COVID-19 diaries from Wuhan: When humans are turned into objects

Someone on the riverbank in Wuhan with protective gears. (Photo credit: Guo Jing)

The following post is the third in a series of diaries written by independent filmmaker and feminist scholar Ai Xiaoming and feminist activist Guo Jing. Both are living in Wuhan at the center of the COVID-19 pandemic. You can read the first and second part of the series here

This third installment was written between February 5-10, 2020. During this week, Dr. Li Wenliang, the whistleblower of the outbreak of a new coronavirus in Wuhan, passed away. The original Chinese diaries are published on Matter News.

Check out Global Voices’ special coverage of the global impact of COVID-19.

Guo Jing: February 6, 2020

An announcement outside a park: ‘Please wear mask when you enter the park.’ (Photo credit: Guo Jing)


An internet friend sent me a message requesting help this morning. Her husband and parents-in-law were diagnosed with COVID-19. Eventually, her parents-in-law died. She has two kids, one is 4 years old, and another is 1 month old. Now she is developing symptoms, so she is quarantined. She is worried about issues related to childcare. I called back and asked her, and she said someone can take care of her kids for now. However, her voice is full of worry. She does no know what will happen next and whether her kids will be taken care of during her quarantine.

Guo Jing: February 7, 2020


I have developed a routine to chat with friends at night. Tonight our topic is death.
We talked about our anxiety toward death.
Some people are afraid of the pain before death.
Some people are afraid of the disappearance of “Self” and self-consciousness.
We talked about the sudden and aggregated death in a pandemic. They do not have a funeral. They cannot say goodbye to their friends. Not to mention hospice.
This morning, I woke up several times. I tried forcing myself to sleep again but couldn't. I did not want to wake up and face the world. At last, I got up and turned on my cell phone. All the messages I saw were about Li Wenliang. Someone took a photo of themselves wearing a face mask with the words “I do not understand” on it.
I kept crying. How can I survive in such a ridiculous world? However, I must stay alive, because this has become an act of resistance.

People wearing masks written, “We can not understand.” (Photo source: Internet. Photo credit: Guo Jing.)

Guo Jing: February 8, 2020

我存的菜不多了, 今天要去超市补充一些食材。

I do not have much vegetables left, so I need to go to the supermarket to buy some food.
Some people say that we would soon forget what happens today after the end of the pandemic. However, forgetting is not that easy. We may not be able to remember every person we have seen, but most of us will not forget this period of our life. We will talk to others about what happens now and who we meet now, just like talking about SARS and the Wenchuan earthquake. We will live with the memory of this period for the rest of our lives.
What do we really worry about forgetting? We are worried that our society will not improve after the pandemic. We are worried that our society will not have a better disaster-monitoring system when we face another disaster. We are worried that some people will sacrifice for nothing.
I chatted with friends this evening. We saw the internet events to memorize Li Wenliang: Between 8:55-9:00 p.m., lights off and silent tribute, between 9:00-9:05 p.m., direct your lights to the windows… I don't have many neighbors and usually I can see a few lights in the buildings nearby. At 9 p.m., I saw some lights here and there. At that moment, we turned ourselves into lights for each other. This is the light that can penetrate the blockade.

We have spoken against the oppressors and paid our tribute to the honest people who stick to the truth. In a society where no one dares to tell the truth, where people are punished for telling the truth, telling the truth is invaluable. Li Wenliang is a person who told us the truth.

Ai Xiaoming: February 8, 2020


I was writing on my balcony in the evening yesterday to commemorate Dr. Li Wenliang. I stopped when it turned dark and cold. If I did not do it, I could not release the intense emotions brought by the death of Dr. Li. In this week alone, I have received messages from my friends about the death of the elder members of their families. This morning, the brother of a good friend of ours said someone in his family was in serious condition.

My father passed away during the lockdown. He should not be included in the story of this pandemic, but none of us can predict when death would arrive. I would say that his death has nothing to do with COVID-19, because he did not go out in the last half year. However, I do not have any medical evidence to support my words. Now the helper and I are in self-isolation, we will stay at home for 14 days before we go out again.

In fact, I think my father was very wise in choosing the timing of his death as the Wuhan government plans to send working teams into all residential communities to check on every single apartment on February 5. If anyone who is marked as one of the four types of people [confirmed cases, suspicious cases, people with fever, and people have close contact with confirmed cases], they will be taken away to quarantine facilities. It might be a good policy for people who seek medical attention. However, I cannot tell you how terrible it will be for a 96-year-old who has lost all his self-care ability. In fact, when I heard the announcement, I considered all the things that I could use to defend my family, because I could never allow anyone to take my father away for quarantine when he was still alive.

Guo Jing: February 9, 2020


Who does not apologize?
Parents seldom apologize. Even when they do, they always say, “for your own good,” implying that their children do not accept their good intention.
Sexual harassers seldom apologize. They even blame the victims to justify their behaviors and escape from the charge. They say, “you wear too little clothes,” “you should not go out at night,” or “you seduced me.”

I feel very sorry that getting an apology has become so difficult for people whose dignity and rights are infringed. Will Li Wenliang receive an apology?

Before I went to sleep, I used my cell phone to go online, and I found a voice recording published by an official account on February 4. It is from a girl in Shandong province. She called the hotline of the mayor of Wuhan. In the phone call, she criticized the way the Wuhan government handled the 350 tons of vegetables donated by Shandong province, that Wuhan government should not have sold those vegetables.

She gave some suggestions regarding the distribution of resources so that frontline workers could receive them as soon as possible.

That recorded message is very moving. At the end of the phone call, she said that she hoped the mayor could give her a reply. When so many of us feel powerless, she insisted on holding the government accountable. It is mission impossible, but these kind of people are the driving force for social change.

Guo Jin: February 10, 2020


My dinner last night was porridge and fried mushrooms with sausage.

I bought those mushrooms at the beginning of the lockdown. They were in the refrigerator for more than 10 days. One of the mushrooms turned dark, but I still cut it. Then I was worried, I searched online and some suggested that the dark colour might be caused by mold and it is better not to eat those mushrooms. To be cautious, I threw that mushroom away.

If we store too many vegetables, they will decay and we are wasting food. However, to survive, we need to store vegetables.

A friend of mine recommended the TV series, “Surviving Disaster” several days ago. This documentary series simulates disaster in our real lives to educate people. I watched one episode this afternoon, and it is about an airplane hijacking. A person teaches how to overpower the hijacker and save ourselves. When he ties up the hijacker's arms and legs, he says, “Now we will deprive their senses. It is all about control. We need to deprive their power, their vision, their ability to speak as much as we can. We should even plug their ears and turned them into objects.”

At that moment, I felt for the hijacker.

We have been treated like that hijacker, although we are not deprived those abilities directly. However, the information we see and hear has been filtered, and we always find ourselves speechless. The information about Li Wenliang has been disappearing. This society forces us into self-censorship, and some even actively censor others and ask other to delete information that is irrelevant to them and harmless to anyone.

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