Author: Jared Peacock
Gone with the stifling heat of summer 2019, the city of Wuhan relished in September breezy air. Speaking dialects from all over China, once people integrate into Wuhan in central China known as “Chicago of the East”, automatically raise their voices by a few decibels. Compared with metropolis along the east coast, Wuhan is sturdier in folk customs, and its people fast-tempered in character. However, the vast majority of Wuhan people are docile in heart, traditional in thinking, smart, industrious, and almost too busy to look beyond everyday life challenges, their lifetime quietly flowing by along middle reaches of the Yangtze River.
The homeland of mankind was sighing in agony. The Amazon rainforest formed 55 million years ago was aflame, the fire raging, scorching, turning rainforest into savannah. Fresh vegetation and wild creatures, the flying, the crawling, the running, danced their last steps in a sea of flames. Their churned remains recorded their last struggle for survival. Human ecological space was diminishing. Biodiversity was ebbing away.
On the other side of the earth, the Strait of Hormuz was undergoing another human fight for geopolitical power. The Strait of Hormuz is the throat of global economy where one fifth of the world’s crude oil passes through. After one commercial ship was attacked, the atmosphere in entire Gulf region, from sea level to airspace, was immediately intensified. Drones were shot down, and two major Saudi oil facilities were hit on 14 September, nearly halving the nation’s daily oil production. A global economic recession was imminent. And a war appeared to be near.
People strolling in Wuhan’s parks were concerned that the summer heat left this year’s Osmanthus delay in blooming and that Wuhan terribly missed the honey-scented fragrance. They were curious whether the prices of poultry would come down after the swine fever reportedly came to an end. The big events in faraway places, such as the Amazon rainforest fire and dispute over the Strait of Hormuz, occasionally entered Wuhan people’s leisurely chats. News coverage within the Great Firewall of China is always a carefully balanced psycho-anesthetic, which glorifies the Party government meanwhile feeds nationalism and brainwashes people to feel indebted to the Party’s mighty leadership. The Beijing government vigorously promoted in national media that China as a responsible international power was in high position to mediate between the United States and Iran and calling both nations to “restrain”. Citizens who habitually followed the Party’s words had no doubt on authenticity of this claim, some even felt complacency and sense of being protected. Despite all these, the seemingly peaceful life of Wuhan began to fission. No matter how many “Strong Nation, Enriching People” slogans the Party plastered around, waves of dissents surged.
The Hong Kong Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill protest that broke out in June 2019 had persisted. Even after the Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam retracted the bill, Hongkongers still took to the streets, chanting in unison “Five Demands, Not One Less”. Chinese families and friend circles worldwide were either torn apart or became more united by choosing different positions on the struggle of Hong Kong. Citizens of Wuhan were no exception. The repeated million-strong protests in Hong Kong were too impressive to ignore.
Those who trusted the Party narratives believed that Hong Kong protests were acts of succession and supported Party instigated social media in adding insults, verbal abuse and intimation on Hong Kong protestors. Dissidents explained to their relatives and friends about the democratic demands of Hong Kong protesters and pointed out that the Party government had broken its international promise to safeguard Hong Kong’s “One Country, Two Systems” policy. Most of them were ridiculed and distanced by their relatives and friends, and they turned to clandestinely supporting Hong Kong, circumventing the Great Firewall with help of VPN to track real-time information from the Whistleblower Movement, and some took the risk to join frontline protestors in Hong Kong and help transport supplies. When loved ones temporarily put aside the debate on Hong Kong, standing together on the riverbank, their conversations ended on the topic of their future well-being. The U.S.-China trade war was raging high, both sides levered tariffs to outpower the other like playing a fast Ping-Pong game. The integrated economic powerhouse Wuhan saw mid-large enterprises coping with no orders, and small businesses had to battle even harder to survive. Would the city skyline still be decorated with millions of lights tomorrow?
