Controversial writer Fang Fang’s diary, a daily account of Wuhan residents’ lives under the lockdown and her own reflections on the coronavirus crisis, has now been translated into English.
The Chinese writer has triggered polarized views in China, where some call her a truth-teller while others view her as a liar and traitor.
She first began publishing online accounts of her experience in the city in January, while COVID-19 was still believed to be a local crisis.
The 65-year-old’s diary entries were widely read, providing millions in China with a rare glimpse into the city where the virus first emerged.
Earlier this year, Wuhan became the first place in the world to enter a state of complete lockdown that was then unheard of, but has now become widespread. The city was essentially cut off from not only China, but the rest of the world.
As the lockdown continued, Fang Fang’s popularity grew. Publishers then announced that they would collate her entries and publish them in several languages.
But Fang Fang’s growing international recognition has come with a shift in the way she is viewed in China – with many angered by her reporting, even branding her a traitor.
In late January, after China imposed a lockdown in Wuhan, Fang Fang – whose real name is Wang Fang – began documenting events in the city on Chinese social media site Weibo.
In her diary entries, she wrote about everything from the challenges of daily life to the physiological impact of forced isolation.
Publisher HarperCollins says she “gave voice to the fears, frustrations, anger, and hope of millions of her fellow citizens”.
It notes she “also speaks out against social injustice, abuse of power, and other problems which impeded the response to the epidemic and gets herself embroiled in online controversies because of it”.
In one column written by her published by the Sunday Times, she details an instance where she went to pick her daughter up from the airport.
“There were hardly any cars or pedestrians on the streets. Those few days were when panic and fright were at their height in the city. We both wore facemasks,” she said.
During a time where news was being heavily filtered and independent news outlets were scarce, Fang Fang quickly emerged as a reliable source of information, boosted no doubt by her background as a well-known writer.
“This country needs writers with a conscience like you. The public has lost trust with much of the official media, one user on Weibo had reportedly said, according to news site The Independent.
Her reputation, as well as her words, quickly spread and it wasn’t long before it found its way out of China.
In this case, as the virus continued to spread across the world, people started to become more critical of China’s response to the outbreak. The heavy scrutiny and criticism meant many went on the defensive.
It was in this climate that it became known that Fang Fang’s works were due to be sold in the West.
According to specialist news site What’s on Weibo, this was when public opinion turned against it, after it “became known that an international edition of her diary was on pre-sale through Amazon”.
“In the eyes of many Chinese users, a translated version of Fang’s critical account of the Wuhan outbreak would only provide opponents of China with more ammunition,” says the report.
She was quickly seen not as a bearer of truth but instead a traitor to China, with some saying she was capitalising on her fame – and even possibly a tragedy.
The anger against her is not helped by the fact that the book was published by US publisher HarperCollins – at a time when the US and China are in the midst of a diplomatic spat. (Source: BBC)