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COVID-19 diaries from Wuhan: ‘…not only a city being locked down, but also our voices’

People lined up in a pharmacy in Wuhan. (Photo credit: Guo Jing)

Wuhan, China as the epicenter and origin of COVID-19, has been locked down by the Chinese government since January 23, 2020. The city holds 11 million people and during the outbreak, about 6 million people were put under quarantine, and approximately 5 million left the city during a holiday break.

Many Wuhan people began keeping diaries during the lockdown. However, negative depictions of daily life in Wuhan are often subjected to censorship on Weibo, the popular social media platform in China. On WeChat, another popular social media platform, the diaries mostly circulate among friends.

However, Ai Xiaoming, an independent filmmaker and feminist scholar, and feminist activist Guo Jing, have shared their diaries on Matters News. Their diaries vividly reflect the emotions among common people during the sudden lockdown.

China's control over the pandemic has been described as a “victory” or “success” by Chinese authorities and the World Health Organization, but ordinary peoples’ lives under such top-down control and surveillance measures should not be ignored — how people are atomized and reduced into a collective, as Guo Jing described in her diary.

Since December 8, with the index case, Chinese authorities insisted that the epidemic outbreak was under control. By January 20, it admitted to the human-to-human transmission of the virus. Ai and Guo's diaries express how Wuhan residents were kept in the dark and unprepared when the government proclaimed the lockdown of the city.

Global Voices will publish Ai and Guo's diaries from Wuhan in a series. The following words were written in the first week of the lockdown between January 23-28, 2020.

Guo Jing: January 23, 2020

我算是一个遇事冷静和淡定的人,直到1月20日武汉新增病例过百,别的省市出现病例,我开始感到不知所措。此前公布的消息显然存在瞒报的情况。也是从那天起,武汉街头戴口罩的人突增,好多药店的医用口罩都卖光了,还有很多人在买防治感冒的药。

这几天我一直处于焦虑中,从各地更新的消息来看,大部分确诊的都是在15日前过武汉的。武汉是全球大学生人数最多的城市,而1月中旬是大学放假的时间。现在又正值春运,车站人流量必然很大。然而,武汉火车站也并没有严格的监管。我春节本来就不回家,留在原地是最安全的。今天一早醒来看到封城的消息就不知所措,无法预料这意味着什么,会封多久,要做什么准备。

朋友们让我赶快囤点东西,我本不想出门,看到X了吗还在接单就先下了单,但又担心外卖也随时会停。我也抱着看看外面的情况的心情出了门,外面基本上都是中老年人,年轻人比较少。到了附近的超市,很多人都在排队结帐,米面这些保命的食物已经所剩无几啦,慌乱之中我随便拿了一些。有个男的卖了很多盐,有人说你买那么多盐干啥,他说万一封个一年呢.

屯完食物后,我依然处于震惊中。今天路上的车辆和行人越来越少,一个城市就这样一下子停了下来。它什么时候再活过来?

I am a calm person, but I started to feel panic on Jan. 20 when we had more than 100 confirmed cases in Wuhan, and when confirmed cases kept emerging in other cities and provinces. It is obvious that the spread of this infectious disease has been covered up in previous news. The number of people wearing face masks has increased dramatically since that day, and medical masks were sold out. Many are also buying cold remedies.

I have been anxious for several days. Based on the update, most confirmed cases in other places had visited Wuhan before Jan. 15. Wuhan is the city with the largest number of college students in the world, and the university holiday started in mid-Jan. Recently, many people are going home for Chinese New Year, so there must be a lot of people in the train stations. However, the train station in Wuhan has not been monitored carefully. I did not plan to go home in Chinese New Year. It should be safest to stay where I am. This morning, I saw the announcement of city lockdown, and I felt panic. I do not know the implication of such lockdown and how long this lockdown will be, and I do not know what I have to prepare.

