How Beijing Turned China’s Covid-19 Tragedy to Its Advantage

No publisher is willing or able to publish her works in China. The social media posts and articles that support her are often censored. A few people who spoke up for her publicly were punished, including a literature professor in Wuhan who lost her Communist Party membership and her right to teach.

“I think Fang Fang wrote about what happened,” said Amy Ye, the organizer of a volunteer group for disabled people in Wuhan. “In fact, I don’t think she included the most serious situations. Her diary is very moderate. I don’t understand why even something like that couldn’t be tolerated.”

This demand for a single narrative carries risks. It silences those who might warn the government before it does something foolish, like stumble into a conflict or interfere with China’s economic growth machine.

It also conceals the true feelings of the Chinese people. On the street, in person, most Chinese will be happy to tell you what’s on their minds, perhaps in exhaustive details. But China became a more opaque place in 2020. Online censorship became even harsher. Few Chinese people are willing to take the risks of speaking to Western news media. Beijing expelled many American journalists, including those at The New York Times.

This single narrative also means that people who don’t fit into it risk getting left behind.

Ms. Ye, the Wuhan volunteer group organizer, doesn’t believe that Wuhan could claim a victory over the pandemic. “My whole world has changed, and it will probably never go back to what it used to be,” she said.

She’s still struggling with depression and the fear of getting out of her apartment. An outgoing person before the pandemic, she has attended only one social gathering since the end of the lockdown in April.

“All of a sudden we were locked up at home for many days. So many people passed away. But nobody was held accountable,” she said. “I would probably feel better if someone could apologize that they didn’t do their job.”

“I can’t forget the pain,” she said. “It’s engraved in my bones and my heart.”

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