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In Coronavirus Fight, China Sidelines an Ally: Its Own People


Hospitals in Wuhan and surrounding Hubei Province have been making urgent pleas to the Chinese people for three weeks as the new coronavirus ripples through the country: Send more protective gear.Supplies are close — and yet frustratingly out of reach. Medical supplies donated to the Red Cross Society of China’s Wuhan branch sit in warehouses. Individuals who try to organize relief supplies face violating the country’s strict charity law.Beijing has shown the world that it can shut down entire cities, build a hospital in 10 days and keep 1.4 billion people at home for weeks. But it has also shown a glaring weakness that imperils lives and threatens efforts to contain the outbreak: It is unable to work with its own people.
The coronavirus outbreak has exposed the jarring absence in China of a vibrant civil society — the civic associations like business groups, nonprofit organizations, charities and churches that bring people together without involving the government.
Think of it as the nervous system that helps a society move smoothly and briskly — something Benjamin Franklin recognized over 200 years ago when he organized Philadelphia’s first volunteer fire department, first public library and first charity hospital. “It is prodigious the quantity of good that may be done by one man, if he will make a business of it,” he wrote in 1783.“The traditional management mechanism of ‘big government’ is no longer efficient, and is even failing,” Duan…

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