Chinese Whispers: how will China remember the pandemic?
Three years ago, as people across China welcomed the Year of the Rat, a new virus was taking hold in Wuhan. In London, the conversation at my family’s New Year dinner was dominated by the latest updates, how many masks and hand sanitisers we’d ordered.
Mercifully, Covid didn’t come up at all as we welcomed the Year of the Rabbit this weekend, though my family in China are still recovering from their recent infections. The zero Covid phase of the pandemic is well and truly over.
So what better time to reflect on the rollercoaster of the last three years? In exchange for controlling the virus, China’s borders were shut for most of that time, while the economy has tanked and a general of children had their schooling disrupted. Yet after some remarkable protests last November, the country has opened up at a breakneck pace.
The government is now keen to move on, focusing now on this year’s economic recovery. But can a country of 1.4 billion people move on quite so quickly? The exceptional nature of the pandemic and the collective trauma of the last three years need to be processed, and yet I wouldn’t say that the Chinese Communist Party is usually good at allowing people to come to terms with historical suffering, especially when it’s the Party at fault…
So on this episode we’ll be looking at the social legacy of the pandemic on China, and the collective memory of this exceptional time.
Joining me are the Financial Times’s Yuan Yang, who was the paper’s deputy Beijing bureau chief during the first two years of the pandemic, and Guobin Yang, Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and author of The Wuhan Lockdown, a book looking at how the Wuhan people documented the world’s first brush with Covid-19.
On the episode I also mentioned the Chinese Whispers episode on the civil backlash against facial recognition. Listen here.