University of Minnesota Alumni Association


The City of Sorrow

Reflections from a daughter of Wuhan, China.

People at a park in Wuhan after the lockdown was lifted in April. Wuhan is the capital of Hubei province and was the epicenter of China’s novel coronavirus outbreak.
Photo Credit: Reuters/Aly Song

On March 18, Wuhan, the epicenter of the initial coronavirus outbreak, reported zero new cases of COVID-19 for first time in almost two months. As I write this, the Chinese government has announced that the city’s lockdown will be partially lifted on April 8, marking a significant milestone in Wuhan’s battle against COVID-19.

The dawn may be near, but the city is still mourning.

Born and raised in Wuhan, I left the city in 2009, when I transferred to the University of Minnesota to study journalism. I’m currently living in Vancouver with my husband and son, but I have watched this pandemic unfold online.

From the outset, I was worried about my loved ones. I had daily video calls with my family and joined local Wuhan volunteers’ efforts by posting online help requests. I shared information over social media, which has been a very powerful way to raise people’s awareness of what is really happening in Wuhan and directing people to available resources and assistance.

I monitored the news online and watched as the noisy and busy megacity was cut off from the national transportation network. All the residents in the city, including my parents, friends, and relatives, were required to stay at home unless they were buying groceries or dumping their trash. My parents live just one block away from my grandmother, but they could only have video calls with her.

As the crisis unfolded, my friends told me that they woke up every day and checked the numbers of positive cases and deaths. “I sometimes feel very angry and disappointed at what’s going on,” one friend texted me. “Other times I feel sad, powerless, and filled with grief.” I didn’t know how to respond or cheer her up.

Among the 50,000 infected cases in Wuhan, over 3,000 families experienced the loss of one or multiple loved ones. Some people didn’t even see them after they passed away, because the bodies needed to be burnt as soon as possible to contain the virus. A video literally went viral where a girl was weeping and running after a van carrying her mother’s body to the crematory.

Behind all the numbers of death, there were broken families and broken hearts. Chang Kai, a Wuhan film director, his parents, and sister all died from COVID-19 within two weeks. His farewell letter was posted on social media while his wife was still in critical condition. There were news reports of people waiting in line for four hours in order to get their family member’s ashes.

Still, I have been moved by so many acts of kindness and love. Doctors and nurses from other provinces left their homes to treat patients; people delivered groceries to community members; volunteers collected protective supplies and distributed them; businesses worked creatively to provide services without face-to-face interaction.

Ultimately, the battle with COVID-19 will end and Wuhan and others will celebrate that success. I hope survivors will reflect and even repent by asking questions: Is there a way to ensure information transparency in the beginning of a public health crisis, so that the public can be aware and properly react? Can we protect whistleblowers like doctors and reporters? Let’s try to avoid repeating the same mistakes, learn from experience, and love and help one another to get through the crisis.

Eva Wu (B.A. ‘11) is a cross-cultural communications professional. She lives in Vancouver.

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