My friends asked me to stock some necessities. At first, I did not want to go out, so I made some orders online. However, I was worried that these delivery services will be stopped at any moment. I also wanted to see what happened outside, so I went out. Most people outside were middle-aged or above, and there were few young people. When I went to the supermarket nearby, I saw many people lined up at the cash registers. There was not much survival food left, such as rice and noodles. I was shocked, and I quickly grabbed some. A man bought a lot of salt. Someone asked him what for with that amount of salt. He said just in case the lockdown lasts for one year.

After I bought some food, I was still in a shock. There are fewer and fewer cars and pedestrians on streets. A city is suddenly shut down. When will it be alive again?

Ai Xioming: January 24, 2020

今夜除夕,武汉空前冷寂。这本是团年的日子,无数家庭的年夜饭取消了。昨天看到封城的照片,一边是铁面军人和武警,一边是无奈的旅客。画外音是武汉口音,说:看啊,汉口站,百年以来第一次关闭了。听得人不禁心头一紧,仿佛历史在此敲了一个响点。

我住在江夏区,离汉口站大约四十公里…我能想象到年前无法返乡的旅客内心的焦虑,他们怎么办呢?政府一夜之间决定封城,他们去哪里居住,怎么过年?

我觉得那些握有权力的人有种好消息综合症,就是无论如何,不管真实与否,只听好消息,没有也要编一个。你要说那不是真的,他能跟你拼命。

你们知道我说的是什么,那只小小的蝙蝠,汤菜卤煮,照片视频到处在传;但是房间里的大象,悠游晃荡,那是不能说破的魔障。

This is the Chinese New Year's Eve. Wuhan has never been so quiet. Today should be the day that families can get together. Numerous family gathering dinners have been cancelled. I saw the photos of the city locked down yesterday: The military personnel and the police stood on one side, and the disappointing travelers stood on another side. Outside the camera, someone said in Wuhan’s accent, “Look at it, the Hankou station was locked down at the first time in hundreds of years.” Something in my heart was squeezed suddenly, as if the bell of a historical moment had rang.

I live in the Jiangxia district, and it is around 40 kilometers away from the Hankou station…I could imagine the anxiety of those travelers who are forbidden to go home before Chinese New Year. What should they do? The government locked down the city overnight. Where can they find a place to stay? What can they do in this Chinese New Year?

I think those powerful people have “good-news syndrome”: whatever happens, they only want to hear good news, and they do not care whether those good news are true or fake. If there is none, they will make one. If you say this is not true, they will fight to the death for it.

You know what I am talking about. That little bat, that bat soup. The photos and videos of it are circulated widely. However, the elephant in the room is still walking around leisurely. That is the evil that no one dares to point at.

Soon after the lockdown in Wuhan, a video went viral on Chinese social media. A large number of media outlets in China suggested that Chinese bat eaters had caused the problem. However, bat was not a cuisine in Wuhan at all. Later, it was revealed that the video was filmed in a Pacific Island.

Viral bat soup photo captured from a viral video suggesting that Chinese bat eaters should be blamed for the epidemic.

Guo Jing: January 24, 2020

世界安静得可怕。

我是独居,偶尔听到楼道里的声音才能确定还有其他人在。

我有很多时间思考我怎么活着下。我没有任何体制内的资源和人脉,如果我生病,必然跟很多普通人一样无法得到救治。因此,我的目标之一是尽量不让自己生病,我要坚持锻炼。

目前,政府没有说要封城多久,也没有告诉我们封城后怎么保证城市的运转。而有人根据目前干扰的人数预测过可能封城到5月。

这场战争里,大多个体都只能靠自己,没有体制的保障。我相对年轻,很难想象那些独居老人、残障人士等更弱势的个体要怎么打赢这场仗。

The world is stunningly quiet.
I live alone. I only feel that someone else exists in the world with me when I hear some sounds from people in the same building.

I have a lot of time thinking about how to survive. I do not have any resource or social network in the organized system. If I wer sick, I would [be] like those who could not receive medical treatment. Therefore, one of my goals is to stay away from any disease. I must keep training my body.

The government has not announced exactly how long this lockdown will be, and they did not tell us how this city will keep working after the lockdown. Some people said the lockdown might last until May, based on the current number of confirmed cases.

