I was in China for part of December 2019, but only Beijing. About the time I left (which was Dec. 29, I think), the headlines began coming out that someone in Wuhan, China, was suspected of carrying a “new virus.” I had previously been in China at the very start of the decade, May 2010, and now was back in the last month of the decade, Dec. 2019. I had many observations of how I imagined China had changed.
This “virus” story, from my perspective, writing in early March, has been bad for China’s soft power.
The writing I was doing, in emails and chatting-app messages to many at the time, were all about how I perceived a South-Korean-ization of China economically and a North-Korean-ization of China politically. The South-Korean-ization of certain consumer goods and television shows were, I think, probably consciously copied. On the other hand, anything political was much more reminiscent of North Korea. The political sections of bookstores were laughable; they might as well have been selling nothing but repackaged and new editions of the Little Red Book.
That was my perceived reality. I admit it was probably colored by the fact that in 2010 I was in the south and in May, and in 2019 I was in Beijing in December; Beijing is never a friendly place, they say. In any case, the restrictions I perceived, such as on the Internet, I felt were tougher in 2019 than 2010.
What I meant was China’s soft power deficit still had a long way to go in 2019.