General Secretary Xi Jinping reemphasized “self-reliance” in 2018.1 According to unspecified source, Secretary Wang Qishan warned the Americans: “You will pay dearly for challenging China; the Chinese people can survive on eating grass for three years, can you?”2 Such telltales spread wildly among the people, making an impression that the Party had been prepared to break off from America. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned the United States not to unilaterally intensifying the Iran situation thus force the ‘Pandora’s Box’ to be opened.3 His words reverberated around the world as they implied that the Party held the secret key to ‘Pandora’s Box’. Internally, the Party reassured that the world needed China and that losing China meant missing out on opportunities of a century. It boasted that even with the United States potentially end as a trade partner the other western countries would compete for China favors: Trump left, Macron came, and Macron proudly reported back in France that General Secretary Xi Jinping praised all three wines he had presented. The United States would regret losing China, not to mention President Trump might be ended with impeachment!
Wuhan was in a festive mood. The traditional Moon Festival approached and the Communist China’s 70th National Day would come right after. The city streets were tidied up, vendors promoted “China Dream” themed sales. Citizens of Wuhan hardly noticed that on 18 September 2019 a rehearsal had been carried out at the terminal for the 7th Military World Games at Tianhe Airport. The rehearsal included a simulation of the entire process of handling a case of “novel coronavirus” infection found at a port passage. Epidemiological and medical investigations were simulated, as well as setting up quarantine zone, case transfer and sanitary treatment.4 According to NBC News, an analysis of mobile phone location data showed that there was no mobile phone activity in the high-security area of the Wuhan Institute of Virology from 7-24 October 2019,5 whereas the 7th Military World Games in Wuhan was held between 18-27 October 2019. In retrospect, people wonder what was the connection between the airport rehearsal and Wuhan Institute of Virology, and what had been planned around the Military World Games.
There was another mystery event in October 2019: the little known CanSinoBio stock began to soar amid the worst volatility in global market. Listed in Hong Kong Stock Exchange seven months prior, its stock price had hovered between HKD 30-40 range before it rose sharply. The upward trend continued for a year, with 52-week high exceeding HKD 285. According to official records, China’s first batch of 108 “volunteers” were injected with experimental vaccines on 27 March 2020. Two sponsors were mentioned. One was the Institute of Bioengineering from the Academy of Medical Sciences that belonged to China Academy of Military Sciences, the other was CanSinoBio. It is bewildering that the jump of CanSinoBio stock price coincided with the time period when there was no mobile phone record in the area of Wuhan Institute of Virology. And it was not until the end of December 2019 when the Chinese government reluctantly admitted the epidemic but nevertheless emphasized that it was “preventable”, “controllable” and “curable”.
According to a Party document disclosed by The South China Morning Post on 13 March 2020, a 55-year-old patient in Hubei Province diagnosed on 17 November 2019 was the earliest confirmed case traceable. It did not rule out that the first case was detected earlier. The report referenced the non-public official document to trace the initial spread of infection. Since 17 November 2019 there had been recorded new cases almost every day. By 15 December, 27 people became ill. On 17 December a double-digit increase was recorded for the first time. The confirmed cases reached 60 by 20 December, grew to 266 on the last day of 2019 and 381 on first day of 2020.6 According to a study published in The Lancet on 15 February 2020, the first confirmed patient showed onset of symptoms on 1 December 2019.7 This patient had not been to the Huanan Seafood Market the government declared source of infection. Five days after he was ill, his wife also developed pneumonia. Neither had she been to the seafood market.
The temperature fell sharply in Wuhan from late autumn to winter, dropping to near 0oC at times. Along with the Party’s traditional “one size fits all” economic model, Wuhan and cities along the Yangtze River, unlike cities in north China, provided no central heating to residents. Even with help of electric heaters, gas and air-conditioner, coughing and fever were common among residents. When hospitals began to line up with patients, the first thought that came to one’s mind was the flu season. Many wished to fight it out by taking a few droplets. Everyone hoped to leave the tumultuous 2019 behind for a fresh start.
During the “flu” fight in Wuhan, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the “Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019” which infuriated the Chinese government. On 4 December, the spokeswoman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Hua Chunying stated that China’s deeds to Uyghurs in Xinjiang were rightful actions to combat extreme terrorism. She condemned the United States for playing double standards on counter-terrorism issues and warned in chilling words: “The “9.11” incident is recent history. The United States should not forget the pain after the scar is just recovered.”8 People in Wuhan, even those normally critical of America’s dominant global role, dreaded over Hua Chunying’s words. Chinese culture taught us not to “sprinkle salt on people’s wounds” and “no home is free from peril”, why not speak kindly to accumulate virtue?
(The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of GNEWS.org)