Xi Jinping stands today as China’s seemingly invulnerable top leader. His anti-corruption campaign struck at kleptocrats, some in his own family, while also conveniently purging rivals. His authoritarian moves rival the world’s most extreme: corralling ethnic Uighurs into camps, suppressing violent anti-China protests in Hong Kong and ushering in powerful social-monitoring technology. Completing the look is the Mao Zedong–like cult of personality Xi allows or encourages—including his own Little Red Book. The result: a foreign policy and economic juggernaut expanding around the world.
Still, just as the sudden fall of the Soviet Union exposed previously unseen cracks, Xi may yet come to regret that he is now effectively China’s leader for life. A shrinking and aging workforce, the cost of the global Belt and Road Initiative (built on debt, not cash) and internal griping—or worse—from victims of a slowing economy exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic that began on his watch mean Xi’s success may not be his final act.
BY AMANDA BENNETT
Nathan Law, a pro-democracy activist now driven into exile, is one of the leaders of the generation of young people in Hong Kong who oppose the crushing by Beijing of the rule of law and the liberties of an open society in Hong Kong. Xi Jinping and his apparatchiks have broken the promises made to Hong Kong about liberty and local autonomy. They see the values that have made Hong Kong such a glittering success story in Asia as an existential threat.
Nathan is the son of a working-class family who became the youngest lawmaker elected to the city legislature. He would not claim any pre-eminent status as a campaigner for democracy and freedom. He is simply a typically brave representative of a generation whose spirit the Communist Party wants to stamp out. But you cannot cage the idea of freedom. Like his colleague Joshua Wong, Nathan follows in the footsteps of people like Martin Lee, Margaret Ng, Jimmy Lai and Cardinal Joseph Zen, who risk their freedom for their people’s democratic rights. We must all continue to speak up and stand up for Nathan Law and for those who fight for freedom in Hong Kong.
BY CHRIS PATTEN
The Zhang team’s unprecedented speed was made possible by the extraordinary disease-monitoring network they had built to detect emerging flu strains and coronaviruses. Their work envisions what is possible with a collaborative, connected public-health collective, and illuminates what gaps still remain. It is now up to the global community to realize this potential, to stop COVID-19 and the next pandemic before it has a chance to start.
BY PARDIS SABETI
Dr. Zhong Nanshan, an experienced epidemiologist and physician, has been leading China’s National Health Commission’s expert panel for investigating the COVID-19 outbreak in the country. He has become the public face of China’s efforts to halt the spread.
After visiting Wuhan, Dr. Zhong spoke out frankly about human-to-human transmission, and suggested evidence-based prevention and control measures to contain the disease. As a trusted doctor, he is very effective in calming public fear and anxiety with facts, and promoting community support for public-health measures.
Dr. Zhong has earned recognition for his dedication, integrity, academic and professional achievements, and for sharing China’s successful control efforts and treatment plan with the international community.
On Sept. 8, President Xi Jinping awarded Dr. Zhong a Medal of the Republic, the highest state honor, for his great contribution to China’s fight against the epidemic.
BY MARGARET CHAN
In January, Shi Zhengli led one of the first scientific teams that isolated SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that went on to ravage the world. The virus was new to science, but Shi could see where it had come from: bats. Sixteen years of virus hunting had prepared her for that epiphany.
In 2003, another corona-virus unleashed the SARS epidemic. To find its origin, Shi and her colleagues traveled to caves in southwestern China. There, they found bats infected with SARS-like viruses. Over the subsequent years, Shi—a virologist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology—has gone spelunking into more caves and found many more bat coronaviruses. In 2015, Shi and her colleagues warned that it was just a matter of time before another bat coronavirus spilled over the species barrier and wreaked havoc. Five years later, SARS-CoV-2 proved her right.
The Trump Administration has attacked Shi’s institute, insinuating that it is responsible for the pandemic. The charge is not just baseless but dangerous. Shi’s scientific accomplishments and foresight are exactly what we need if we want to stop more coronaviruses from devastating humanity in the years to come.
BY CARL ZIMMER
I remember being pregnant when Ali Wong’s first Netflix special came out. Not only was I doubled over laughing, but I felt like I had found my kindred spirit. It seemed like I knew her and she knew me before we ever met.
As an Asian-American woman, it’s so cool to see someone who represents our shared cultural heritage but also defies every stereotype. She is open about her sexuality, she boldly discusses her body and its many functions, she makes fun of her husband, she makes fun of her kids—I feel at one with her.
