The New Coronavirus and Chinese Censorship

By | January 26, 2020

[January 26, 2020]  The new Coronavirus began to spread faster than determined Chinese censorship could hide it.  A theme promoted on this leadership blog is that when senior leaders fail, people suffer the consequences.  Another theme is that socialism and communism are ideologies that restrict the free flow of people, information, and ideas.  This new virus began in China, and as predicted, the communist government first attempted to hide it.

I’m taking a couple of days to break from my political profile mini-series.  This past week I posted profiles of those running for U.S. President.  We’ve not heard from any of the presidential candidates about the epidemic in China, a disease that would have been contained if not for the restrictions the communist government initially imposed.  Leadership means forthrightly addressing significant, complex problems.  Those who fail to do so are examples who lack the character to be an effective leader.  It is now clear that certain Chinese officials were negligent.

At the center of the epidemic is the Chinese city of Wuhan (approximately 11 million population).1  In a show of real leadership, several countries are working to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan and surrounding affected areas.2  The problem, however, is that the Chinese government has put infected areas under lockdown.  This effort to quarantine the population is too late to contain it fully.  Much of the world has discovered more cases, alongside China are the U.S., Japan, South Korea, the UK, and others.

The reason Chinese authorities initially hid knowledge of the virus is unknown.  What we do know is that China and other nations with authoritarian governments commonly restrict information to the public.  These restrictions are for several reasons.  First, any major problem reflects poorly upon the government and its purpose.  Second, authoritarian ideologies revolve around the idea that an individual’s best interests are indistinguishable from society’s best interests.  Third, the notion of individual freedom is incompatible with these ideologies.

Modern-day China, more than almost any other country, severely restricts its citizens’ freedom of speech and expression.  China has a tightly controlled news media and requires published information to be from official government sources and to be vetted through the state.  These controls, in part, explain why information about the new deadly Coronavirus was slow getting out.

Authoritarian governments also tend to be slow acting.  Some have argued that the reason is political corruption.  We will see more about this problem over the next few weeks as the virus continues to spread.


  1. As a side note, Wuhan has a population about the size of London, England. Yet I have been unable to find any American who ever heard of it, much less able to locate it on a map.  This is a level of our education system that we know so little about the largest nation on Earth.
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

19 thoughts on “The New Coronavirus and Chinese Censorship

  1. Greg Heyman

    The whole idea that China is some great industrial engine that is efficient, powerful, and good for its people is a huge myth. The more we know about China and it’s authoritarian leadership, the more we know its weakness, corruption, and how it debases its own peoples.

    1. Bryan Lee

      So true! Thank you Greg for pointing out what many in American and Europe cannot see with their eyes wide open.

  2. Linux Man

    A comment from a blog called PowerLineBlog. Author is John Hinderaker. Go read more by him.
    “Most recently, China has been the favored nation of the future. It has the advantage over Germany and Japan of being straightforwardly authoritarian (if no longer exactly Communist), which endeared it to anti-democratic liberals like Tom Friedman. Thus, liberals have eagerly calculated the future time when China’s GDP–or alleged GDP, as dictatorships have always been better at producing statistics than goods and services–would surpass ours. Given that China has three times our population, that would not seem to be a signal accomplishment. Nevertheless, liberals looked forward to it.”

    1. Tony Custer

      Liberals and Communists have always had a love affair. Their core beliefs are the same and based upon Marxism (or some derivative of it).

  3. apache2

    The next few weeks will tell where this whole thing is going. I hope the leadership of China learned their lesson but I doubt it.

    1. Karl J.

      Chinese President Xi Jinping called the outbreak a grave situation, and the government stepped up efforts to restrict travel and public gatherings while rushing medical staff and supplies to Wuhan, which remains on lockdown.

  4. Doc Blackshear

    So far this outbreak is nothing compared to major disease outbreaks in the past. Our ability to find a cure or preventative medicine quickly is our saving grace. That is why governments like in China can continue to survive when in the past the population would have been wiped out.

    1. JT Patterson

      Doc, but can we find out way out? That is the question of the day that nobody is asking.

    2. Dead Pool Guy

      I guess there are advantages of not living in big cities.

  5. Army Captain

    Excellent analysis here Gen. Satterfield. I look forward to seeing more on the decision-making by Chinese and world leaders. By the way, where is the World Health Organization (WHO) in all this? Haven’t heard a peep.

  6. Dr. William Blake, Sr.

    The news media are screaming headlines about so many millions who are quarantined. This should not come as too much of a surprise. At least the Chinese government is trying to resolve the crisis by being rather BOLD.

    1. Tom Bushmaster

      Doesn’t appear to be helping much. The modern world requires travel and our technology can make it happen. Diseases that are spread by humans can quickly circle the globe. It has happened and the disease has already escaped. I’m not so sure that the leaders in China could have contained it even without their initial censorship.

  7. Max Foster

    Much of what is missing in the new media today is the fact that the dictatorial leadership of China was directly responsible for the censorship of the virus contagion. Like Gen. Satterfield wrote, this could have been contained early but of course China doesn’t want to look bad on the world stage. Guess that didn’t work out too well.

    1. Eric Coda

      People in America regularly complain about Democracy being a problem. The issue for all of us is that there is no system better. This would not have happened in a Democracy because people know they can speak up without being put in prison.

    2. Jane Fillmore

      This virus thing is scary. Thanks Max for reinforcing a great point. We have competing systems of govt. It should be plain for those who can see, which is better.

      1. Max Foster

        Thanks Jane for the compliment. Now we see that 56 million are on lockdown. WOW! Never thought I’d see that.

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