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Fang Fang’s Wuhan Diary: Dissed for ‘Washing Dirty Linen’ before Foreign Eyes

 

家丑不传外

It was bad enough that author Fang Fang (方方) has regularly posted her popular Wuhan Diary (武汉日记) on China’s social media, offering her personal — and not occasionally, critical — comments on the effects of the deadly epidemic during the lockdown, penned at Ground Zero. Reports The Diplomat (Conscience of Wuhan):

. . . each entry in Fang’s Wuhan Diary has been consistently deleted by Beijing’s censors within an hour or so of it being posted on Fang’s social media page. Yet each post has gone viral before being struck down, being shared by millions of WeChatters within China and abroad.

German edition launch date: June 4, 2020 (六四)

But now there is even worse news for the ongoing global PR campaign to position China’s anti-Covid-19 strategy, specifically its vacuum-sealed lockdown of Wuhan, as successful, heroic and a model for the rest of the world. Reports China’s Global Times (Publication of Wuhan diary in English):

Now some people are wondering if Fang received a certain amount of money from overseas to let the book be published for some reasons. 

Gasp!

And it appears to be true. HarperCollins Publishers has announced the launch of Wuhan Diary: Dispatches from a Quarantined City, translated by Michael Berry, for end June 2020.

Perhaps in an attempt to dissuade potential readers overseas from purchasing the diary, a smear campaign targeting Fang Fang is well underway. The same article in the Global Times notes that:

she fell from grace in late March when many netizens and scholars began to question the authenticity of her diary.

Apparently, her posts were insufficiently positive and neglected the official version of events. From the same Global Times article:

Like Fang Fang, Ye Qing, a deputy director of the Statistics Bureau of Central China’s Hubei Province, has also been documenting the stories of Wuhan since the city was locked down on January 23. In his journal, he slammed bureaucracy and formalism after witnessing the problems in the early stages of the local government’s handling of the outbreak and offered many suggestions for controlling the epidemic.

Commenting on Fang Fang’s diary, Ye said she focused more on grassroots voices, but unfortunately, her material is incomplete and most of her sources came from hearsay. “All the sources in my journal were from official announcements, and I wanted to display a comprehensive image of how Wuhan people fought the virus,” Ye said.

As usual, Chinese media has focused so far on English media, i.e., the upcoming launch of Fang Fang’s diary in English. However, criticism is likely to intensify when and if Chinese netizens and social media fans learn about the German version of the diary. Two key related factoids:

  • The title: Wuhan Diary: Das verbotene Tagebuch aus der Stadt, in der die Corona-Krise begann, which loosely translated, reads: Wuhan Diary: The Forbidden Diary from the City where the Corona Crisis Originated.
  • Launch date: June 4, 2020. The Global Times obliquely refers to this taboo date — best known in the West as the day of the Tian’anmen Square Massacre — as “a political disturbance between spring and summer in 1989.”

No doubt Fang Fang will be taken to task not just for allowing her diary to be published abroad — how dare she! — but perhaps equally for allowing it to be marketed as “banned” back in the People’s Republic of Amnesia. This, despite the fact that many of her entries were reportedly scrubbed from the internet just hours after they were posted.

For a related piece in French that also contains content from the diary, visit Témoignage de gratitude.  Also, check out — and join, if you like — in the discussion of the diary brouhaha now underway over at Paper-Republic. In the wake of this affair, Fang Fang has now been interviewed and told her side of the story. For the Chinese interview, click here.

One reply on “Fang Fang’s Wuhan Diary: Dissed for ‘Washing Dirty Linen’ before Foreign Eyes”

The Global Times article illustrates the intolerance of the Chinese government for any other narratives than its own.

Ye Qing’s proud boast that “All the sources in my journal were from official announcements, and I wanted to display a comprehensive image of how Wuhan people fought the virus” is regrettably a guarantee of a slanted view of the issue.

The Chinese government is intent on pushing single narrative: how, after a rather poor start at the local level in Wuhan, the national government stepped in to take strong, clear, immediate, decisive action to halt the spread of the virus. While this bathes the Chinese government’s actions in a positive light, it is a flawed picture.

Praise for China’s sledgehammer approach to dealing with the epidemic must be tempered with a realisation that this approach was needed to rectify earlier screw-ups. The drastic lockdown was ironically made necessary by poor governance — ironic given that Xi Jinping’s own books are entitled “The Governance of China” — which brought about and contributed to the early spread of the virus.

The first point against the government is that, despite earlier experience with another coronavirus (SARS), the Chinese government failed to clamp down on the illegal wildlife trade. It had in fact been criticised in recent years for loosening regulations on the trade in wildlife products. The failure to properly control this trade is the direct cause of the epidemic.

This was followed by the well-known failure of the local government in Wuhan to stop the outbreak in its early stages, and attempts to muzzle sources of information about the new disease. By comparison, Xi Jinping positively shines, but regrettably he also appears to have failed to take proper action in the early stages.

It was these earlier failures of governance that made the government’s imposition of a total, ruthless lockdown necessary. Even the lockdown itself was marked by poor governance, since large numbers of people were able to escape Wuhan the morning it was put into effect.

This is something that China would rather play down as it doesn’t present the country, or more importantly, its leader, in a very flattering light. Desperation to promote a favourable narrative also lies behind the Global Times attempts to denigrate Fang Fang, both for presenting a different view from what the government would like to push, and for giving foreigners an inside, personal look at life in a beleaguered city .

Poor governance continues to dog China’s response to the epidemic. Recently there has been news of Africans in Guangzhou being evicted from long-term apartments (with the connivance of local police), or sleeping in the streets since no hotels would take them. This was caused by a government clampdown on Africans suspected of carrying the virus. No doubt Chinese will excuse such actions as a justified attempt to “protect us from the virus”. But the deeper roots of the problem lie in the existence of tens of thousands of illegal African immigrants in an area of Guangzhou. One can only ask what kind of governance on the part of immigration and public security could have led to such large numbers of illegal immigrants. Essentially, the government’s discriminatory campaign to contain the virus among Africans was caused by poor governance.

As long as the Chinese government continues to push a slanted narrative, we should welcome alternative sources of information like Fang Fang’s diary. She should be praised, not denigrated. Unfortunately, the thin skins of the Chinese leadership mean that we will continue to see such puerile reporting from the Chinese media (especially the Global Times), and kneejerk support from ordinary “patriotic” Chinese. None of this helps China’s image in the West, so we can only wonder why the government and the Global Times continue to adopt such a fruitless approach.

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