Liu Ksinglong, predsjednik provincije Hubei federacije književnog i umjetničkog kruga, zamjenik direktora Novel Committee of China Vriters Association. Do sada je objavio više od 80 knjiga, uključujući novelu Phoenik Kin, Sharing Hardships, roman Ljubavna priča o drvetu, prozu Put uz rijeku Jangce i pjesme Šetnja po planini, Škrinje i tako dalje. Kapija svetog neba osvojila mu je nagradu za roman Kineskog beletrističkog društva, kao i nagradu za roman od časopisa People’s Literature 2014. godinu; proza Držanje oca u rodnom gradu donijela mu je nagradu za književnost Lao She; novela Nošenje čaja do Pekinga dobila je nagradu Lu Ksun, a roman Nebeski stanovnici nagradu za književnost Mao Dun.

Šta je ljubav

Početkom 2020. godine, nakon dvadeset i četvrtog dana posljednjeg lunarnog mjeseca, kada se na jugu Kine održava Festival Boga kuhinje, počeo sam rano da upućujem novogodišnje čestitke prijateljima i porodici. U normalnim okolnostima, dani koji slijede nakon Festivala rezervisani su porodicu, proslavu i pripremu za doček Nove godine. Ali ove godine Nebesa su imala drugačije planove: tragedija se neočekivano dogodila, a oči svijeta okrenule su se prema Vuhanu i Hubeiu.

U novogodišnjoj noći ujutro, dan nakon Vuhanovog karantina, primio sam poziv od Tie Ninga, predsjednika Kineskog udruženja pisaca, koji je rekao da moramo brinuti i štititi svoje voljene. Od tog dana, pozdravi i dobre želje su se slivali odasvud, tako da je mom mobilnom telefonu bilo potrebno tri punjenja dnevno. Gravitacija me ispunila snagom emocija. Znao sam da moram smoći snage i da ne smijem iznevjeriti svoje daleke dobronamjernike. Njihove dobre želje bile su podsticaj. Poslao sam im odgovore u dvije rečenice: Umjesto zahvalnosti, šaljem vam snagu! Vaša poruka mi je podigla raspoloženje!

Istog dana, posljednjeg u mjesečevoj godini, dobio sam deset kutija medicinskih maski od Lanzhou-a. Šest dana ranije, 19. januara, po povratku kući sa oftalmološkog pregleda u bolnicu Union, primio sam telefonski poziv od Ie Zhou-a u Lanzhou-u. Rekao mi je da je stajao ispred apoteke i da je, čuvši koliko je loše u Vuhanu, želio da mi kupi maske. Tog dana dogodio se temeljni pomak u Vuhanovom odnosu prema epidemiji, iako je u stvarnosti to bio tek početak ozbiljnosti situacije. Niko u Vuhanu ili Hubeiu, da ne kažem ništa o ostatku Kine - ili svijeta, nije mogao da predvidi šta će se dogoditi četiri dana kasnije, kada je ova metropola sa preko deset miliona ljudi preko noći stavljena u karantin. Mirno sam, preko telefona, rekao Ie Zhouu da nije sve tako dramatično i da će nam maske koje već imamo kod kuće biti dovoljne. Ali on je insistirao i otvoreno je odbio da prekine vezu dok mu ne dam svoju adresu. Na kraju sam popustio. Sjutradan, kad sam se vratio u bolnicu na još jedan pregled kod oftalmologa, načuo sam od dvoje medicinskih radnika u liftu da svaka maska traje dva dana. Tada sam se prvi put zaista zabrinuo. Kasnije, napolju: ljudi su čekali ispred apoteka duž ulice Lihuangpi u redovima da kupe maske. Međutim, maske su bile već rasprodate. Srećom, maske koje je Ie Zhou insistirao da pošalje, garantovale su da moja šestočlana porodica neku bezbjednost.

