Peter Hessler is an American writer and journalist.
Peter Hessler has been in one of the strictest COVID-19 lockdowns in the world: starting in January, he was quarantined with his family in Chengdu, China, presaging what life would soon look like in America. Now, as restrictions lift in China, Hessler says that the experiences of the two countries have diverged. China’s government spent the lockdown setting up systems to check people’s temperatures on a wide scale and do contact tracing when someone becomes ill. But, although China’s response has been effective in containing the virus so far, one scientist told Hessler, “There is no long-term plan. There’s no country that has a long-term plan.” Meanwhile, in the United States, perhaps the only common ground in the Presidential campaign is to attack China’s handling of the outbreak, which, candidates claim, cost lives around the world. The Trump Administration has implicated China in spreading the virus; Joe Biden’s campaign positions him as the tougher leader to take on China. Evan Osnos, who previously reported from Beijing and is now based in Washington, tells David Remnick that both sides count on the fact that China’s government ignores whatever American politicians say about it during campaign season.
Since January, Peter Hessler has reported from China under quarantine. Now, as restrictions lift, he tells David Remnick about his return to normal life; recently, he even went to a dance club. But, although China’s stringent containment measures were effective enough to allow a rapid reopening, one scientist told Hessler, “There is no long-term plan. There’s no country that has a long term plan.” Back in Washington, Evan Osnos explains how blaming China for its sluggish response—and insisting that it cost lives worldwide—has become a touchstone of the Presidential race in America. The candidates have found a rare moment of agreement that it is time to get tough on China, and that their opponent is weak.
Since its outbreak last year, the coronavirus COVID-19 has thrown the world into disarray. Travel to the U.S. from Europe has been suspended for thirty days; financial markets have plunged; Saudi Arabia cancelled the Hajj—the list of impacts is already infinite. In China, where the virus started, eight hundred million people are under some kind of restriction. One of them is Peter Hessler, who is currently based in Chengdu, and who has been quarantined with his family since January. New cases of the virus have been falling recently, which the Communist Party touts as a sign of its success, but Hessler has concerns about the costs of mass quarantine. “When you’re building a society, it’s not just about numbers or the death rate. Mental health is a big issue, and being free from fear is a big part of that,” he says. “And the public-health people will tell you that it’s better to have an overreaction than an underreaction, but I think there may be a point where that’s not true.” Plus: the staff writer Lawrence Wright recently wrote a novel—yet to be published—about a pandemic that sounds a lot like COVID-19. “The End of October” is a work of fiction and firmly in the thriller genre, but what he imagined in it turns out to be eerily close to what we are experiencing now. “I read the paper and I feel like I’m reading another chapter of my own book,” he tells David Remnick. 
This week on ChinaEconTalk, Jordan speaks with veteran journalist Peter Hessler. Peter spent seven years in China as a correspondent for The New Yorker, followed by five years in Egypt. In this episode, Peter discusses his long and prolific career reporting on the society, politics, and culture of these two dynamic nations; he also considers the similarities and differences in the ways the Chinese and Egyptian people make sense of their respective places in the world based on their rich historical and cultural legacies. In addition, Peter reflects on the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, and contrasts it with the 2013 mass protests and eventual coup d'état in Cairo. Check out the ChinaEconTalk newsletter here, and please leave us a review on iTunes!
View 1 more appearances
Share Profile
Are you Peter? Verify and edit this page to your liking.

Share This Creator

Recommendation sent

Join Podchaser to...

  • Rate podcasts and episodes
  • Follow podcasts and creators
  • Create podcast and episode lists
  • & much more

Creator Details

Birthdate
Jun 14th, 1969
Episode Count
5
Podcast Count
4
Total Airtime
2 hours, 44 minutes
PCID
Podchaser Creator ID logo 512438