February 7, 2023

Post Covid-19 China Per My Chinese Friend

By John Guy LaPlante

In huge Shanghai, Wu Bin and his wife and son getting out of the house for a while and staying away from people and enjoying a bit of healthful fresh air in the hard days of Covid-19. How wonderful it is!

His name is Wu Bin. He lives in Shanghai, truly one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

He is an engineer by profession.

He is widely traveled, has been in many countries of the world, on business, mostly.

His specialty is LED lights. He has told me more than once, “John, if you see LED lights when you’re at Home Depot. Those are my lights.”

I’m much older. Wu could be my son, even my grandson.

I have written about him a number of times, so if you’re one of my regular readers, you may remember reading about him.

I’m writing about him now for a very special reason.

We met in Nairobi, which is the capital of Kenya.

I was there as a stop on my solo trip around the globe, which resulted in my book, “Around the World at 75. Alone, dammit!”

He was single back then, in Nairobi on business and pleasure. We met in a hostel. He spoke English quite well.

Long story. We became friends and have been friends ever since.

I have been to China four times, seeing him being a principal reason. In fact, I went for his wedding.

He published that book of mine in Mandarin, which is the main language in China.

He has visited me in the United States.

He is married and has one child, a son of course.

I say of course because at that time, a man and wife were allowed only one child. Why? Because of a great fear of over-population.

A married couple preferred a son.

If the wife knew she was carrying a girl, that girl would be aborted.

Or if carried to term, would be given up to adoption, often through an agency which made that its business. Often to couples abroad who paid to get a baby.

Countless American couples now have a Chinese daughter. I know of two such couples.

Talking about a law with unforeseen consequences! That law was a classic.

At least one unfortunate consequence today is that many Chinese men cannot marry because there are not enough women to go around. Tragic.

So that law to have just one child is now past tense.

But now, why am I writing this?

We all know that the pandemic Covid-19 originated in China, in a large city called Wuhan.

And how it quickly swept across the seas, to the United States and many countries around the world, with terrifying results.

And how we, in fact many people and countries around the world, are so desperate for a vaccine that will save lives. Keeping our fingers crossed. Praying. Hoping we’ll read about that in the news media today, or tomorrow morning.

And what have been the results in China?

It’s so remarkable. So ironic!

You will see why in just a minute or two.

Wu just wrote to me about Covid-19 as he has experienced it in China.

Here is what he had to say.

“Hello, dear John,

Sorry to reply you till now!

I am just back to Shanghai from another province, Fujian province.

I have some lighting business there.

As you may know now, in China, the COVID-19 pandemic is under proper control now. Finally. Very good news.

There is almost no worry for domestic traveling here. No matter by plane, train, or bus.

Most people still wear face mask when they go outside.

This is not only for COVID-19 but we also do that for flu or normal cold.

The big concern is the outside world.

What I worry about is some countries still have big infection issues without proper measurements: tests, lockdown, medicine, medical staff.

India, Pakistan, Brazil, and some African countries are the worst cases.

I mentioned this because Chinese economy is connected with other countries closely.

For example, we import iron ore from Brazil, shrimp from Ecuador, bananas from Philippines, semiconductor chips from USA and Japan, on and on.

We cannot grow without the supply from other countries.

So, if the other countries still suffer from the pandemic, it will interfere for us in China negatively as well.

The final solution for this pandemic is the vaccine.

As estimated, we can get the vaccine in China by the end of 2020.

I heard there are three Chinese vaccines under development in Phase 3.

The end selling price would be CNY 600 (about USD $92).

Fortunately, all my family and neighbors are safe during the pandemic.

One main reason was the strict lockdown in February, March, and April, which avoided widespread infection in China.

However, many small companies were closed up forever because of the lockdown.

So no cash flow and no business during the first quarter.

Very, very hard for small businesses here.

This I saw in person, not through the propaganda from the official media.

So, how do I get by?

One example. In three days I will fly to a remote city, Quanzhou, where I can get some orders.

The margin will be very low but I am satisfied with it.

In these hard days, any order is encouragement to some extent.

This 2020 is really a tough year for many people.

In our Chinese Lunar calendar, 2020 is the year of the Pig. Not a good sign!

If we can get though 2020 without too much trouble, that means good enough.”

“Hello! Dear John,

Today, I took the 6-hour bullet train to Xiamen for business trip.

At the hotel I checked the email box and found your questions about Covid-19.

How did it originate in China? Where?

I remember that last December there were news reports that in Wuhan City, all of a sudden, there were lots of pneumonia patients found in the local hospitals. The number of such patients was far more than ever before. And were regarded as having viral pneumonia.

But then, the doctors found that it was a new kind, an infectious one resulting from close face-to-face contact.

And it was happening not in Shanghai or Beijing or other very large cities. It was concentrated in Wuhan. Not sure why. Who brought this to Wuhan?

Then the Chinese Lunar New Year (last Jan 25) was coming soon. That’s a big event for our whole country. Many, many people return to their home town or city to celebrate that on the eve of New Year’s Day.

The trains and planes are very full. Very busy.

But just several days before that Chinese New Year, the government found so many cases of that disease in Wuhan City and its related province, Hubei Province that it announced a huge lockdown. Something quite new to us.

There were no trains, buses, planes, taxis to leave the city and the province. A big problem for many people.

Wuhan city and the province were blocked. Everybody had to stay at home.

