Nomad Online

#GoWuhan: A conversation with Yuli Yang

It all began with a Facebook post on the 3 February. Yuli Yang, a CNN journalist living in Hong Kong, wrote a post about her Wuhan hometown and her love for its culture and food and shared it on social media. Concerned about the rise of xenophobia as COVID19 took hold, it was her way of humanising the people at the heart of the outbreak; of reminding others of our common humanity.

She asked people to send in messages of hope and encouragement to the people affected in her hometown with the simple hashtag #GoWuhan. It would then be translated into Chinese and posted on Weibo.

Since the post, support has come flooding in from all across the world. The Facebook post was shared more than 6,800 times. Yuli appeared on the news. The appeal to break down barriers in our hearts generated global interest.

Yuli says #GoWuhan now has 30 people, including herself, working to translate messages of encouragement and support. Some of them are Yuli’s high school friends, who like her grew up in Wuhan and are currently living working away from their hometown. Others are friends and previously strangers, who have seen the post and volunteered to help out.

Yuli was kind enough to answer some questions for Nomad.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do? How did you come to live so far from home in Hong Kong?

I left Wuhan for college and have lived away from my hometown ever since. I moved to Hong Kong more than 7 years ago for a role at CNN. I’ve worked as a talk-show producer and later as an assignment editor. I’ve recently left CNN for another opportunity, which I can share once it is finalized – this virus has delayed many things, and this is one of them.

What compelled you to write the post about Wuhan and create #GoWuhan?

When the lockdown began, every day I was overwhelmed by worry, anxiety and sadness – all my close family members, the friends I grew up with and their families are back home in Wuhan.  For them, this is a disaster unfolding.  Death seems to be so close & so real for them, yet there is literally nothing I can do to help from afar. 

Have you ever found yourself in such intense emotions (often times triggered by anger) that you clinch your teeth subconsciously?  I found myself clinching my teeth day and night in those first few days, even though I went about my life appearing calm and normal, I knew inside that I was far from calm.  

Meanwhile, the sad trend of discrimination and hatred was already emerging.  It doesn’t take a prophet to predict that xenophobia will worsen as this crisis worsens.  Contemplating this trend made me even sadder, because not only did my loved ones need to deal with the virus, the lockdown, they will also become victims of xenophobia and hatred. 

And guess what’s even more depressing when you look further into the future of this trend.  A vicious circle by the people, of the people.  That is, when the people like my family and friends in the epicentre of this crisis learn from the news that the world seems to discriminate and hate them now because of this epidemic, they will inevitably grow sadder in their hearts, which in turn will take a toll on their immune system, which in turn would make them more vulnerable against this deadly virus, which means that we lose (at least) one inch to this virus, which moves us towards the opposite direction from where we all (everybody, Chinese or non-Chinese, Asian or non-Asian) want to achieve – the end of this virus crisis. 

And the longer this virus lingers, the more opportunities there will be for xenophobia to deepen.  Voila!  Vicious cycle. 

How do we even begin to break to this vicious cycle?  It absolutely is no easy task, as it has its deep roots.  I thought at least I can start with sharing a few of my favourite things about my hometown. 

For hundreds of years, people from different parts of world have been connected through shared love for food, for travel, for sports, and I hope that by knowing Wuhan a little better, it will help people to reduce their fear, hate & anxiety towards Wuhan.

Before I put out the initial post about Wuhan, I was ready to embrace mixed feedback (love & hate), as such is the diversity internet blesses us with.  To my complete surprise, 99%+ of the feedback were all loving, supportive and compassionate.  You could say that we all live in our online echo chambers and here’s the evidence of it, however for me what’s important is not the exact percentage of people out there who are compassionate about Wuhan, but the mere fact that they do exist.  That, I believe, is important for people in Wuhan to know, in order to reverse that vicious cycle.  And that’s why I started the #GoWuhan effort.

Why is fear so dangerous in times of crisis?

Fear is natural.  It is our brain’s way of protecting us from harm, but it can cause more harm than it prevents, because fear can easily lead to anxiety, which can cloud our minds and misguide our judgements.  In times of crisis, our actions absolutely need to be guided by sound judgements, not anxiety.

Also, when fear turns into anxiety, which then turns into blind hatred, infighting among different groups of people begins.  Without unity, our collective strength as a species will be reduced, which ain’t great when we are faced with a deadly virus, which is out targeting anyone and everyone in our species.

How are your parents? How are they coping?

My parents have not left their building for over 40 days now.  They have started a new routine under lockdown.  I hope they will be able to take their daily stroll in the little park downstairs from their building sometime soon.

What keeps you going?

I think what keeps us all going is remembering the fact that as Wuhan’ers, me and my family are already the very very lucky ones.

How can people outside Wuhan help?

I am concerned about the aftermath of this crisis, especially with regards to the lasting impact of xenophobia.  With that in mind, I do hope that there will be more people joining in the effort of fighting fear and fighting xenophobia inspired by fear and ignorance.  That will be great help for Wuhan and for everyone.

I hope people can keep in mind the simple fact that because we’re all under attack by the same virus, and we are so very interconnected, we should seek to empower each other, not to attack one another.

What would your words of encouragement be to people in other countries going through this crisis?

We are human beings, and the year is now 2020.  We have shockingly amazing powers and technology.  We are a very powerful species to say the least.  This virus might not know this, but we know that we have walked on the moon, we can speak to one another instantaneously even if we’re on two sides of the planet, we have cured and gotten rid of so many diseases from the face of earth.  We can definitely defeat this virus.  It is just a matter of time.  But exactly because of our powers as a species, we need to be conscious in how we use our strengths.  We absolutely cannot allow fear, hate or anger lead our actions.  Because whenever that happened, horrible things followed.

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March 2020
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