Wuhan Diary. Fang Fang Harper Collins £24
The diary of a Chinese writer living in Wuhan, China, following the unfolding coronavirus crisis which became a global pandemic, has become a bestseller. Wuhan Diary: Dispatches from a Quarantined City documents what life was like in the area identified as a possible starting point for the devastating spread of Covid-19. The city entered lockdown on 25 January, the first day of the Lunar New Year when families would usually be gathering to celebrate. Fang Fang has a large following on social media. She started writing the diary, referring to her posts and the response they were getting. She describes everyday life, how friends, families and strangers tried to get information and make sense of what was happening, venturing into quiet streets to try to get food and masks, and support those in need.
One heartbreaking early section describes how those with the virus roamed the city trying to find a hospital that was not too overwhelmed to treat them. The book was written and translated to English quickly which, although jarring at times, conveys a sense of immediacy. Fang Fang describes how people coped and reached out to each other, but also criticises the authorities for failing to act fast enough and failing to admit their errors. “The world of officialdom is filled with people who have never learned a damn thing in their entire lives, but one thing they have mastered is the art of putting on a show; and they have ways to deal with you that you would have never imagined even existed,” she writes. Politicians blamed scientists and scientists blamed politicians. One of the final sections talks about the idea of a “secondary disaster” if people’s livelihoods are not protected when any period of quarantine ends, including migrant workers who have fewer rights.
It makes for eerie reading. Those of us in the UK faced the same dilemmas and made the same criticisms when lockdown finally came here in mid-March. By that time Wuhan had been under lockdown for six weeks and would stay that way until 8 April. As a well-known writer, Fang Fang’s words certainly hit home for many Chinese people. After her book was published she was criticised for being unpatriotic by revealing the shortcomings of her government. But it was also clear that many more people wanted to hear what she had to say. Many correspondents got in touch with Fang Fang and sent her information. Overall, the diary is a great reminder that we’re all united by the same problems and need to fight back in the same way.