I have not heard of a lockdown like that in your United States.

The government arranged to deliver the rice, meat, vegetables and so on to the local residents to help them get though it.

The kids stayed at home. And the schools announced they would have lessons via website. No normal classes any more.

And the restaurants, bars, clubs, department stores, so many other businesses, had to be kept closed to keep the infection from spreading.

And many people like doctors, policemen, government officials, and especially Communist Party members, were sent in to make sure the lockdown worked.

In my city Shanghai, during last February and March, there were many check points on streets and at apartment gates to make sure nobody was coming from the Wuhan area.

And everybody had to wear the face mask outside that time. And no groups of people.

That was mandatory in the whole country, even for the top leaders.

In February and March, the pandemic was in the worst phase. I heard from the news and radio that many patients were dying. Very sad and depressive that moment. It felt like the last day of the world was coming.

As for me, I could not move out of Shanghai. I stayed at home every day. For about 22 hours per day. I went out for two hours to see the blue sky.

I think that those two months (February and March) were the most terrible period in my life. And for many, many other people also.

During that, I heard that many small business owners were bankrupted or closed up forever by the pandemic.

The reason was very simple: no cash flow and no clients.

The same thing what’s happening all over our country. A great big pressure on us.

Those eight weeks or so February and March were like a nightmare.

By the end of April, I felt the whole situation was starting to change a little bit for the better.

One obvious sign was that the total of COVID-19 deaths was declining every day.

People began to accept all these as a fact and didn’t worry about it as before.

The doctors utilized all kinds of ways to treat the disease — western drugs, or traditional Chinese medicine, or local folk medicine sometimes.

What I learned from the patients who survived finally is that the body’s immune system must remain very strong.

If the COVID-19 destroys your immune system, you have to recover as soon as possible, by using all possible treatments.

In our Chinese belief, there are two aspects to improve the immune system. One is inside our body, that is by our own good health

Another is from outside, by eating good nutritional foods of many kinds. And keeping our body strong through exercise. And of course having good medicines. 

That is a big theme. It is possible to write a big paper about it, or even a whole book.

But now let me give you one simple example.

When you take a shower before sleep, the cool water falling on your back will activate the immune cells on your back.

Or more simply, in the morning you can use a long stick to scratch your back to stimulate it.

I also remember another important thing happening in Wuhan.

All the experienced respiratory doctors in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, and military hospitals were sent to Wuhan when the pandemic started. The response was immediate.

A doctor had only two hours to pack his baggage after getting orders, then take the bus to the nearest airport to take the Air Force plane. 

Meanwhile, the government also fired the mayor and other officials in Wuhan for their poor performance during the crisis.

Those former government officials worried about the poor economics performance after lock-down and could not handle that decisively.

Back to myself and my family, all this has had a very negative impact to us.

The huge lock-down limited our lives in so many ways — work, school, entertainment, social communication. It was the same for people everywhere.

So, my wife, my son, my parents had to stay at home for three long months. They did the best to stay optimistic all that time.

As for myself, I could see that our family income was going down and down every week.

So, I cut all the unnecessary expenses for the home and used some of my savings.

As for my business, I contacted clients in the remote areas like Fujian province and Ganshu province and offered them much lower prices for the lighting products that we sell.

Meanwhile, I asked my clients to pay by a 6-month letter of credit. Not right after getting our products.

The clients pay us 6 months later. They have more time to sell the products before they have to pay. It is a very good way to do business. To get the orders, we have to make things easier for the clients.

I want to make two points.

First, this has been a sort of Black Swan Event. We have had to handle it by every possible way we could think of.

Secondly, this is an issue for short-term pain or long-term pain.The lock-down, short-term, was painful for everybody, But long term? It is far from over.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a huge disaster for millions of people all over the world.

It happened to us Chinese people first. Our strict lockdown was effective. We seem to be over the worst of it.

We still wear masks. And we still maintain what you call “social distancing.”

It is far from over for Americans people, European people, Indian people, so many people all over the world.

I have hated it all. Just like you who are reading this now. And like millions of people who worry they might become sick and may die from covid-19.

But it’s useless to just hate it.

We need a solution. A tested, effective vaccine that people everywhere can afford and which will be available very, very soon. That is the permanent solution.

I believe we can get the vaccine in China by the end of 2020.

I heard there are three Chinese vaccines under development.

The end selling price would be CNY 600 (about US $92).

That would be wonderful!

I wish you all the best for you and your family, John

— Wu


  1. Leonard Poulin says

    Hi John,
    I am very impressed by your friend, Wu. He is very well spoken, rational, insightful. His letters (to you) gives us, the reader, insights of what life is like in China with glimpses of their system of government. Wu says, “This I saw in person, not through the propaganda from the official media.” I think the US media isn’t much different (I don’t watch it). Wu speaks of the interdependence of global trade, Covid 19, and the importance of health, diet, exercise, the immune system. He is very thoughtful, thorough, and clearly understands the issues of the day. And, what a lovely family he has! Thanks for introducing us to your special friend, Wu Bin.

  2. What a nice letter! I wish we had been so forceful and ended this back in the early summer. When our passion for individual freedom threatens the health of others, that is wrong. With freedom comes with responsibility. Freedom is bounded by the responsibility to “do no harm to others.” The US has failed here. We have let a selfish, self centered view of freedom reign. Hopefully that will change before too many more people die!

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