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#GoWuhan: A call for compassion as racism rises with the coronavirus

They say the first reports of an unknown virus behind a number of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, a city in eastern China with a population of more than 11 million, were made on 31 December 2019.

Since then the virus has infected close to 40,000 people in mainland China with more than 300 cases reported from around the world.

Although not classified as a pandemic, the virus has reached the US, Australia, France, Japan, South Korea, Germany, Canada, the UAE, UK, and Finland.

There have been at least 871 deaths from the disease just in Hubei alone.

The disease has also bred fear and with it the rise of racism, against the Chinese and others who look like them. It has been concerning.

Our son came home one day saying his friend, the only other Asian student in his class, had experienced that fear and racism first hand. She was walking to school when a couple of people she passed suddenly put their hands over their mouths and stared at her.

This friend’s cultural background is from the Philippines. She had never been to China and would not have come into contact with the coronavirus.

In Sydney, a Chinese man died of a heart attack. People saw the man in trouble, but no one came to assist. No CPR was administered. He was left to die because they feared he had the coronavirus.

The following came into my social media feed. It was a heartfelt call for compassion by a young woman from Wuhan. Her name is Yuli Yang.

It is her public Facebook post that I have reproduced below.

I am a Wuhan girl living in Hong Kong. Right now, all my close family is under lock-down back in my hometown, at the epicenter of this epidemic.

Every day, I worry for their safety, their health and their mental well-being. They worry too that I would be worried for them! Sound familiar? I’m sure anyone living far away from her/his mum can relate to this funny cycle of love.

I’m also a news producer and aware of the blame, the frustration and the outrage. I’m grateful for my tireless, fellow journalists out there, who keep the world abreast of the battle against this Coronavirus.

I understand and support the physical measures that airlines, governments and institutions choose to put in place for control and prevention. But at the same time, I wish to invite you all not to build up walls between our hearts.

By this, I’m referring to the emerging trend of discrimination towards Chinese people and sometimes those who simply look like us.

This virus brings death and fear. It also reveals an amazing truth — that we’re all interconnected, so much more closely than we might have thought.

Plato claimed that the entire universe is a single living organism. But we don’t need to look to Plato to know that the world can only survive this crisis if China pulls through it. And China can only pull through when Wuhan heals. Like it or not, this is the reality of our oneness.

I get that sometimes it is hard to fathom this oneness because we know so little about each other and we seem so far apart.

That’s why I would like to tell you a little bit about my hometown:

“Spaghetti” & Sesame Sauce

My city is known for a mouth-watering noodle dish. It has a texture similar to spaghetti, soaked in thick and rich sesame sauce, often with fresh spring onions sprinkled on top. I remember vividly the very first time my late grandfather bought a bowl of these noodles for me. My eyes widened. Staring at the shiny noodles in the brown sesame sauce, I shouted “chocolate noodles!” My grandfather smiled: “These are called Hot Dry Noodles.” And I’ve been best friends with them ever since.

Lotus & A Thousand Lakes

By now, you might have learned from the news that Wuhan is the capital city of Hubei province. Hubei has a nickname — the province of a thousand lakes. Most of those lakes are in or around Wuhan. What comes out of those lakes? A ton of lotuses! And yes, lakes + lotuses = extremely Instagramable in the summer! But what cannot be snapped on Instagram is the fragrance from those pink petals and their generous green leaves. They form the prelude to some of my best childhood memories.

Tennis Champion Li Na & Other Rebels

Those of us from Wuhan are proud of our tennis legend Li Na – China’s first Grand Slam singles champion (2011, French Open). She’s the first Asian-born player to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame (2019). The New York Times dubbed her China’s Tennis Rebel. That rebellious spirit has some deep roots! In 1911, an armed rebellion in Wuchang, a district of today’s Wuhan, kicked off the Xinhai Revolution that eventually overthrew China’s last imperial dynasty, the Qing.

An Ancient Tale of Bromance

One autumn night, 2000+ years ago, Yu, a musician, was playing his Qin, an ancient Chinese string instrument, by the river under the moonlight. Zhong, a man who was walking by the river, adored Yu’s music and stood there for a long time relishing the sound. The pair soon began chatting and Yu was in awe how deeply Zhong understood his music. The two promised to meet again next year, same place, same time (speaking of scoring a second date!). A year later, Yu played his Qin by the river again and waited. But there was no Zhong. He learned that Zhong had died, and before his death Zhong had asked to be buried near this spot by the river, so that he could listen to Yu’s music. In agony, Yu smashed his Qin on a platform and said: “The only one who truly knows my melody is no longer in this world. What’s the point of this Qin now?”. Today that spot is known as Qin Tai (literal translation: platform for Qin) — an area down by the river in Wuhan. And until this day, in the Chinese language, the word Zhi Yin, or “one who knows the melody”, is still a synonym for a friend who truly knows you.

With these mini-tales of Wuhan, I hope you can open up a small space in your heart. A space for compassion. A space to love and to support the millions of my fellow Wuhaners.

Your support will empower them. And that is the first step of our collective healing.


#GoWuhan indeed. Please click the link and show her your support.

Photo by Allan Bueno on Unsplash
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February 2020
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