Chinese Americans in Fargo compare 'extremely opposite' COVID responses in US, China

While the United States government gave help to businesses and people, a lack of assistance has left some Chinese citizens angry and destitute.

Yang Jun, president of the United Chinese Americans of Fargo_Moorhead at a recent function.jpg
Yang Jun, president of the United Chinese Americans of Fargo/Moorhead at a recent function.
C.S. Hagen / The Forum

FARGO — One of the most controversial topics in Fargo during the height of the coronavirus pandemic was face masks, and the arguments for and against them led to threats against school boards and protests.

But in China, face masks were mandatory, as were negative COVID-19 tests.

The differences between the responses of the United States and China in regards to pandemic protocols couldn’t be more stark.

In the U.S., the federal and state government-issued guidelines temporarily closed some businesses but also gave out financial assistance to citizens and companies.

China’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic included “entrenched patterns of authoritarian control characterized by top-down governance and harsh local implementation,” according to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.


According to Jeanne Sun, the country has offered little to no assistance to the laobaixing, or citizens.

Every day for three years, she lined up for a coronavirus test. Without a daily negative result on her person, she couldn’t leave her compound. She couldn’t buy groceries or open up her tattoo parlor for business.

Last November, shortly after October’s meeting of the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, the 41-year-old Chinese woman was stranded without a proper daily test result, which worked like a pass.

She hid inside a car trunk while a friend drove her to a safe house. There, she waited about 24 hours for a new test result before she could go home.

Jeanne Sun at her tattoo parlor.jpg
Jeanne Sun at her tattoo parlor in Beijing.
Special to The Forum

After widespread protests, China relaxed its pandemic rules in late December, but now the government is blaming Chinese citizens for quickly rising cases of COVID-19, saying, “You wanted freedom, now you got it,” Sun said.

“For three years, it’s been terrible, but a lot of people got used to this life. After the government meeting, they still held people at home. ... People got really tired of this,” said Sun from her apartment over video chat.

About 300 people from her compound talked to the mayor, and some met with police to negotiate to get the compound open, she said.

“People are angry as to why the government lied to us for three years," Sun said. "They kept showing the numbers of people dying in other countries every day, and in the end we have a lot of people dead, as well."


'The circumstances are so different'

Yang Jun, president of the United Chinese Americans of Fargo/Moorhead, has spent the better part of the last decade in North Dakota, but he’s kept apprised of news from his home country.

When asked which country’s response to the pandemic was the most appropriate, he thought for a long moment.

“It is a very difficult question to answer," Yang said. "These two countries' rules have been extremely opposite. In China, there are many people, and the communities in China are very different. Last three years, they were controlling. Now, they believe the virus strength has weakened. They know they have to release control now so that business can continue.

“The circumstances are so different. Americans feel they have responded correctly, while in China they feel they are correct,” Yang said.

One difference he noticed is that in China, political leaders, not health professionals, made the decisions related to the coronavirus pandemic.

“There are some cities that are being hit very hard. The place where my family is, there are many positive people, and some are very serious. Some have died. But in Beijing, I have heard there are many,” he said.

“There are many small businesses that have closed up, and there is no government help; they’ve eaten up their savings. A lot of large corporations, too, are hurting, and the revenue is terrible,” he said.

'Things would have gone worse'

Xinhua Jia, a professor at North Dakota State University for 16 years, said she went back to China shortly before the coronavirus pandemic began but has not been able to return home to Urumqi, Xinjiang, since.


She encouraged her elderly parents to stay at home, and when they got sick they isolated and recovered.

Jia, too, wasn’t sure what response was best to combat the coronavirus.

“In Beijing, my younger brother has his own business, and the government has never helped him. He suffered financially during the pandemic. The economic situation in China has forced everyone to suffer to some degree,” she said.

Because of China’s dense population, she agreed with the initial strict protocols to combat the pandemic.

“In the beginning, if there hadn’t been so much control, things would have gone worse,” Jia said.

Now, after the height of the pandemic has passed in the U.S., she looked back on the past three years and realized, the “biggest difference I’ve seen is that the Chinese paid a lot of attention to sheng si, or life and earth, but Americans weren’t too concerned about it, especially when related to mask-wearing."

Typically prone to winter flu, Jia began wearing face masks when the pandemic hit. Since then, she hasn’t been sick once, she said.

By the numbers

Although China’s official data is not accurate and they stopped reporting many cases in December, the latest statistics show China had over 11 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 34,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization .


That national data is likely low, as some regional reports like for the province of Zhejiang said they were seeing 1 million new cases every day in December 2022, according to PBS News Hour .

The United States has had over 100 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and almost 1.1 million deaths, the WHO reported.

In North Dakota, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases add up to more than 280,000, with more than 2,400 deaths, according to the North Dakota Health and Human Services .

In Beijing, where Sun lives, data fluctuates and the death rate was not known.


‘Nothing changed’

Sun lost her business, like many others in China, and can no longer afford rent. Even after the restrictions were lifted in December, she has little hope. Her old customer base is gone. Her businesses were forcefully shut down last April by law enforcement and agents of the Industry and Commerce Bureau.

Jeanne Sun while on a much needed vacation in China.jpg
Jeanne Sun shortly before the coronavirus pandemic began.
Special to The Forum

She has not received any government assistance, and being self-employed, her health insurance bills recently increased.

Like in the U.S., groceries are more expensive.

A well-known artist and musician, Sun has been denied a new passport. She’s not sure what she will do, but she’s trying to rent out her apartment and a business she still owns.

The first year of the pandemic, people mostly complied, hoping the hard times would pass, Sun said. The second year, people started to drain their savings. The third year, they became angry, she said.

“Many people lost their jobs, and China lost a lot of foreign companies who were investing. For me, my tattoo customers are mostly expatriates, and they are all gone because they don’t want to stay in China anymore,” she said.

“We did all the effort for the government for three years to hold back the virus, but in the end it is the same result. It’s the same virus. Everyone is sick right now, and a lot of older people died. Nothing changed,” Sun said.

C.S. Hagen is an award-winning journalist currently covering the education and activist beats mainly in North Dakota and Minnesota.
What To Read Next
Get Local