The date January 23, 2021 marks a year from the day the city of Wuhan went into lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. On the second day of the Lunar New Year, January 25, the famous Chinese writer Fang Fang began to write an online diary that she would continue until the city's lockdown was lifted. The World Health Organization (WHO) later declared Covid-19 a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, when cases surged in 112 countries worldwide- a week and a half later, Wuhan reopened.
Less than a month ago, on December 31, 2020, WHO first received the official report of Covid-19, which was then known as"viral pneumonia". As the contagion spread, Wuhan became the epicentre of the epidemic. It underwent the first lockdown that would later be followed by a stream of lockdowns in other cities worldwide, which continue to this day. On January 14, 2021, China's Hebei province recorded another death from Covid-19 after months of having zero cases.
Wuhan Diary started as a series of entries on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. The author Wang Fang, under her pen name Fang Fang, started writing about her life in lockdown, which would reach almost 3.8 million followers. Originally in Chinese, her entries were collected, compiled, and translated by Michael Berry and published by Harper Collins.
Fang Fang would post the diary entries in Chinese in real-time on her social media account. The entries were then shared via multiple social media platforms. The diary had garnered readership outside China as well, with many people glimpsing into the people's lives during the lockdown. The book's English translation was published in June 2020, just two months after the author's last entry in Chinese. In the translation afterwards, Berry wrote that "Her words became the city's heartbeat and its conscience… I felt an urgent need to get Fang Fang's words out as quickly as possible" (Berry in Fang 2020, pg 314-17). With the pandemic still going strong, it is no surprise that the dispatches from a quarantined city would resonate with people from all around the globe.
Fang starts each of her entries with a quote. The book talks about Covid-19, fake news, the mistakes made by officials and the public, the initial state of confusion, xenophobia, racism, and the world's current state. Her first entry into the diary is a clever warning to those who are on social media. "Technology can sometimes be every bit as evil as a contagious virus" (Fang 2020, pg 12)
Fang's entries mirror the collective consciousness of everyone who has undergone lockdowns. The author starts every entry with the weather or a piece of news that she has received. Most of the time, she talks about her conversations with her friends and colleagues on social media of what is circulating on social media- from fake vaccines to tests and false reports. She talks about the government and how it handled the virus, which has become a heated topic of debate.
The author's entries also comprise her thoughts and grievances about people succumbing to the virus. She constantly worries about the people around her. For example, She talks about her daughter's reliance on convenience store food and how she still relies on her mother's home-cooked meals. At times the diary breaks into soft and self-reflective tones which are relaxing to read. But, of course, in the next moment, a piece of news or source of worry is shared which keeps readers on their feet.
Fang's Wuhan Diary is relevant because it shows the present and the future for many cities. Wuhan lifted its lockdown on March 24, 2020. After 60 days of writing every day, Fang published her last entry. It provides an insight into how people rely on social media, the internet, their families and their spiritual beliefs to get through rough days under strict lockdowns without seeing loved ones and friends.
With the whole world still reeling from the pandemic, worries lie just beyond the doorknob. Through the undertones of entries, readers can relate to the extreme mental anguish of just staying inside every day and not knowing what the future holds.
In the end, we do see Wuhan lifting its lockdown. Unlike Wuhan, we continue to live in the new normal of masks, hand sanitisers and social distancing while hoping that this will be a temporary state of disorder in our lives.
Chinese citizens, as well as others online, have different opinions about the book. Some thought that the book fueled anti-Chinese sentiment, especially when the US and China relations were extremely tense. In interviews, the author has defended her stand as a writer portraying her days in lockdown as her city struggled with the virus. It is worth noting that she was not in the front lines as an essential worker but a writer under lockdown like most people.
Fang's conversations with people on social media and daily life entries portray the feeling of hopelessness during the lockdown. Her entries capture the overwhelming problems that arose between the people and government officials. The author showcases her city and how it faced the Covid-19 virus. She remembers all the people who have passed away and believes that their deaths were not in vain. The author urges people never to forget about these grief-ridden days.
There are two cover versions of the book. The book's calm blue cover shows the earth revolving and an extended circle like a Venn Diagram separated from it. Almost like there are two worlds at present. One represents the quarantined city while the other represents the rest of the world. The other cover of the book shows the picture of a person, most likely a front liner going through the empty streets. He or she wears a large overall and carries a large bag. Both cover arts are impressive but different. Fang Fang's story is relevant to the current state of the world and will continue to be relevant for years to come.