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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)

早上接到一个网友发的求助,求助者的老公和她的公婆都被确诊为新型冠状病毒肺炎,两个老人已经去世,家里还有两个孩子,一个四岁,一个才一个月。她有疑似症状,现在也在隔离,担心孩子的照顾问题。我打电话过去了解情况,她说孩子暂时有人照顾,可是她的语气充满了忧虑,不确定隔离后的情况,不确定孩子是否能得到持续的照顾。

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

晚上继续和朋友聊天,主题是死亡。
大家纷纷讲了自己的死亡焦虑:
有人害怕死亡之前的痛苦,
有人害怕“我”的消失和自我意识的消亡
我们讲到疫情中充满了突然而集中的死亡,他们没有葬礼,无法和所爱的人告别,更别说临终关怀
早上,我几次醒来翻个身又睡去,并没有睡着,只是不想起来面对。终于我还是起了床,打开手机,满屏都是关于李文亮的消息,有人戴着口罩拍照,口罩上写着“不明白”。
我又开始流泪。我要怎么在如此荒诞的社会生存呢?我还是得努力地活着,这也成为一种抗争。

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。
有人说疫情过去,人们就很快会忘记。遗忘没有那么容易。我们可能无法记得所有人,但我们大部分人都无法忘记这段时间。我们还会跟别人讲起这段时间发生的事情、遇到的人,就像我们讲起非典、讲起汶川地震。我们还会带着这段日子的记忆生活下去。
大家担心的遗忘究竟是什么?是我们的社会不能因为这场疫情而有所改善,是下次发生类似的灾难的时候依然没有完备的防控体系,担心依旧会有人要做无谓的牺牲。
晚上和朋友聊天。我们都看到了网上有人发起的祭-奠LWL的活动,晚上8:55-9:00是关灯默哀,9:00-9:05用手中能发出光的所有物件指向窗外…我住的地方外面的楼本来也只有零星的灯光。9点钟,我看到这些楼上一些角落里亮起了微弱的光。那一刻,我们是彼此在黑暗中的光,这是穿破封锁的光
我们都讨厌恃强凌弱的人,喜欢待人真诚,敢讲真话的人。而在大家都不敢讲真话,甚至讲真话要付出代价的社会,讲真话更加珍贵。李文亮是一个讲了真话的人。

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

昨天下午,我在天台上寫了一下午的字,為紀念李文亮醫生。一直寫到天要黑了,也感覺很冷了才停筆。如果不做這件事,我無法釋放李醫生之死給我帶來的情感沖擊。這一周裏,連續得到了三位武漢朋友長輩去世的消息。今天早上,我們的另一位好朋友的哥哥,家裏也有親人被告重症。
我的老父親在封城期間與世長辭,他本不應該屬於這個瘟疫故事,可是我們都無法預測死亡的時間。我願意說他半年都沒有出過自己房間,因此他不可能屬於新冠。但我並沒有醫學憑證來證明這件事,現在我和阿姨都在家自動隔離,待14天後再行出門。
事實上,我覺得老父親冥冥間選擇的永別時刻,簡直是無比的人間智慧。因為,說來令人難以置信的是,再過三天,即2月5日,武漢市將組織力量進社區,排查“四類人員”集中觀察,以便收治隔離。這對求治者或許是一件好事,但對於一位年屆九六、全部失能的高齡老人來說,我不能告訴你這將會多麽恐怖。實際上在聽到這個消息時我把我能夠在家抄起的所有傢伙都想了一遍。因為,我不可能容許任何人把我活著的父親抬出去隔離

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

什么人不道歉?
父母很少道歉,即便道歉的时候也总是说“为你好”,暗含着一种指责,似乎是子女不领情。
性骚扰的施害者很少道歉,他们甚至用指责受害者的话语来为自己辩解,企图说明不是自己的错,他们说“你穿太少了”“你不应该晚上出门”“你勾引我”。
很遗憾,不被尊重的人、权利被侵害的人很难获得道歉。李-w-l是否能获得道歉呢?
睡觉前,我刷手机的时候刷到2月4日一个公众号发了一段录音,是一个山东姑娘打给捂汗市长热线的电话,电话中她表达了对武汉政府处理山东捐赠的350吨蔬菜的不满,认为政-府不应该拿去卖,对政-府分配物资的流程提出了建议,希望物资以最快的方式到达一线工作人员那里。
那段录音十分令人感动,她在电话结束的时候说希望市长可以给她一个回复。在很多人都充满无力感的时候,她依然坚持问责,这是一个明知不可为而为之的行为。而社会改变是由无数这样的人一起推动的

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

昨天的晚餐是香菇炒香肠加稀饭。香菇是在封城的第一天买的,在冰箱里放了十多天,有一个香菇变成了黑红色,我还是把它切了,又有些担心,就上网查了一下,看到有人说香菇变黑代表发霉,最好不要吃。谨慎起见,我还是扔了那个已经切好的香菇。
蔬菜屯太多容易变质,就会导致浪费。然而,为了生存我们又不得不屯。
有朋友前几天推荐《浩劫求生》,这是一部模拟真实生活环境下的灾难系列教学纪录片。中午看了第一集,是关于劫飞机的,有一个人全程在教大家如何制服劫持飞机的人和自救,在将劫匪的手脚都绑起来的过程,他说:“现在要剥夺他们的感官能力,此刻最重要的就是控制,我们要尽量剥夺他们的掌控能力,视力、说话能力,甚至塞住他们的耳朵,这些人会完全变成废物。”那一刻,我和劫匪产生了共鸣。
我们像是被当作劫匪一样对待,虽然不是被直接地剥夺这些能力。然而,我们看到的和听到的信息被过滤,我们经常发不出声。有关李-w-l的一些信息已经在消失。社会让我们自我审查,一些人还审查别人,建议别人删除和他无关又没有侵害任何人的言论

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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