China’s COVID story is not being told

Thomas Brown
11 min readJan 3

China has just ended it’s “zero-COVID” policy. After nearly three years of being an isolated behemoth, demonstrating a singular alternative to the wider world’s mitigation strategies, the People’s Republic of China is opening up and essentially giving up on ending the disease, opting instead for living with it.

Indeed, the national government reportedly is even favoring a full-scale “herd-immunity” strategy, hoping that enough people will have caught and recovered — thereby gaining natural immunity — that the impending Chinese New Year celebrations will not be disrupted. As such, the Chinese authorities are no longer recording positive test results, demanding negative tests for basic activities like entering a grocer, or automatically sending potential positives to one of the thousands of COVID internment camps built across the country over the course of the pandemic.

The Chinese government is, however, still not being honest and upfront about how events are unfolding in the wake of zero-COVID’s abandonment. People are dying, but the government is not admitting it or allowing Chinese media to report on it. But some things they can’t cover up: like the overflowing morgues and crematoriums.

A friend of mine forwarded me a post from WeChat, China’s premier phone app, about how dire the situation is in Beijing and how ordinary Chinese are being taken advantage of as their loved ones die around them. Below is the post, now scrubbed and censored from the WeChat platform and legally unavailable to see within China. I edited for grammar and punctuation and vocabulary. The post in original Chinese is below. My thanks to Chen for trusting me with and helping me translate and edit this.

Commemorate Comrade Li Jianhua

On December 18, 2022, my third uncle, Li Jianhua, unfortunately passed away, very suddenly, because of a previous history of cancer. He died in his sleep, and on the 19th, I was notified by his sister. I was surprised beyond words to learn that he was going to be cremated the next day. I was wondering if his body should still be kept in a temporary shelter for three days, but on the 19th, I rushed to Guang’anmen Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine at five o’clock in the morning in a sad mood. What happened next, I will probably remember for a long time.

First, the cremation site is in Miyun [Editor’s note: 73 km from Beijing]. I asked my sister why it is so far away, and she replied that she…