Coronavirus Q & A With MTSU’s Dr. Zheng


As numbers of those infected with COVID-19 in the U.S. increase, China is reporting very few new cases. We contacted Dr. Guanping Zheng, who is currently the Interim Vice Provost at Middle Tennessee State University, to discuss how China handled COVID-19 and how the local Chinese community is responding to the crisis.

Zheng was formerly the Director of both the Confucius Center and Center for East and South Asia Studies at the University. He has helped the university build strong ties with a number of Chinese universities and other institutions in the country.

Having strong ties to both the Nashville area Chinese community, and also former students who currently live in China, he has a rare insight into what we can each do to help flatten the curve so we can ensure hospitals are not overwhelmed with extreme cases, and to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Rutherford Source: Dr. Zheng, let me ask you first about how you see the local Chinese community responding to the directives coming down from our government on how to slow down the virus and flatten the curve, versus the community as a whole.

Dr. Zheng: The difference I see between most people in the area, and the local Chinese community is that both Chinese-Americans and Chinese nationals currently living in the United States are more vigilant to the situation. More are wearing masks. More are keeping social distance. We have lots of Chinese students with parents in China telling them to take better care of themselves.

Rutherford Source: As we watch numbers rise in the West, the number of cases of new infections in China have come to a stand-still. What did they do that made such a difference?

Dr. Zheng: In February, they locked down the whole country and everyone stayed home. Slowly, the country is opening back up, but they are being very careful about people from outside bringing the virus back into China.

Rutherford Source: What are they doing to ensure people from the outside do not bring a second wave into the country?

Dr. Zheng: In China, the situation is under control. They have most of the initial outbreak stopped. The Chinese are now afraid of that second wave. Chinese students traveling abroad and returning home, this is the group the country is afraid will bring the virus back to the country.

Anyone coming back into the country has to go to a particular place to go through a two-week quarantine. Each Provence is in charge of seeing that new arrivals in their area go into the quarantine.

Rutherford Source: Italy has the highest death count. The disease came fast and it seems to be burning through the country. What do you think happened there, and perhaps in this country, as our infection numbers have now soared past China?

Dr. Zheng: The problem in Italy is that people didn’t initially take the coronavirus seriously. That was the time of the initial spread, and that caused it to catch fire quickly. They didn’t close things down fast enough.

Like the Italians, the Chinese have the same problem of big families in large groups. They do keep very close contact with parents more often than Americans do. But the Chinese reacted quickly to the government directive and socially distanced in spite of the close relationships.

In Wuhan, most people live in high-rise buildings and the spread can be fast and wide because of people living so closely together. That is why they shut things down so quickly in that city, and made people stay in their apartments, and socially distance.

Rutherford Source: We have heard of fear and racial discrimination of Chinese people. Have you or anyone you know here experienced this?

Dr. Zheng: Personally, I have not faced any racial discrimination in the community, nor have friends of mine. That is a good sign for this community. People here do not feel that the Chinese people brought the virus here. That is my observation and personal feeling.

But because of these stories, because of what is happing other places, Chinese people do have a fear. They fear that people will look at them differently.

Like everyone, the Chinese community has been helping the community, in general, get through this. In Nashville, restaurants are delivering food free of charge to the police department.

Also, the Chinese community is starting a Go Fund Me Account to help the hospitals in the Nashville area deal with the crisis. Anyone wishing to help can go to: