Despite all efforts by the Chinese government to throttle all the journalists and authors who tried to present an independent account of China’s draconian and inhuman ways to contain Covid pandemic, two outstanding books have dared to unravel the people’s agony during the period.
These books, viz., the “Deadly quiet city” and “Wuhan Diary” authored respectively by Murang Xuecun and Wang Fang are now making rounds, even though they were published in 2020, but remained subdued in public space since.
The latest evidence to the fact that the fear factor is deeply ingrained in the Chinese society is that the two authors chose to publish their books on pen names i.e., Hao Qun and Fan Fang respectively rather than their original names.
The “Deadly Quiet” city was published first in Australia, then in other parts of the world but the author had to leave the country. It was based on an open survey based on interview of people in Wuhan during Wuhan’s 76 – lockdown at the start of the pandemic. The Wuhan Diary on the other hand, is a translation of Miss Wang Fang’s posts to Chinese social media. Both the books are telling about the repressive measures and excesses done by the Chinese authorities against its own people. China chose to control information and keep opaque all what happened in Wuhan, while these authors helped to know the truth.
Murang Xuecun according to his own accounts as given in his book the ‘Deadly Quiet City’, recalling his efforts, undertaken while dodging, the Chinese Police while conducting interviews of the Wuhan residents, still gives him a “heart-sinking, bitter taste of terror”, even though he is now “out of their reach.” Murang writes “In the spring of 2020, Wuhan was like a large ship sinking into the deep sea.” “Few knew how people in Wuhan lived and died. That’s why I went to Wuhan.” Over the next few weeks, Murang covertly interviewed people from all walks of life on their experiences as the
catastrophe unfolded. Through these poignant and first hand accounts, Murang tells to us not only what really happened in Wuhan but why. The picture that emerges is one of intense despair, idealistic resistance and the ruthlessness of a regime, determined above all to avoid responsibility.
Ms. Fang’s book the ‘Wuhan Dairy’ is divided in several chapters, each focusing on one of the eight protagonists, ranging from a doctor at a small community hospital to the unlicensed driver of a motorcycle taxi and a journalist, Zhang Zhan, whose daring efforts earned a four year jail sentence. In Wuhan Diary, the author has cited many instances where virus tests were treated as secret and classified information and even the kith and kin could not know about the infected person’s status who were strictly kept in isolation with strict security. Many doctors working in Covid designated hospitals were forced to work unpaid as hospital’s designation as Covid hospitals broke their revenue streams. The book is full of details baring dysfunctional medical system of China which could not cope with the deluge of patients leaving many to die at home, in hospital corridors or on the streets.
The Journalist Zhang Zhan spent 104 days in Wuhan, posting essays and videos about the lockdown. She protested against the Chinese authorities efforts to keep everyone indoors for which she had to face their ire, even jail terms.
The stories of Wuhan are heart-wrenching how an authoritarian government could brutalise its own people to win a false image. Now it is amply clear that the Covid pandemic was a man-made disaster and many anticipate that it originated from Wuhan city of China. A US-based researcher who had worked at the infamous Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, Andrew Huff blamed even the US for it. Former Vice President of EcoHealth Alliance, in his book – The Truth about Wuhan – has described outbreak of Covid-19 as the “biggest intelligence failure since 9/11”, which the US government could not know even while it was funding the corona virus study at Wuhan’s Lab.
China did everything to silence the critics of government over the deadly virus outbreak and its measures for its containment. The internet was interrupted, active critics on social media were taken into custody and all
news was snapped to keep the world community in dark. The Yale University, however, cautioned that calling Covid-19 the “Wuhan Virus” or “China Virus” is inaccurate and Xenophobic” as it would discriminate between the patients in treatment.
The opinions vary whether the virus was transferred from animals to man and that first death occurred in Wuhan Lab, there is widely accepted belief that China remained opaque during the outbreak of the pandemic and adopted many repressive measures during the lockdown against its own people. Many people were left starving and without basic supplies like electricity, water, medicine and other day-to-day provision due to inflexible movement and lockdown rules. Strict isolation also hampered the process of gaining natural immunity against the disease. These days were a nightmare that need not be remembered and retold to put China in a bad picture, but to remind humanity that authoritarian solutions are destined to turn cruel and end-up in denial of truth that hampers learning. China has been in the habit of hiding the truth and even erasing it from memory. But such brave books help to document and remind about the hell that authoritarian regime of China made around people in the name of combating the pandemic. These books offer a lesson about handling such natural disasters in future.