaching their support for human rights and "universal values," but in action they do not even recognize the priority of lives. In contrast, "lives are precious" is such a powerful consensus in China that it drives the country to spare no effort to save people's lives. This is what touches the Chinese people most and what they are most proud of.

In the battle against COVID-19, the values cherished by Chinese people is in striking contrast with some Western values such as giving priority to business interests, social Darwinism, the so-called "herd immunity" and giving up on elderly patients. Chinese people have felt so fortunate to live in a country that values lives. There are no better forms of human rights education in the world. It is ludicrous that some countries which do not respect their people's rights to life try to teach China about human rights.

Second, solidarity. The solidarity of Chinese people in the face of the pandemic has moved countless souls at home and abroad. Hailed as "heroes in harm's way," over 40,000 healthcare workers were mobilized from across China to help in the pandemic-stricken areas. They came in medical teams that were ready for and able to win in the battle against the virus.

In contrast, some Western countries are deeply divided societies plagued by factionalism, selfishness and an indifferent government that is no longer trusted by its people. This has resulted in grave consequences in the United States, the hardest-hit country in the world. There have been rising tensions between the U.S. federal and state governments, with governors accusing the federal government of intercepting shipments of medical equipment ordered by state authorities. It is almost impossible for such a government to call on its people to fight the pandemic in solidarity.

A staff member disinfects a workshop at Haoshou Garments Co., Ltd. in Jinjiang City of southeast China's Fujian Province, February 20, 2020. /Xinhua

A staff member disinfects a workshop at Haoshou Garments Co., Ltd. in Jinjiang City of southeast China's Fujian Province, February 20, 2020. /Xinhua

Third, responsibility. The remarkable sense of responsibility Chinese people have shown for their family, friends and others, as well as for society, the country and the world at large is something that is unparalleled in most Western countries. Due to extreme individualism or priority of individual interests, it is difficult to require people in one neighborhood to stay indoors or wear masks for months in some Western countries, let alone asking millions to do so. The notion of freedom, the core of Western liberalism and democracy, is put to the test during the pandemic.

The coronavirus put to the test not only public health, but also political systems and cultural notions, liberalism in particular, the proudest ideal of the West, from its conceptions to institutional arrangements and practices.

Fourth, the sense of a global community with a shared future. The response to COVID-19 has made it clear that the world is a community with a shared future. This value can be viewed as an extension of Chinese people's sense of responsibility to the international community. Some Western countries are reluctant to shoulder their responsibility as a member of the international community. 

For example, the U.S., guided by its value of "America First," has officially notified the World Health Organization of its withdrawal. Instead of reflecting on its missteps, the U.S. has been trying to blame others for its own failures in coping with the pandemic. With such poor governance, the U.S. put itself in a difficult position. In hindsight, if the U.S. had followed the advice of the WHO, it would not have suffered so many setbacks in containing the coronavirus; if it had learned from China's experience, it could have done even better. The virus knows no borders or races. It is a common challenge faced by the international community and can only be addressed by uniting as one.

Finally, "people-centered modernity." In the spirit of putting people first, China embraces the latest information and communication technologies and the new industrial revolution in general. In some way it is redefining modernity. We have seen 5G, artificial intelligence, genetic technologies and the development of information industry playing important roles in China. China is the only country where virtually everything can be done on a smartphone. It is also the country with the most complete industrial chain and the largest consumer market in the world.

The political system of a modern country in the 21st century should be one that can enable rapid response, efficient leadership, effective coordination and mobilization. Such capacities are necessary to deliver to its people freedom and human rights in the true sense of the terms. Similarly, the values upheld by a modern country in the 21st century should include putting people's lives first, solidarity, a balance between freedom and self-discipline, the sense of a global community with a shared future, and "people-centered modernity." These values are essential for a country to be viewed as modern.

The adoption of such noble values by China in its fight against COVID-19 is very much like a new wave of emancipation of the mind. It is comparable to what China experienced in 1978 and 1992. The debate on standards for testing truth, with "practice is the sole criterion for testing truth" as its final consensus reached in 1978, freed China from dogmatism and facilitated the launch of the policy of reform and opening-up. 

The decision to build "a socialist market economy" in 1992 freed China from planned economy and greatly released productive capacities. Today, the set of noble values that underpinned China's victory over COVID-19 has deromanticized the Western world, the Western model, and the Western narrative. This new wave of emancipation of the mind is bound to help China march to the center of the world stage with more confidence.

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