Sunday, February 13, 2022

Guobin Yang's "The Wuhan Lockdown"

Guobin Yang is the Grace Lee Boggs Professor of Communication and Sociology at the Annenberg School for Communication and Department of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is the Director of the Center on Digital Culture and Society, Interim Director of the Center for Advanced Research in Global Communication, and Deputy Director of the Center for the Study of Contemporary China.

Yang is the author of the award-winning The Power of the Internet in China: Citizen Activism Online (2009) and The Red Guard Generation and Political Activism in China (2016).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Wuhan Lockdown, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Wuhan Lockdown is in the middle of telling the story of Ah-Nian. A 26-year-old professional who worked in Beijing, she had traveled back to her hometown Wuhan to spend the Lunar New Year with her family. Back home, she caught COVID and was hospitalized in a temporary shelter hospital. Her 89-year-old grandmother, who also had COVID, was in another hospital for patients with severe symptoms only. When her grandma was put in ICU care, Ah-Nian requested to be relocated to her grandma’s hospital so she could look after her. Her request was granted, whereupon she joined her grandmother. Ah-Nian posted diary entries on social media every day, in which she provided updates about her grandma’s condition as well as descriptions of life in the hospital. Sadly, her grandma died on March 6, 2020. Ah-Nian had promised her mother that she would go home together with Grandma. Now she wrote: “I did not finish my job.”

Page 99 captures several key features of the book. The Wuhan Lockdown is not a conventional academic book. It experiments with a new approach of storytelling, one that focuses on the presentation of scenes and characters. Very much a book of characters, it tells the stories of a galaxy of individuals in Wuhan in their daily struggle to cope with the COVID pandemic. Some stories take up several pages, others are as brief as just one sentence. The story of Ah-Nian is one of the longer character portraits, and probably one of the most memorable.

Although the character portraits in the book cover both men and women, there are more stories of women than men. Women played a prominent role in the lockdown as health care workers, care-givers, volunteers, and activists. Other notable women characters in the book include a gong-beating woman, a swearing aunty, several feminist activists, Dr. Ai Fen, Fang Fang the diarist, and so forth. And I’m pleased to have a woman’s story on page 99.

Finally, Ah-Nian’s story highlights another notable feature of The Wuhan Lockdown – the use of online pandemic diaries to construct my account. Ah-Nian wrote two diaries during the pandemic, one posted on social media, the other published in print. I made use of both. Indeed, although I used many different types of materials in writing the book, online diaries are the main primary sources. I cited at least 46 diarists in the book, and read and consulted numerous others. Diaries are the ideal documents for understanding the visceral feelings, thoughts, and activities of residents caught in their daily struggle. I am glad that page 99 contains several direct diary quotations which convey the voice of one of the characters in the book.
Follow Guobin Yang on Twitter.

The Page 99 Test: Guobin Yang's The Red Guard Generation and Political Activism in China.

--Marshal Zeringue