I first came across Fang Fang, a Wuhan-based writer, two years ago for her novel Soft Burial, which had been banned in China but which was circulating online. It is a captivating and heart-wrenching story about a landlord family in rural Shanxi province whose members are executed by the Communists during the “land reform” period. I couldn’t put the book down and ended up finishing it in a single day.
Fang Fang’s name resurfaced shortly after the start of the lockdown of Wuhan when her daily postings about life and death in the sealed-off metropolis attracted numerous followers including me. “Fang Fang’s Wuhan Diary” combines the author’s first-hand experiences with a range of third-party information (as a former head of the Hubei Writers Association, she is well connected with local elites). There is genuine emotion, sober reflection and an occasional burst of criticism directed at the authorities.
On February 7, she wrote on WeChat: “I can no longer sleep, even after taking sleeping pills. It has been a long time since I felt such sadness and anger. Dr Li Wenliang [the whistle-blower who died of Covid-19 infection] said: a healthy society shouldn’t only have one voice. Will his warning and his death be in vain? Censorship is everywhere. My Weibo account was shut down on the same day of Li’s death. I felt awful and helpless. Nevertheless, I have to continue recording [the events]. [I] can’t let Li die for nothing, can’t let so many people die for nothing, can’t let us forget about these lockdown days…”
Her diary entry on March 7 was one of the most powerful, challenging the local government’s directive that the people of Wuhan should gan en 感恩, or “express gratitude,” towards the Communist Party for bringing the epidemic under control. While agreeing that gratitude was merited, Fang wrote: “But it should be the government who stands up to express gratitude. It’s the government who should first be grateful to the families of thousands of people who lost their lives in the epidemic. These people have to endure the grief of not only losing their loved ones in such a tragic way but also being given no chance to hold funerals and say farewells, they have restrained their emotions and almost no one kicked up a fuss. The government should also express gratitude to the five-thousand-plus ICU patients whose unyielding fight with death has kept the fatality rate low. The government should be grateful to all the medical staff from local and other parts of the country who risked their own lives to save others. The government should thank the builders, workers and volunteers whose hard work has kept the city functioning. The government should be most grateful to the nine million Wuhan people who have been trapped at home, without their endurance and cooperation, it’s simply impossible to control the epidemic… (Therefore), Government, please put away your pride and show gratitude to your master – millions of Wuhan people!”
Of course, this posting and many of her earlier ones didn’t stay online for long. But Fang and her supporters have managed to play cat and mouse with the censors by publishing on new platforms and reposting the deleted material. I also enjoy reading the comments under her articles, almost overwhelmingly praising her writing, including this one by kaiyanyixiao: “The reason that people stay up late to wait for Fang Fang’s daily posting (before they are taken down) is due to her authenticity. Because we have all been immersed in lies for too long, (we find) Fang and her writing especially precious!”
Despite the censorship (or maybe because of it), Fang’s fan base has been growing and there are millions of people following her postings online. There is even a chance that her writing has reached the senior leadership in Beijing. During Xi Jinping’s visit to Wuhan last Tuesday, his speech included these sentences: “Wuhan is worthy of a heroic city and the Wuhan people worthy of a heroic people who will be recorded in the history books for your victory over this coronavirus. The whole Party and the whole nation are touched and awed by you! The Party and the people thank Wuhan people!”
A native Chinese who grew up in northeastern China, Mei attended an elite university in Beijing in the late 1980s and graduate school in the US in the early 1990s. Over two decades she has worked in the US, Hong Kong and mainland China, both in the media and with two global investment banks, where she has honed her bicultural perspective.
If you’d like to ask her a question, send her an email at [email protected]
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