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One Virus, Two Cities

From the series Our China Stories

When the coronavirus began its rapid global spread earlier this year, New York City quickly emerged as a new epicenter of the virus. Case counts spiked, reaching new highs on a daily basis as hospitals reeled under the sudden demand for acute care. Well over 20,000 lives would be lost before the outbreak was finally brought under control.1

Months later the city was able to begin cautiously reopening, but the threat was far from over. Other cities replaced New York as the latest coronavirus hotspots. Compounding the danger of the virus itself was a woeful lack of national coordination that left individual cities and states to fend for themselves.

On the one hand, this laissez faire approach gave localities freedom to adapt their policies to realities on the ground. On the other hand, an uneven patchwork of regulations, particularly regarding the use of face coverings, gave free reign to an aggressive virus that knows nothing of county or state boundaries. To mask or not to mask has since become a pointedly political question. Among those who swore that he would never be masked was a US war veteran in his 30s who made a bold declaration of freedom on social media in April. He sent his final post from a hospital bed earlier this month, shortly before joining the ranks of hundreds listed in the country’s daily coronavirus death counts.2

Often compared to New York in terms of its size, its cultural diversity, and its status as a global financial center, Hong Kong was also hit early by COVID-19. While local government leaders initially hesitated in the face of an uncertain threat, the city’s people quickly reverted to behaviors learned during the deadly 2003 SARS outbreak, snatching up masks, dutifully washing hands, and avoiding crowds. Before long travel in and out of the city was tightly restricted and quarantine protocols implemented for anyone suspected of being infected. Meanwhile Hong Kongers looked on in bewildered amazement as officials in the United States began a protracted debate on the efficacy of masks. 

Despite Hong Kong’s having one of the highest population densities in the world, its COVID-19 cases total less than two percent of those in New York City. As of this writing Hong Kong has lost twenty-two lives to the coronavirus.3

So what does this modern-day tale of two cities have to do with our China stories? In a tragic way, this contrast reveals the dangerous assumption underlying our needy church narrative. This narrative views China and its church in terms of what is missing. It encourages foreign believers to meet these needs through their material support or expertise. If only China had what we have, so the story goes, it would be a better place.

The transaction is almost always viewed as one-way. In the unfolding lines of the story, we are the subject. China is the object. Little thought, if any, is given to the possibility that perhaps China and its church might actually have something we need.

Now many who have been so faithful and so confident in meeting needs find themselves among the most needy. For Christians in America, the ugly flipside of thisnarrative is our dangerous inability to learn, even when our lives depend on it, from a people we’ve been conditioned to view as morally impoverished and politically inferior, desperately in need of our help yet undeserving of our respect. Quick to blame our neighbors to the East for our current predicament, we are blind to what they could teach us about survival in the age of COVID-19. 

If the global pandemic has laid bare our shared vulnerability, then it has also highlighted our interdependence as global citizens. Healthy interdependence requires a humble willingness to learn from those whose experience has the power to save lives.


  1. Jenifer Millman, “NYC Deaths Top 20k as Cuomo Lifts PAUSE Order in 5 Regions; Jersey Shore Opens May 22,” NBC 4 New York, May 15, 2020,
  2. “37-year-old Ohio war vet dies from COVID-19 complications on Fourth of July,” WSAZ NewsChannel 3, July 11, 2020,
  3. For updated count, see Worldometer, China, Hong Kong SAR
Image credit: Baggeb from Pixabay.
Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Dr. Fulton served as the first president of ChinaSource until 2019. Prior to his service with ChinaSource, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding …View Full Bio

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