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For literary responses to COVID-19 from writers around the world, check out our Voices from the Pandemic series.
from the May 2020 issue

Wuhan Lockdown Diary

Guo Jing, the first woman in China to win a gender discrimination case against a state-owned enterprise, chronicles daily life under the COVID-19 lockdown in Wuhan, China, in this excerpt from her Diary of the Wuhan Lockdown.


April 3, 2020

Yesterday, the Wuhan COVID-19 Epidemic Prevention and Control Headquarters issued a notice advising that the city lockdown needs to be continued. Many citizens left messages on the Chinanews social media account requesting government subsidies and calling for an end to the lockdown.

One person posted: “Give out some cash subsidies. I have not had any income for two months, and I still have to repay my mortgage.”

Another person posted: “For two months, I have not seen any government-subsidized vegetables. I can only buy them at a high price. Eggs are expensive, so are vegetables, and I have yet to find meat. The government provided a limited supply of subsidized meat, but it is mostly reserved for older people. I have lost more than ten thousand yuan (roughly 1,413 USD) in income. We cannot continue the lockdown like this. I will need to apply to leave Wuhan on April 8 so I can find a job elsewhere. Otherwise I will not be able to make ends meet this year.”

Another message stated: “Test all the Wuhan residents. Statistics may say there are zero new infections, but we are still worried. When will this come to an end?”

Yet another message read: “Wuhan’s lockdown is having a profound psychological impact on us. A friend of mine has two apartments and they are only a few kilometers apart. His car is parked near the other apartment. For a long time, he has been planning to visit the other apartment to pick up the car, but he has not had the courage to leave his apartment yet. My dad says, ‘The real end of the lockdown starts when people feel that they can go for a walk whenever they need to.’”

***

Yesterday’s dinner was stir-fried garlic moss and pork, with congee.

It was cloudy today. The sun appeared now and then, with fewer people than usual in the courtyard. I wondered if some had ventured out of our residential compound.

In the morning, someone messaged the head janitor on WeChat [a Chinese-language social media platform]: “Mr. Yin, are you still organizing bulk orders of eggs?”

The head janitor replied: “Now that the lockdown has been eased for our neighborhood, everyone can go to the supermarkets for themselves. We are not taking bulk orders anymore. Our apologies.”

A woman with many connections subsequently started a bulk order initiative for eggs in the neighborhood WeChat group. Thirty eggs for 16 yuan (roughly 2.26 USD, slightly cheaper than the typical supermarket price of 20 yuan). 

At the moment, only a few shops offer delivery services. Some have a minimum order of 500 yuan (roughly 70 USD, more than a typical grocery run). Many shops offer only a limited choice of vegetables. I do my grocery shopping on a social media app because I do not want to spend time waiting in a queue. I can get groceries for myself now, and I have more choice too. I am happy.

I bought some flat beans today, which I can use in a stir-fry. In the last few weeks, I have bought peas through the neighborhood bulk orders. The pea pods have thick skins and you cannot eat them. The new kitchen knife I ordered also arrived today.

In the afternoon, a resident messaged everyone in the neighborhood WeChat group: “Neighbors, tomorrow is the Ching Ming Festival (Tomb-Sweeping Day). If you need any ghost money, you can get some in front of the residents’ committee office.” I looked out the window and saw a stall downstairs selling joss paper. At about seven p.m., people were burning joss paper outside to mourn the dead.


April 4, 2020

Today is a carefully orchestrated national day of mourning. Some people attended the memorial service at the public shrine in Wuhan, but not everyone was allowed in. All those given access were men. Some memorial texts that people posted online were soon deleted by the censors.

These memorial ceremonies are designed to dissipate people’s anger through a form of collective catharsis, but they leave little room for ordinary people to mourn the dead in their own way. As ordinary citizens, we are not entitled to attend the ceremony, but we can refuse to be moved by such an artificial ritual of mourning.

Many people died because of inequality. The government treats them as heroes and praises them. But no one is held accountable for their deaths, and there is no critical reflection on why they died, either. A society cannot churn out dead tragic heroes forever; it should take responsibility for those who have already died and those who are still living.

Some doctors and nurses have not received the extra pay they deserve. DXY.cn [a website for health professionals] posted a message on Weibo [a Chinese-language social media platform] yesterday and asked: “How much extra pay have you received from your hospitals during the epidemic?” “None,” read many of the replies in the comments section. One person replied: “Zero. I have filled out one form after another but have yet to receive a cent.”

Many people have been grieving the dead for quite a while, and they will not stop their grief today. Some mourn their loved ones in their own way. To remember the dead, we need to fight Internet censorship. So that we do not lose online content taken down by the censors, we take screenshots and safekeep them. A friend said that she even thought of video recording the computer screen 24/7.

***

The sun came out today. I have been looking forward to the sun after so many days of clouds, but today’s sunshine feels a bit inappropriate. I detest the carefully orchestrated public memorial ceremony. I do not want to take part in it. I want to isolate myself from this absurd world.

At ten a.m., I could hear a loud siren outside. At the construction sites and on the streets, many people stopped their work and stood in silence. But not everyone. Some workers continued working, and some pedestrians kept walking. They carried on with their life as they mourned.

