INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR OF DIARY OF THE WUHAN LOCKDOWN

Jing Guo is a social worker and a feminist from China. She moved to Wuhan in November 2019 and currently lives alone in Wuhan. In the advocacy of women’s rights, Jing Guo works on sexual harassment and gender discrimination at workplace. 

In 2017, she launched the 074 Women’s Legal Hotline at workplace to provide legal advice and case support for women who encounter gender discrimination and sexual harassment at workplace. From the first day of Wuhan lockdown (January 23, 2019), she began to write her diary during the lockdown. At present, her diary has been written for 60 days. 

All of her diaries are organized into volumes, and has been published into a book with the name of “Diary of the Wuhan Lockdown”, and the BBC has also made related reports on this. To learn more about her and her experience during the lockdown, we asked her several questions as below.

Q1. What made you decide to record your daily life in a dairy during the lockdown of Wuhan? What did you want to achieve through writing a diary during COVID-19 outbreak? 

Actually, I didn’t have the habit of writing a diary every day. I only started writing at the suggestion of a friend of mine. At that time, my life plan was interrupted, and the city was closed. Without knowing what to do and what would happen next, I wanted to rebuild my daily life through writing a diary. As a social activist, this is my social responsibility to record life in an epidemic situation like this.

 

Q2. What did you write in your diary?

My diary is written to record parts of my daily life and experience, including what I saw when I went out every day, how my mental state was, and my personal thinking and observations about some important things or social phenomena that were happening around me.

 

Q3. As a social worker and women’s rights activist, what meaningful observations did you have in the time of the lockdown of Wuhan during COVID-19? How did people’s lives change?

During the epidemic, people’s scope of living narrowed down. The public did not go out, but chose to stay at home, and there were very few people on the streets. The public had few alternatives and everyone panicked and was scared of the Coronavirus. Some people’s economic conditions were greatly affected. 

 

During the lockdown, many people’s income dropped and they had to operate on fixed expenditures. Some people, especially young professionals, did not have savings, but still needed to pay mortgages and rent on a monthly basis. Some businesses went bankrupt, the unemployment rate rose, and the economy slowed down. Everyone lost control of their lives. Everyone had to scan their health codes when going out, and travels were restricted. To be honest, I personally worried about leaking my personal information by scanning the health code.

 

Q4. As a young Chinese woman, how did COVID-19 affect your life and overall well-being in the lockdown? Did COVID-19 affect men and women differently? If so, how different? 

Personally, I think the epidemic situation didn’t have much of an effect on my life, except for the fact that my time for cooking and cleaning every day increased. During the outbreak, the amount of housework for women had increased a lot. Women, who have an extended family or have kids, spent more time preparing meals and looking after their children, because children couldn’t go to school during the outbreak, but stayed at home to study online. Also, as you know, the cooking of Chinese food is very complicated and time-consuming, including the time of preparation in the early stage, cleaning afterwards, and being ready for the next meal. 

 

 ” During the outbreak, the amount of housework for women had increased a lot.”

Q5. How did COVID-19 affect your mental health? How did you cope with it?

The first thing was that my life plan was interrupted and the uncertainty in my life increased. I didn’t know when the lockdown of the city would end, which increased my anxiety. Writing a diary was a great way to rebuild my life and find a sense of control over the situation. In addition, human beings are social animals and need to keep in touch with others, so I would chat online with my friends.
Sociality is also reflected in social values and the pursuit of social significance at the public level. During the epidemic, I interviewed sanitation workers, launched anti-domestic violence initiatives, contacted voluntary groups online to do some donation activities, etc., and through these initiatives and activities, I increased my own social value and rediscovered my new social position.

 

Q6. What caused you to start social initiatives you mentioned above during this special time?

Actually, I was concerned about domestic violence issues much earlier than this epidemic happened. During the epidemic, I firstly asked myself what I could do. As a feminist activist, I thought about it in the perspectives of a feminist and women’s rights defender. Feminists also pay attention to other socially-disadvantaged groups and other social issues. I thought about what the people who were still working in the epidemic were doing and what difficulties they might encounter. Then, I would put myself in their shoes and think about what I can do to help them.

 

Q7. How did this pandemic disrupt your sexual and romantic relationship, if any existed? How did you cope with this challenge?

Currently, I don’t have any romantic relationships, so I can’t answer this question in detail or provide more information on this. 

 Q8. How did this epidemic affect your relationship with your family, friends, and partner? 

Personally, the most important relationship to me is the one with my feminist partners. We share common values, support each other, and overcome challenges together. They are very precious to me. During the epidemic, we talked for about 3-4 hours each day to discuss social issues and philosophical topics such as death, loneliness, intimacy, domestic violence, etc. Of course, we had disagreements in these discussions, but we further discussed why we hold different opinions. They are my most important social support system.

 

On a family level, I think we cannot choose our family of origin and the original family isn’t that important. During the Spring Festival, many Chinese young people have difficulties getting along with their parents because many Chinese parents will unconsciously emotionally blackmail their children. The most direct result of this emotional blackmailing (kidnapping) is that it makes it more difficult for parents and children to communicate and get along with each other. When we are minors, it is hard for us to choose our social relationships autonomously, but it becomes possible when we grow up.