Čak i prije karantina, medicinske zalihe širom Vuhana bile su oskudne. Prvog dana, dvadeset devetog posljednjeg lunarnog mjeseca, prijatelj je poslao poruku na VeChat da nam poželi srećnu Novu godinu. Takođe je pomenuo da bih mu trebao javiti da li nam treba nešto. Već sam bio neobično zabrinut zbog zaključavanja, pa sam, vidjevši poruku, preskočio sve i zamolio da nam, ako može, pošalje maske i granule ili kapsule tradicionalnog lijeka Lianhua Kingven. Prijatelj je iz dvije lokalne apoteke kupio maske i poslao nam ih ekspresnom dostavom Shunfeng. Do jutra sljedećeg dana, posljednje mesečeve godine, Internet su preplavili očajnički pozivi u pomoć. Najstrašniji od svih bili su oni iz lokalnih bolnica, koji su ustanovili da nemaju rezervne medicinske potrepštine i obraćali su se zajednici za hitnu pomoć. Kada sam pitao Ksiao Ge-a, doktora u Union bolnici, o situaciji, rekao mi je da bi stvari mogle biti još gore. Tačno na vrijeme, stigla je poruka od Chen Huaiguo-a, lokalca Hubei-a iz okruga Laohekou: “Zdravo Ksinglong, srećna Nova godina vama i vašoj porodici, želim vam dobru dolazeću godinu! Moje dijete je na dužnosti tokom proljećnog festivala, tako da ostajem u Pekingu. Da li ste vi u Vuhanu? Čuo sam da tamo nedostaju maske. Ako treba, mogu da vam pošaljem.” Nijesam gubio vrijeme. Odgovorio sam da su bolnici Union hitno potrebne maske, zaštitna odijela i zaštitne naočare. Objasnio sam da bolnica traži pomoć i iz javnog i iz privatnog sektora. Maske i zaštitna odijela, koja se koriste za jednokratnu upotrebu, brzo su se istrošile. Pitao sam da li može da pomogne iz Pekinga. Veoma odan prijatelj, Čen Huaiguo je istog dana otišao u nekoliko velikih apoteka. Tamo su mu rekli da da se situacija u Pekingu ne razlikuje od one u Vuhanu. Mislio sam da je to – to i nijesam očekivao još jedan poziv od Čen Huaiguo, malo poslije četiri sata popodne. Uspio je da nabavi 4500 maski u Shijiazhuangu, tražio je moju adresu da ih odmah pošalje.

Ovakva djela velikodušnosti ispunila su me ogromnim samopouzdanjem.

Petog dana zaključavanja, 27. januara ujutru, stigla je vijest da je dr Ksiao Ge krenula na prvu liniju: odeljenje za groznicu u izolovanoj jedinici intenzivne njege u bolnici Union. Nedostatak OZO u bolnici značio je da se smjene koje su obično trajale četiri sata moraju udvostručiti, jer ljekari nijesu smjeli da uklone ili promijene OZO. Doktorka Ksiao Ge i ja smo se ranije sreli, tri puta. Prvi put na putovanju akademika u Ksinjiang. Ksiao Ge je bila naša ljekarska pratnja. Drugi put na pregledu u bolnici Union, prije nekoliko godina. A treći put kad sam nedavno bio u bolnici na očnom pregledu. Od prvog susreta, podsjećala me na ljekare i medicinske sestre u filmu „Nežno lice rata“: u tom filmu žene teške oko četrdeset pet kilograma, rizikujući živote, pridruživši se frontu, nosile su na leđima ruske vojnike koji su bili dvostruko teži. Onda, kada se rat završio, i ljekari i medicinske sestre osvrnuli se na to vrijeme i nijesu umjeli da objasne kako su imali snage da nose povređene vojnike! Doktorka Ksiao Ge mi je rekla da stavljanje njene OZO oseća kao da se ide u bitku. Čim je to rekla, VeChatted Li Jun, radnik vojne bolnice u Pekingu, rekao je da će se potruditi da ronađe neku OZO i poslati poštom. Dao sam mu kontakt podatke Ksiao Ge. Domaći i vojni pisac Hong’ana nije razočarao. Pronašao je četiri zaštitna odijela i već narednog dana ih ekspresno poslao u Vuhan.