I was doing some cleaning at home. A month ago, I removed the tablecloth and gave it a wash. I have not used it since.

In the afternoon, a person asked in the neighborhood WeChat group: “Is ghost money still available?” The resident who had sold the joss paper the day before left a mobile number in the group chat: “Call this number if you need anything.”

Tongtong’s parent tweeted in the neighborhood WeChat group: “To the boy who lives in Apartment 405, your sister Tongtong is waiting for you downstairs.”

The well-connected woman informed everyone in the group that the eggs they had ordered arrived. A resident asked: “Can you wait for a while? I am busy with my child.” The woman replied: “What is your apartment number? I can deliver them to your door.”

“1002”

“Wait a minute.”

“Don’t worry if you are busy distributing eggs. I can go downstairs and fetch them.”

The woman messaged back: “They are already at your door.”


Read more work in response to the COVID-19 pandemic from writers around the world.


April 5, 2020

To express their ideas without reservation, people need to feel safe speaking out and trusting each other. But we live in a society of surveillance and discipline. How can we not exercise necessary caution? Most of us busy ourselves with survival, but there are always people who are not content with the status quo and subsequently become protesters.

I had not been out of my apartment in the last few days. Life indoors felt a bit suffocating. At four p.m., I went downstairs for a walk. I had no plan to leave the neighborhood, because I did not want to register my exit and entry. Downstairs, I was immediately overwhelmed by the noise from the construction site nearby. After walking several rounds in the residential compound, I could not help but walk to the gate. Life is full of a series of miniature struggles.

At the gate, the security guard scanned my forehead with a thermometer and said: “36.2 degrees Celsius [97.16 degrees Fahrenheit].” I was given permission to leave the compound.

The greengrocer’s shop was still closed. Some fruit inside had spoiled.

I read in today’s news about the reopening of marriage and divorce registration in Wuhan starting on April 3. On my way back home, I took a detour to the marriage and divorce registration office near my home. It was already five p.m. when I got there. The office was still open, but no one was outside. At the entrance there were posters with headlines such as “notice,” “procedure,” and “divorce agreement.”

I walked in and asked a receptionist: “When did you reopen?” She said: “You need to scan the QR code to make an appointment.”

“I am not here to register. I am interested in knowing the current situation. Are there more marriage or divorce cases now?” 

“There are plenty of both.”

She seemed a bit wary. I stopped asking questions and walked away.

Back in the neighborhood, a man was sitting in front of the parcel collection area drinking a bottle of beer and listening to Chinese opera on his phone. Another man washed his car in front of the janitor’s office.


April 6, 2020

Someone posted a poem titled “Messages for Easing the Lockdown” to the neighborhood WeChat group:

To ease or not to ease,
Never run wild and free!
For if you get the disease,
We’ll lose both people and money!
Take control of your two feet,
and cover your mouth with a mask!
Life above all else,
health is our most important task!

It was sunny and warm today. At eleven a.m., I went downstairs to enjoy some sunshine. There were only a few people in the courtyard. The man was still drinking beer while listening to opera. He walked up to the trash can, peered inside, and took out an old bowl made of stainless steel. He walked home with the bowl in his hand.

In the neighborhood WeChat group, someone started a new thread proposing to bulk order fish, and other residents answered by expressing their interest.


April 7, 2020

Many migrants like me have come to big cities for personal development. The cost of living in these cities is high, and many young people barely make ends meet. There are more people and resources in these big cities. They can offer us plenty of opportunities and hopes for the future.
 

April 8, 2020

It was not my plan to start writing a diary, let alone keep doing it for seventy-seven days. But in doing so, I have had many unexpected gains. Writing is a form of dialogue, a dialogue with oneself and with others.

Today, the municipal lockdown was declared “eased,” and traffic between Wuhan and the outside world is flowing once more. This is a significant development and shows that Wuhan is recovering from the epidemic. But when can the lockdown of central neighborhoods be eased? When can people’s anxiety and fear be overcome? The government initiative of decorating Wuhan with lights has once again sparked the romance of collectivism. Yet living conditions in central Wuhan continue to be concealed or erased.

The aftereffects of the epidemic can still be felt. Those who have recovered from COVID-19 are left with lifelong physical and psychological trauma. How can they restart their life? Will people from Hubei Province and Wuhan City continue to face discrimination? Who will take care of the companies that have gone bankrupt and the people who have lost their jobs?

It is difficult to articulate one’s psychological trauma in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, but its impact on a person’s life can be long-lasting. Now and then I think back to the little girl I once was, curling up helplessly after being beaten. I still have to constantly comfort that helpless little girl.

I can finally stop writing my lockdown diary now. It is difficult to stick to a habit day after day. Apart from having meals, there are very few things in life that we must keep doing every day. Now and then I can skip going out, washing my face, or brushing my teeth before bed. There is no reason our lives have to be monotonous. How would we experience the richness and color of life otherwise?


"写了77天终于可以停下来了|郭晶的武汉封城日记|4/3-4/8" © Guo Jing. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2020 by Hongwei Bao. All rights reserved.

Read more from the May 2020 issue
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