“When the ability to govern decreases, even in the absence of any particular policy from the top, the ineptitude, brutality, and ignorance of lower-level officials will brew disasters for the common people they rule over,” said Mr. Wu, who is a senior research scholar at the Stanford Center on China’s Economy and Institutions.
Many businesspeople have lost a lot of money under “zero-Covid,” which has shuttered cities and locked millions of people in their homes for weeks at a time as the government seeks to eliminate the coronavirus.
“Under the leadership of this dictator, our great country is falling into an abyss,” said a hardware tech executive in Shenzhen. “But you can’t do anything about it. It pains and depresses me.”
Despite many conversations over the years, we never talked about politics. I was surprised when he called after the party congress to talk about his “political depression.” He said he used to be very nationalistic, believing that the Chinese were among the smartest and the most hardworking people in the world. Now, he and many of his friends spend most of their time hiking, golfing and drinking. “We’re too depressed to work,” he said.
Until a year ago, his start-up was doing so well that he was planning to take it public. Then he lost a big chunk of his revenues and his new hires sat idly with nothing to do when cities were locked down under the “zero-Covid” rules. He said now he has no choice but to lay off more than 100 people, sell his business and move his family to North America.
“Since the dark night has descended,” he said, “I’ll deal with it the dark night way.”
The tech entrepreneur from Beijing who texted me after the party congress recounted a chilling experience. In May, when there were rumors that Beijing could be locked down, he felt he could not tell his employees to leave work early and stock up on groceries. He was worried that he could be reported for spreading rumors — something that had gotten people detained by the police. He told them only that they should feel free to leave early if they had things to take care of.
This successful business person is now applying to emigrate to a European country and the United States.