How a Chinese author braved the backlash to write about life under lockdown

“When I first logged into my Weibo account to write my first journal entry, I certainly never imagined that there would be 59 more entries to follow; and I never could have imagined that tens of millions of readers would stay up late every night, just waiting to read my next episode,” Chinese author Fan Fang wrote at the start of Wuhan Diary: Dispatches from a Quarantined City. Fang Fang’s account of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, for which she faced backlash in the country – the author and translator, Michael Berry, reportedly received death threats – has been published as of ebook by HarperCollins India in May 2020. The ebook, originally published as journal entries and social media posts on microblogging sites like Weibo and WeChat in China, documents 76 days of lockdown in Wuhan from where the pandemic spread to the rest of the world.

Fang Fang started posting an online diary on January 25, 2020, two days after the central government imposed a lockdown in Wuhan. His messages – about the psychological impact of isolation and the anxieties, fears and frustrations of the lockdown – resonated with millions of people in China, who eagerly waited to read them until the official reopening of Wuhan on April 8, 2020. In Wuhan Diary, Fang Fang captures the daily buzz of life in Wuhan during the lockdown, the challenges its nine million people have faced, and the city’s changing mood from despair to relief.

“Fang Fang’s Dispatches aired each night, offering real-time responses and reflections on the events and reports that had unfolded just hours earlier,” writes Berry, Principal of the University of California, Los Angeles. (UCLA), in the afterword of its translator. . Wuhan Diarywhich goes beyond the notion of the diary as a private literary form, has been a public platform from the start: a virtual open book, writes Berry, whose research areas include modern and contemporary Chinese literature, adding that Fang Fang’s 60 odd posts provided a platform to understand what was happening on the ground in Wuhan, even as the outbreak spread there and began to draw more attention, both in China And in the world.

Fang Fang’s account, before he met the backlash, served as a guide to the suffering of residents of Wuhan, a transport hub and a very dense city, during the lockdown, announced just before the Lunar New Year. Fang Fang, a novelist who has lived on the grounds of the Literary and Artistic Federation for nearly 30 years, ruminates on her neighbors, family and friends, and faces the crisis, alone. In her post, she also tries to highlight the administrative failures, for which she has been targeted by trolls. While some of her posts were censored by social media sites, she remained unfazed and continued to write. “It is absolutely essential that we keep fighting until those responsible are held accountable,” she writes in the introduction to the book.

Book cover.

During the lockdown, Fang Fang was hanging out at her home near East River Garden Lane, one of Wuhan residents’ favorite destinations, with her 16-year-old dog. When she ran out of dog food, she had to make do with rice. On the first day of confinement, walking through the streets, she notices how “wide open and deserted” they appear. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen the streets of Wuhan so wide open and deserted. Seeing these desolate streets made me very sad; my heart felt as empty as these abandoned avenues. It was a feeling I had never felt before in my life – this feeling of uncertainty about the fate of my city, this uncertainty about whether my family members and I had been infected, and all the uncertainties about the future. All of this left me with a strange feeling of confusion and anxiety,” writes Fang Fang, who recorded “all the fragmented stories,” so authorities know that besides the infected patients and the dead, “there are many other victims of this calamity. All of us ordinary people have paid a price.

On January 20, 2020, Chinese infectious disease specialist Dr. Zhong Nanshan revealed that the novel coronavirus was spreading through human-to-human transmission and the news broke that 14 medical workers had already been infected. Fang Fang’s first reaction was shocking, but then it turned into anger. “This new information was completely at odds with what we had seen and heard earlier. Official media sources had consistently told us that this virus was “not contagious between people; It is controllable and preventable,” writes Fang Fang, whose dispatches give us insight into the start of the global health crisis and offer insight into the mistakes that were repeated by several countries after the outbreak. “Those people infected early not only die, but they face despair. Their cries go unanswered, their attempts at medical intervention are futile, their search for effective treatment proves futile. There are simply too many sick people and not enough beds; hospitals simply cannot keep up with the demand. For those unlucky enough to be denied a bed, what else can they do but just sit and wait for death?… The pain and helplessness they faced before death was more deeper than any abyss you could imagine,” she wrote.

As the outbreak began to subside in Wuhan, the virus began to spread across Europe and the United States, and quickly brought the world to its knees. On March 13, 2020, then-U.S. President Donald Trump declared a national emergency; a few days earlier, it had allocated $8.3 billion to fight the epidemic. According to Bloomberg, more than 79 million people have been diagnosed with Covid since the first US case of the novel coronavirus was reported in January 2020 in Washington state.

A masked woman takes out a bag of garbage from a residential building in Wuhan, Hubei, China
A masked woman takes out a bag of garbage from a residential building in Wuhan, central China’s Hubei Province, on Thursday. Getty Images

As Wuhan marks two years of lockdown, experts have already predicted another wave of Covid-19 in many countries, led by Omicron and BA.2 variants. US Covid data shows the BA.2 subvariant now constitutes 23.1% of all Covid cases in the US compared to 7.1% last month. The UK has also seen a further rise in Covid-19 cases. According to UK government data, between March 16 and March 22, 2022, approximately 592,459 people had a confirmed positive test result. This shows a 20.4% increase from the previous seven days.

According to a well known data platform, as of March 13, 2022, Europe had 183,944,206 confirmed cases of coronavirus since the first confirmed cases in France in January 2020. With 23,495,797 confirmed cases, France was the most affected country in Europe, followed by the UK with 19,767,359 cases. Russia and Germany have around 17.4 million and 17.3 million cases respectively.

As for China, it is experiencing its worst coronavirus outbreak since the pandemic began in late 2019. AFP reported that the country recorded 4,770 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, including asymptomatic cases. While Shanghai has denied rumors of a citywide lockdown after the total number of COVID-19 infections reached 1,000 on Tuesday. Lockdown rumors sparked panic buying late Tuesday night, with slots on Chinese e-commerce and retail giant Alibaba’s delivery app ‘Freshhippo’ running out a minute, according to reports. after midnight. Earlier this week, China imposed a lockdown on Shenyang, an industrial city of nine million people, amid a rise in Omicron cases.

In his story, Fang Fang points out that when the pandemic was wreaking death and destruction around the world, politicians on both sides would point fingers at each other, never admitting that everyone had made mistakes, made missteps in the process of road. “China’s lax attitude at the start and the arrogance of the West shown in its distrust of China’s experience in the fight against the coronavirus have both contributed to countless lives lost, countless families torn apart and all of humanity has been dealt a severe blow,” she wrote. When asked by a Western reporter what lesson China should learn from the outbreaks, she replied, “The spread of the coronavirus is not limited to China: it is something that affects everyone everywhere. The novel coronavirus has not only taught China a lesson, it has taught the world a lesson; he educated all mankind. This lesson is this: humanity cannot be allowed to continue to lose itself in its own arrogance; we can no longer think of ourselves as the center of the world; we can no longer believe that we are invincible, and we can no longer underestimate the destructive power of even the smallest things – like a virus. The virus, Fang Fang reiterates, is humanity’s common enemy – “this is a lesson for all humanity”. She writes, “The only way to defeat this virus and free us from its grip is for all members of humanity to work together.”

Lola R. McClure