In coronavirus fight, China sidelines an ally: 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 Zhanjiang, a management consultant, wrote in an article about managing the epidemic. “The government is very busy but not effective. The social forces aren’t being utilized because they can only stand on the sideline, watching anxiously.”