Another Day of Life in Wuhan

A follow-up dispatch from the centre of the epidemic – Xiaoyu Lu, trans. Allen Young

The only thing that hasn’t changed since they shut down the city is my grandmother’s insistence on walking the dog. Every morning at five or six o’clock, she puts on her face mask and steps out the door. When she comes back around breakfast time, she gives a report.

“No one outside today, either,” she says.

But on January 25, the first day of the lunar new year, she saw something new. “I turned back early today. There were people with red armbands standing on the bridge, staring right at me,” she said. “So I figured maybe that means you’re not allowed to cross.”

That day we learned the authorities had tightened the lockdown. Every district was now closed off, and you couldn’t cross the river. Neighbors who had gone to call on relatives – a traditional activity in the first days of the festival – were stopped at the gates of their housing complexes. Not long after that came word that private cars were no longer allowed in the city center.

One after another, the cities and towns of Hubei were sealed off, as if under siege. Roadblocks and sandbags appeared on the expressways. Some towns have taken more extreme measures, blocking roads by digging them up.


They Shut Down the City

A dispatch from quarantined Wuhan during the coronavirus epidemic – Xiaoyu Lu, trans. Allen Young

On January 17, I went to pick up a friend at the Hankou train station in my hometown Wuhan. She was the only one wearing a face mask. At the time, the official line was that everything was under control, that the spread could be prevented. “The Huanan Seafood Market is only two blocks away,” I said to her, teasingly. In an all-night restaurant, the glass tanks were swimming with life. We ate noodles with crab legs. The streets were as packed as ever, with drunk revelers trying to call cabs after their year-end company parties. A man doubled over to vomit, while a young woman patted him on the back and said, “Ready for another round, honey?”

A week ago the panic was still confined to health-conscious retirees, who always worry about seasonal illnesses. It didn’t prompt them to wear face masks or use hand sanitizer more regularly, it just gave them a new reason to get on young people’s case: don’t go out, drink plenty of water. There were also the perennial conspiracy theorists, who doubted official news yet didn’t provide more reliable information. To most of us, not wearing a mask seemed reasonable and logical. After all, who wanted to be associated with paranoid old folks and crackpots?


The Besieged Rainbow

Dispatches from an ally of China’s LGBT movement – Xiaoyu Lu

The phone call came in at seven or eight in the night. After saying hello, the voice paused. As I was about to hang up,  the voice asked whether I worked for the UN. Yes, I answered. He explained that he was calling from the hotel which we booked for the conference participants. He hesitated again. Is there anything wrong? I asked.

There had been a group of strangely dressed people at the reception, he said, and the hotel would like to confirm whether I had really invited them. I could have started a lengthy lecture about the term “strangely dressed people,” but I did not. Yes, we invited them, I confirmed. I detected a tone of embarrassment in his next question. He asked what kind of conference we were holding, and whether it had been registered with the Public Security Bureau. I raised my voice, and in a solemn manner said it was a UN conference on public health, and there was neither need nor obligation to register. He couldn’t come up with a reply, and hung up.


Double Dissidents

The cognitive dissonance of overseas Chinese students – Xiaoyu Lu

“Why were you defending an authoritarian regime?”

Tina, a friend from Comparative Politics class, asked me this as we walked out of the seminar room. We had began our graduate course at Oxford three years ago, and both carried on with doctoral research in Politics. Despite the occasional hostilities between our home countries (China and the US), we quickly became close friends and suspended the ideological differences between us. Still, her question left me half shocked and half puzzled. During the past two hours, we had been debating furiously about the “doomed future of democratization” and the “crisis of liberal democracy.” As usual, I was critical of mainstream political thought, especially any definition of democracy that delimits itself to a few institutional yardsticks, along with a tone of moral proselytism that renders democracy as a dividing battle between us and them.