It’s amazing to see her work her magic on the audience. She treats comedy like a science; she knows how to tell jokes the way people want to hear them, and she knows when to be physical. It became such an iconic thing to see her thrust her hips and twerk or grind. People usually see pregnant women as helpless beings who can’t do too much, but she had this energy and personality and was funnier than ever when she was pregnant. Ali is proof that you don’t have to fit the stereotype of what a comedian should look like or say or how a woman should present herself. Women often feel this need to apologize or to make ourselves small. Ali may be small in stature, but she has the biggest presence. She assures women that you can be loud, you can be funny, you can be silly, you can make fun of yourself, you can be gross, and you can talk about the hell that is childbirth and you don’t have to be proper about it. She makes it O.K. for us to be ourselves.
BY CHRISSY TEIGEN
More than an extraordinary artist and a true musical genius, Yo-Yo Ma is proof of love and life. His gift to us is his music wrapped in a blanket of kind understanding that transcends all boundaries: ethnic, geographic, political, class and genre.
The sounds he brings through his cello teach us to listen, feel, care and act. His music takes us to a safe place and then inspires us to do the good and right that he knows is in the heart of humankind. This year, recognizing our need for this during the COVID-19 pandemic more than ever before, Ma began posting video performances to social media with the hashtag #SongsofComfort, encouraging others to join him. Soon the hashtag was populated with performances by James Taylor, Carole King, the Indigo Girls and many more artists. Ma brought them together to bring us together. Every time he shares his music, it is a master class in love.
BY STEVIE WONDER
Zoom is the defining company of the pandemic era. Eric Yuan’s one-click video-conferencing software company will go down in history as the tool that kept the world turning. The transition from brand to verb is a hallmark for any product. Intense team meetings, joyful weddings and a classroom for millions of students: Zoom is the backbone for it all.
Some called Zoom the accidental beneficiary of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Zoom’s success is no accident. The reason Zoom beat much bigger rivals was that it has a better user experience, with more dependable network connectivity—or in Eric’s own words, “It just works.” And as Zoom faced scrutiny and challenges, Eric responded to them with transparency, accepting full responsibility and committing to clear action.
Eric’s inspiring yet humble leadership style—reportedly admired by 98% of his employees—has ensured Zoom would not only survive this year but flourish, winning our hearts along the way.
BY KAI-FU LEE
When I first met Daniel Zhang on a rainy day in 2007, he was CFO of a successful publicly traded technology company, and Alibaba was searching for a model to generate revenues for our consumer marketplace, Taobao. I wondered why he would be interested in a finance job with us. More than a decade later, Daniel would take over from Jack Ma as executive chairman of Alibaba.
Daniel turned the impossible job of succeeding an iconic founder into an art. He transformed an obscure holiday in China—Singles’ Day—into the world’s largest online-shopping festival, generating a record $38.4 billion in gross merchandise volume in 2019. He incubated the world’s first multichannel supermarket for consumers to shop on their smartphones from home as well as in stores, and hid the project from Jack until its success couldn’t be a secret anymore. Very few can keep up with him in intellect and energy, but most will point to his humility and perseverance as hallmarks of his leadership.
Quietly, Daniel led Alibaba through the height of the pandemic in China with courage and creativity. He kept supply chains running, supported small businesses and even brought AI solutions to hospitals for COVID-19 diagnosis. In a year in which global economies have been massively disrupted, were we looking for a steady pair of hands or innovation-led excitement? In Daniel Zhang, we got both.
BY JOE TSAI
President Tsai Ing-wen is a signal lamp casting out China’s looming shadow, conveying to the world that Taiwan will not acquiesce to the Chinese Communist Party.
While Taiwan stands a mere 100 miles from mainland China, under President Tsai’s leadership, it is neither adrift nor drawn in. Freedom is its North Star, which has been clear in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Taiwan has proved that the virus can be controlled—without emulating China’s drastic policies.
When cynics said Taiwan was too small and too isolated to stand up against China’s regional ambitions, President Tsai stood tall. When China lured Taiwan’s allies into cutting off ties with the island nation, President Tsai was undeterred. I had the honor of meeting President Tsai last year during Taiwan’s National Day celebrations, and I witnessed firsthand how she stands up for the rights of Taiwan’s people.
China is the world’s largest communist regime, and this self-made woman is determined to resist it. She does not cower.
BY TED CRUZ