COVID-19 diaries from Wuhan: What future after the pandemic?

A barber came to the residential district to do haircuts for the men in the community. (Photo credit: Guo Jing. Used with permission)

The following post is the twelfth 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 initial center of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are the links to the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh parts of the series.

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

This instalment was written between March 15 and March 19, 2020. The original Chinese diaries are published on Matter News.

Ai Xiaoming: March 15, 2020


This morning when I opened my refrigerator looking for food, my hand stopped at dumplings. Before Chinese New Year, my cousin and his wife prepared 1,000 dumplings for me and my brother and our helper also left me several hundred dumplings before she went home for the holiday break. Now I only have 20-30 dumplings left. I could finish all these dumplings. But then, if my brother’s wife and her children were to visit me, they wouldn't be able to enjoy these hand-made delicacies.
Carefree as I am, I still feel worried about having not enough dumplings. This reminds me of some video clips showing how some were deprived of food. Some elderly people who don't know how to join groups to buy online — they would sit outside their house, waiting for community workers to deliver vegetables. Quite often at the end of the day, they would tell their children in other cities that they did not get any vegetables.
Whenever people go through a disaster or a traumatic experience, they struggle between whether they should be persistent in defending their rights and dignity, or give up their principles. In the latter case, we give up some of our principles each time we experience a disaster. After a few disasters, the victims may consider mere survival fortunate. After this pandemic, we will probably feel lucky to be alive. But what of our society as a whole? Will it have more respect for human life and rights? Will it give up its fundamental principles? Recently, we have observed a lot of pandemic control measures that violate human rights. The weak are unprotected. Surviving a disaster may result in a long-lasting negative impact, such as satisfaction with mere survival and the consolidation of individual selfishness and interest at the expense of others.

Guo Jing: March 15, 2020


It was sunny today. We have had several sunny days in a row. It seems that spring has arrived. This city has been locked down from winter until spring.
Today someone in our chatroom posted an updated list of zero confirmed case communities, and our community is finally on the list. We also checked on other communities in our area. In the afternoon, a sign reading “zero-confirmed case community” was posted at the gates of our district. The director of property management took a photo and sent it to our chatroom. We ‘like’ the photo, applaud, and feel thankful.

Guo Jing: March 16, 2020


Several days ago, some netizens revealed that medical staff received a smaller salary during the pandemic than usual. Medical workers usually receive basic salary plus bonus, but hospitals only paid them basic salary plus subsidy during the pandemic. As a result, some of them received less money than what they usually earn.

Guo Jing: March 17, 2020


Some regions in Hubei Province have lifted the lockdown for several days. However, the rules keep changing and people are confused. Yesterday a person from Macheng city said in our chatroom, “Macheng will be locked down again tomorrow.” Another person asked why, but that person did not know the reason. She just said that they received a notice from the village office, which said: “The policy has changed. The highway will be closed tomorrow 9 AM. If you have a pass [permission to leave the city], please leave and return to work ASAP.” People were very anxious and urged those with a pass to leave.
Another friend from Hubei said her family heard from an anonymous source that their city would be locked down again. The message was circulated a few days after the city was unlocked. She and her family ran to buy some rice, oil, and some food. Then a few hours later, they were told the message was only a rumor.
The policy keeps changing, and the government is not a credible source anymore. People are insecure and restless.

A kid looked outside from a window. (Photo credit: Guo Jing. Used with permission.)

Guo Jing: March 18, 2020


Someone said “the condition in Wuhan is improving.” The pandemic in Wuhan is indeed under control. However, what about the panic, sacrifice, isolation, trauma and sufferings related to the pandemic? Have these been healed? COVID-19 has wrought both physical and psychological damage. How long will it take for people to get healed?
When Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, the founder of the Trauma Center in Brooklyn, talked about psychological trauma, he pointed out that those who experienced 911 had less trauma than others. There are three factors mitigating psychological trauma: Action, Care, and Storytelling.
“Action” means people could act when a disaster happened… “Care” means the September 11 attack had caught the world's attention… “Storytelling” means people could talk about their experience and they wouldn't be blamed for doing so.
In this pandemic, the space for us to take action has been diminishing ever since the lockdown extended from the city to residential districts. We are trapped. Considering “care”, Wuhan has caught the world's attention, but aid from the outside was once blocked from entering — medical workers were forbidden to reach out for help without the approval of hospital authorities and medical supplies of volunteer groups were intercepted by government-designated organizations. People's attention was not transformed into action. Regarding “storytelling”, some of our stories were censored and many have to prepare backup accounts on Weibo.
In the face of tragedies, true stories are labelled as rumors while “positive energy” is promoted. When public attention toward tragedies is restricted and people's demands for official accountability go unanswered, emotions gradually get eroded and anger is overtaken by a sense of helplessness.

Guo Jing: March 19, 2020


Wuhan has zero confirmed cases today. Is this information reliable?
Today at around 11 AM, the staff in the property management office announced in our chatroom, “Hello, we asked a barber to come to our community. If any of you want to have a haircut, please come. The cost is RMB 20 yuan (US$ 2.83 dollars) per person.” One man went to the estate management office immediately, and soon there were 4-5 men in the line.
Several days ago, I asked a lawyer whether she received help messages from victims of domestic violence during the pandemic. She told me today that the local branch of the All-China Women’s Federation told her that a single mom had beaten her child to death. She said maybe the mom was too stressed, maybe she did not have any income, or maybe she felt trapped during the lockdown — all these factors combined led to the tragedy.
What's more horrible is that this is not the only tragedy she heard of. A child is dead and a mom will be sentenced. The story of the child is pitiful but we cannot just blame the mom. It is a social tragedy.

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