In this war, most of us can only rely on ourselves. We do not have any protection from the system. I am relatively young. It is difficult to imagine how those disadvantageous people, such as those senior people living alone by themselves and those with disabilities, could survive this war.

Guo Jing: January 25, 2020

这两天做饭的时候我已经开始控制菜量,每顿炒菜的菜量是平时的一半,希望不要那么快过只吃咸菜的生活。

吃饭的时候跟一些朋友视频,我们无法逃过肺炎的话题,其实各地的人都多多少少受到一些影响。

疑病可能是现在最大的心理障碍。我早上擤鼻涕的时候看到有血丝,着实吓了一跳。丢掉纸巾后对生病的担忧就在脑子里挥之不去。

I started to control the amount of vegetables when I made my meals in these two days. Compared to what I used to cook, I only cook half the amount of vegetables now. Hopefully I will not need to eat preserved vegetables that soon.

When I was eating, I had a group video chat with some friends. We could not escape from the topic of Wuhan Pneumonia. In fact, people all over China are more or less influenced by it.

Suspected infection might be the most serious psychological stress that I have now. I was shocked when I sneezed and saw some blood in the snot this morning. After I threw away that tissue paper, I could not stop thinking the possibility of me getting sick.

Guo Jing: January 26, 2020

正在被封锁的不只是一个个城市,还有人们的声音。

我第一天把笔记发微博的时候图片就上传不了,文字也发不出去,我只得把文字转成图片发。昨天,我把文字转成图片也无法在朋友圈发,微博发出来之后明显被限流。1月24日的微博有近5000人转发,而昨天的微博只有45人转发。有一瞬间我还怀疑是不是我写得不好。互联网的审查和限制不是现在才有,可在这个时候却显得更加残忍。很多封城的人被困在家里,大家靠互联网获取信息,保持和家人朋友的联系,让我们不用真的是孤岛。

Here is not only a city being locked down, but also our voices.

I could not upload the photos when I tried to upload my diary to Weibo on Day 1. I could not submit the text, either. I need to make the text into photos to submit them. Yesterday, I could not send those photos converted from the text to my friends’ circle. After I published on Weibo, it is obvious that the amount of viewing has been restricted. My article was forwarded by almost 5,000 people in Weibo on Jan 24, but my other article was forwarded by only 45 people on Weibo yesterday. At some moment, I thought maybe I did not write it well. Today is not the first day that we have internet monitoring and restriction, but these measures become much crueler than ever at this moment. A lot of people are restricted to stay at home, and we need internet to gather information and keep the connection with our family and our friends. Otherwise, we will be an isolated island, cut off from the world.

Wuhanstreet

Somewhere in Wuhan during the lockdown. Photo credit: Guo Jing.

Guo Jin: January 28, 2020

整个城市都被沉重的氛围笼罩着,身处其中,我不自觉地小心翼翼起来,不敢随意去和人沟通。封锁让人们的生活进入原子化的状态,失去和他人的联系。

然而人们并不甘于现状。昨晚八点左右,窗外响起呼喊声,大家一起开窗喊“武汉加油”。这个集体的呐喊是一种自我赋权,人们从中寻找联结,从中获取力量。

The whole city has been shrouded by the heavy atmosphere. As one member in the city, I cannot help but becoming more and more careful. I do not dare to talk to others. The lockdown turns our lives into the atomic status, losing connection with others. However, people are not willing to yield to the current situation. Yesterday at around 8 p.m., there were people yelling outside my window. Many people opened their windows and shouted, “Keep walking, Wuhan” This action is a kind of self-empowerment. People try to find connection with others, and people try to find power by shouting together.

Since January 27, Wuhan residents have been chanting “Wuhan add oil” at around 8 p.m. A similar practice happened during last year's anti-extradition protests in Hong Kong, when protest supporters yelled out “Hong Kong add oil” each night at 10 p.m.

Below is a South China Morning Post's video about Wuhan's residents’ “yelling out” at night:

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