Do you remember when Covid was going to establish China as the world’s dominant power? As late as mid-2021, my inbox was full of assertions that China’s apparent success in containing the coronavirus showed the superiority of the Chinese system over Western societies that, as one commentator put it, “did not have the ability to quickly organize every citizen around a single goal.”

At this point, however, China is flailing even as other nations are more or less getting back to normal life. It’s still pursuing its zero-Covid policy, enforcing draconian restrictions on everyday activities every time new cases emerge. This is creating immense personal hardship and cramping the economy; cities under lockdown account for almost 60 percent of China’s G.D.P.

In early November many workers reportedly fled the giant Foxconn plant that produces iPhones, fearing not just that they would be locked in but that they would go hungry. And in

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