 

On intimacy level, I think women are passive and usually take on an ingratiating role in their intimate relationships. The so-called romantic relationship, whether it is homosexual or heterosexual, is generally not very good in my opinion. People need to connect with each other and build its self-worth and self-awareness in various relationships. These relationships will in turn affect us. It is difficult to establish a new, equal and self-aware relationship because it requires a sense of security and trust.
The intimate relationship is full of emotional blackmailing and has no relative equality and support, but mostly emotional entanglement. People will expose their vulnerabilities in their intimate relationships. If there is a problem between you and your partner, then the problem is two-sided. Blindly fixing and maintaining it without expression of your real thoughts and feelings will cause more problems in the current mode of the relationship interaction. Therefore, both of you will not be on the same page of the expectations of the relationship.

 

Q9. Could you please share your experience coping with social distancing in COVID-19? 

There is nothing special to share about social distancing. Mainly, when going to supermarkets, I would have a sense of keeping social distance and being in the queue if there were a lot of people there. In my daily life, when there is no Coronavirus and lockdown, it is very painful for me to squeeze in buses and subways because there are many people in a limited space and everyone gets really close to each other during busy hours on public transportation.

 ” Personally, the most important relationship to me is the one with my feminist partners. We share common values, support each other, and overcome challenges together. They are very precious to me.”

Q10. In your perspective, what do you think young people can do to make a difference in the times of public health emergencies like COVID-19? 

Looking back now, many people had done lots of incredible things, such as volunteer activities. I personally still recognize what Chinese youth did in this epidemic. In the COVID-19 outbreak, many social problems emerged, such as the difficulty of seeing a doctor and the lack of medical resources directly caused by the virus. At that time, different social groups and organizations linked up to form a network. Everyone in the network had their own social position, explored each person’s various skills and social resources, established connections through the networks, paid attention to the different needs of the different groups of people, and each person did what they could within their power to make the circumstance better.

Q11. During the lockdown for three months, what did you do to safeguard women’s rights?

Anti-domestic violence is one of my chief work areas. At the beginning, the reason why I was concerned about anti-domestic violence during the virus outbreak was because there were existing domestic violence cases coming up. When noticing that domestic violence cases rose, I was thinking about what we can do as bystanders. Thinking of this, I made a related online webinar and collected some cases and concerns relevant to domestic violence. Then, I specially launched the Anti-Domestic Violence Sampling Campaign and made the Anti-Domestic Violence Handbook. As long as mailing addresses were provided, the Anti-Domestic Violence Handbook would be mailed to people in need.

Domestic violence is actually not a personal issue or case. The intervention of bystanders is very important. Our social public space actually encourage the occurrence of domestic violence and other forms of violence. When domestic violence cases happen on the street, usually it is the victim who feels embarrassed and ashamed, but not the perpetrator. On the contrary, they feel very proud of it-  since violence perpetrating is a sign of power. It is important to turn around such public spaces on domestic violence issues. During the epidemic, I posted an Anti-domestic Violence Proposal around in communities to popularize some basic information and knowledge about domestic violence, hotlines for help, and duties of government departments and organizations relevant to domestic violence. 

Q12. What were the things that would have made your life easier during the lockdown?

At that time, What I tried to do to make my life easier was to keep my daily habits, write diaries, work out, chat with my friends, and launch some social initiatives to help solve some social problems.

Q13. How did COVID-19 impact the access to sexual and reproductive health products and services for you and women in Wuhan in general?

Personally, I don’t know too much about sexual and reproductive health. Because I have just moved to Wuhan, and have very few contacts with Wuhan locals, it is difficult for me to speak for Wuhan women in this regard. But I did learn that when a woman has an unintended pregnancy, it was hard for her to have a safe abortion in the epidemic. During the epidemic, purchasing birth control pills and condoms were restricted somehow because of the stop of production and logistics.

Q14. Is there a particular story of the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable youth and / or women in Wuhan that you would like to share?

The epidemic had increased the amount of women’s household chores. For example, the son and daughter-in-law of a sanitation worker I know did not go out during the epidemic, so the sanitation worker regularly delivered food to her son and daughter-in-law.

Q15. Do you have some reflections through this COVID-19 and lockdown?

Well, it’s hard to tell. From the beginning, I felt that this experience was like a life upgrade. Many things that happened during the epidemic are worthy of our reflection.
For example, there are many things we can reflect on, such as how we should face disasters, what attitudes we should hold to face death, what roles social support systems play during the epidemic, and how our fears arise in front of public health emergencies, etc.
In any cases, people must learn to understand their limitations, not to project their emotions excessively on others. It is vital not to project your fears on others, not to blame others too much, and find a way to get along with yourself and your own emotions in scary public health emergencies like COVID-19.

About the Diary of the Wuhan Lockdown: AIn early April 2020, Guo’s diary, titled Diary of the Wuhan Lockdown (武汉封城日记), was published by Taipei-based Linking Publishing (联经出版), making the book the first officially published Wuhan lockdown diary by a literary press. In the diary, Guo keeps a daily account of her own life and the lives of many other people she met online and offline. She also documents some of her thoughts on society and social issues, including her gender perspectives. With seventy-seven entries and totaling around 80,000 words, the diary is an important record of the lockdown history. (Source: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/2020/04/27/guo-jings-wuhan-lockdown-diary/) Here is the link of the BBC News Report of Jing Guo’s Wuhan Diary: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-51276656

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