People visit a museum of artworks of the late former Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong to mark his 126th birth anniversary in Nantong in eastern China's Jiangsu province on Dec. 26, 2019. (Photo: STR/AFP)
A new epidemic is spreading across mainland China. With the communist government openly legitimizing its traditional method of spying, suspicion has pitted neighbors against neighbors, wreaking havoc in society.The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which has promoted spying by the public for years, is now encouraging it for the coronavirus epidemic. With that, the surreptitious activity has gained a certain legitimacy of doing a public service.Battling the spreading virus, China has promised cash and material rewards such as masks for information on visitors from virus-stricken locations. Monetary rewards go up to 3,000 yuan (US$430).
This reporting culture of using citizens for spying traces its origin to the Mao Zedong era. During the civil war between the Kuomintang people and the communists, the CCP encouraged people to report and expose Kuomintang soldiers, civil servants and their families.
Anyone who passed on information was hailed as a national hero and promoted. Those who failed were tortured or punished on charges of treason, theft and being an accomplice to crimes.
The mass reporting culture peaked during the 10-year Cultural Revolution that ended in 1976. It split friends, families and communities. Everyone was in danger, and nobody dared to speak the truth.
The current government, under President Xi Jinping, is giving a new realm to the reporting culture. Under the guise of epidemic control and isolation of infected people, the practice is being revived and rewarded. The virus is another tool to revitalize and legitimize a condemnable culture without attracting criticism.
Spying has been gaining strength in China for some time now, even among the young generation. One example is on university campuses. Many teachers in universities are scared to speak openly in classes, fearing students reporting them to authorities.
Sometimes students falsely report teachers just because they did not get a few bonus marks and a school award, resulting in the punishment or suspension of many teachers who uphold justice.
In recent years, the reporting has gone online too. Many do not dare to take a stand for justice or to express their opinions against the state even online because they could be reported.
The reporting culture also exists in the China Church. Open-church priests eagerly pass on information about underground priests to the government. They aim to use government power to suppress underground priests, allowing them to take over their parishes. There also have been instances of church members spying on priests.
The reporting culture mainly targets the CCP’s dissidents to consolidate power. Dissent against the party is not allowed and summarily dealt with. The chance of another person being a "reporter" has helped mistrust grow overwhelmingly among Chinese people.
No one, however, believes that concealing coronavirus infection helps anyone. Instead, all would agree that honesty is necessary for public health and safety. But the CCP’s reporting culture has taught the Chinese people not to trust the state and to show scant regard for ethics and morality.
From the perspective of people in Hubei, the epicenter of the virus, concealing infection seems the best security method. On the one hand, they have no confidence in public medical treatment. On the other, those outside their province chase them out. They tend to hide not only infection but even their place of birth.
Virus reporting has become a sham. People looking to make an extra buck or obtain a few masks start reporting anyone they suspect of having a chance of infection. Government staff then have to verify the information through time-consuming tests. With most reports turning negative, reporting has become a waste of public resources.
Some on the mainland have shown ingenuity in reporting. They would report infected relatives who needed medical care in a hospital or isolation area. The secret reporting helped those relatives to get much-needed medical attention.
The CCP seems to be succeeding in its aim of creating a society lacking transparency and peace. Furthermore, the virus has helped the party to polish its hallmark method to create a fearful society by trampling on personal freedom, privacy and safety.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.