Wuhan, the epicenter of the Coronavirus outbreak, has been under lockdown since Jan. 23. Its 11 million residents have been shut off from the outside world for more than two weeks now. The once-hustling and bustling city is now a ghost town.
As the death toll and the number of infected patients continues to rise dramatically, there is no sign that the Chinese government will lift the lockdown order any time soon. The Wuhanese are feeling hopelessly left behind. The lockdown seems less about finding a cure for a deadly virus and more about a government trying to project a powerful image by covering up the truth and simply leaving millions of people to fend for themselves: live or die on their own.
For any of us living in the free world, it is difficult to imagine what life in a locked-down city is like. Some people are working tirelessly to share the Wuhanese’s words and thoughts with the rest of the world. I want to highlight a few of them, to show my appreciation for their effort and to let more people in the West hear these unfiltered and uncensored voices directly from Wuhan.
Badiuchao* is a political cartoonist and human rights activist the Chinese government is hunting. He recently started a worthy project by voluntarily translating diaries written by Wuhanese in the locked-down city. Here are a few excerpts from his #WuhanDiary posts.
Jan. 27, 2020
“I urged my family to stock more food and daily supplies for the possibility of a quarantine. But they called me a ‘drama queen.’ I have to go shopping by myself for the extra supplies for the coming two days. On the third day, the city lockdown began. Now my family no longer question my decisions. … Every day from this online group to another, so many people are calling for help for their loved ones. Some friends need help for their grandparents. Some schoolmates need help for their mom and dad. They are the people I know; they are the people of helplessness.”
Jan. 28, 2020
“Wuhan people have been living under great tension for a while. They need an outlet to blow off steam. The day before yesterday, our community already had a few people calling back and forth from window to window. My dad said, ‘Just wait ’til the epidemic is over. The Hexagonal Pavilion [the old name for the Wuhan Mental Health Center] will be overflowing.’”
Jan. 29, 2020
“I cried softly as I read the article ‘Mom Passed Away In Wuhan Quarantine.’ I forwarded the article to my mother, telling her she must take good care of herself so I don’t become a motherless child. … Today I went out for a while. … Returning home was even more of a pain. Standing in the front hallway, I had to take off my jacket, pants, shoes, face mask, gloves, bend my face mask backward, cut it with scissors, tie it securely, and then put it in a special trash container. I had to turn all the clothes inside-out, fold them, and carry them to the balcony to get some sunshine. Then I went to the washroom to wash my hands. Once I finished washing, I went back to the balcony and sprayed out my clothing with a disinfectant. Then I went back to the washroom to wash my hands again.”
Feb. 1, 2020
“My aunt received a confirmed diagnosis of the coronavirus infection. … In addition, her son (my cousin) also has a fever and shows some symptoms. My mom cried many times today. I cannot find any comforting words. I only have the selfish thought that my mom is okay at least. … I just want to reiterate that concealing the truth at the beginning and the ‘preventable and controllable’ narrative of the media should be responsible for this. It is very hard to change ordinary people’s habits. So it is more important to inform about the danger of the situation and educate preventative measures. But it is too late.”
Feb. 2, 2020
“There was a suicide yesterday. It is said a ‘diagnosed’ patient couldn’t get hospitalized due to overload. He was worried about infecting his wife and children by returning home. Public transport unavailability meant he would have had to walk a very long distance to and from the hospital to get treated. Therefore, he jumped off the Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge. This is not the first suicide I’ve heard these days. The helplessness is all around me.”
What Chinese Censors Don’t Want You to Know
There are more #WuhanDiary threads on Twitter. I encourage you to read them and share them. Since Badiuchao is doing this very honorable work voluntarily, I also recommend you check out his online workshop and support his work however you can.
Fang Fang is a Wuhan-based writer. I grew up reading her work and always loved her outspokenness and straightforward writing style. Mainland China has banned one of her novels, “Soft Burial,” which is about the Chinese Communist Party’s brutal “land reform” in the 1950s.
Fang currently lives in Wuhan. After she learned the news of the passing of Dr. Li Wenliang, one of the eight whistleblowers who warned the public about the coronavirus in December 2019, she wrote an essay titled “Li Wengliang was the light in the darkness.” Chinese censors quickly deleted her post. Fortunately, it was widely shared, so I found it at this site. Her essay was in Chinese, but here is an excerpt I translated:
It has been 16 days since the government locked down Wuhan. I became very sad when I learned of the death of Dr. Li Wengliang. I posted on WeChat [a popular Chinese messaging app] that all people in Wuhan are crying for Dr. Li’s passing tonight. Soon I learned that all people in China are crying and sharing our sorrow too. Our tears formed an emotional tsunami, carrying Dr. Li to another world. …
Today we learned that the lockdown would last at least another 14 days. Those who don’t live in Wuhan will never understand our hurt, which is more than being locked inside our homes. People in Wuhan desperately need comfort and an emotional outlet to vent. This is why we are so heartbroken for Dr. Li’s death and why we wanted to scream and cry. Dr. Li was one of us. Like him, we are all ordinary people who just wanted to go about our own business and live our mundane lives, but now we are trapped in an impossible and terrible situation. …
Medical staff suffered the worst during the coronavirus outbreak. Almost every hospital has a number of its own staff infected by the virus. Some lost their lives, like Dr. Li. … My doctor friend said, ‘Now we know the virus will transmit from human to human, but we aren’t allowed to say it publicly. Isn’t it a serious problem that doctors are forbidden to tell the truth?’ …
For telling the truth, Dr. Li was reprimanded and paid the ultimate price of his life. Yet the authorities still haven’t apologized to him. If this is how we treat a truth-teller, who dares to speak the truth in the future? …
Compared to the early days of the lockdown, normally optimistic Wuhanese now feel more depressed and dull. Too many of us have been locked inside our small apartments for too long. … We all have our own problems too. Both my two brothers and I are diabetic. … I have rationed my own diabetic medicine since the lockdown, but now I have just enough medicine for one more day.
I decided also to translate another paragraph, written by a Chinese netizen who reposted Fang’s essay, because it says so much about how Chinese people feel about the censors:
A note to censors at Tencent: I am deeply touched by Ms. Fang’s essay and the difficult lives that people in Wuhan have endured. Not only are they quarantined from the rest of the world, they are also not allowed to speak the truth. When you are doing your censoring, please show mercy and see if you can let this piece stay in the public forum as long as you can before you have to delete it. Ordinary folks in Wuhan and in the rest of China are counting on someone like Ms. Fang to speak on behalf of them.
The censor didn’t listen to his plea.
I’ve written before that the best part of Wuhan is its people. From these diaries and essays, it is hard not to be moved by their emotions, stories, and daily struggles. Their words and experiences are the truth the Chinese government doesn’t want you to know.
At least one thing we can do to help them is to share these words and let the truth be known. Please also keep all of them and all who are infected by coronavirus in your thoughts and prayers.
*Name changed to protect privacy.