Na kraju, doktorka Ksiao Ge nikada nije dobila ta četiri zaštitna odijela. Sve što je poslato u bolnicu, označeno je kao „Zaštitna odijela“, „Naočare“, „Maske“ ili „OZO“, sakupljeno je i distribuirano po potrebi uprave. Kasnije sam kontaktirao Ian Zhija iz kompanije Zall Smart Com, tražeći od njega da obezbijedi potrebnu opremu za dr Ksiao Gea, bez obzira na sve. Ovo se pokazalo efikasnim i ujutru 2. februara, isporučeno je dvjesta zaštitnih odijela i stotinu pari naočara dr Ksiao Ge i ostalim medicinskim radnicima koji su se borili zajedno sa njom na liniji fronta.

Kako se borba protiv epidemije širila izvan bolnice u zajednicu, članovi radne grupe provincijske federacije književnih i umjetničkih krugova Hubei (PFLAC) postavljeni su na određena mjesta gdje nije imalo ni jedno zaštitno odijelo. Pokrajinsko udruženje pisaca, koje je smješteno u istoj zgradi, izvijestilo je o sličnoj nevolji. Nije mi preostalo ništa drugo nego da se još jednom obratim Ian Zhi-ju, iako me bilo sramota da objasnim šta se događa. Ian Zhi je bez oklijevanja rekao da će udruženju PFLAC i pisaca obezbijedi stotinu zaštitnih odijela, dvije stotine pari rukavica i pet stotina maski.

Neočekivano isporučivanje maski zaštitnih odijela ili naočara, podsjeća da na svijetu postoje dobri ljudi. Na primjer, Tsering Norbu u Lhasi je Ksiao Ge-u poslao dva zaštitna odijela. Doktorka Ksiao Ge mi je kasnije pokazala fotografiju na kojoj se vidi zaključavanja paketa koji je dobila. U to vrijeme, povukla se sa fronta kako bi se odmorila i samoizolovala. Tražila je ime pošiljaoca na mreži, i kada je otkrila da je Tsering Norbu, pitala se da li je to moj prijatelj. Tada sam se sjetio da je, kad sam ga kontaktirao za pomoć, prevrnuo Lhasu u potrazi za zaštitnom opremom. Pronašao je dva odijela pred Novu godinu, ali nije uspeo da ih pošalje.

Prije mnogo godina, kada je moj književni starješina Jiang Tianmin, poslao priču „Deveti kiosk“ časopisu za mlade, Zhou Meisen je bio urednik. Nažalost, Jiang Tianmin je umro mlad, ostavljajući svoju četvorogodišnju ćerku Ruozhi sa majkom. Bez obzira što ih je situacija natjerala da rade na tezgi ispred Ruozhijevih školskih vrata, nikada nijesu tražile pomoć od prijatelja njenog oca. Nakon završetka fakulteta, Ruozhi je postala ljekar u centralnoj opštinskoj bolnici. Baš kao i njena majka, nikada ne bi zatražila pomoć, taman kad bi joj nebo padalo na glavu. Kad je Vuhan zatvoren, pitao sam kako je. Reče da je sve u redu. Tada, kada se epidemija pogoršala, ponovo sam se raspitao: ovaj put mi je rekla da čeka da je pozovu u izolovanu zonu. U tom trenutku pomislio sam na Zhou Meisen-a. Poslao sam mu poruku te večeri, a on je odmah odgovorio: U redu, radim! Uslijedile su poruke. Izvještaji o neuspjesima, prije nego što su konačno stigle vijesti da je četrdeset osam maski i jedan par zaštitnih naočara poslao djetetu svog bivšeg kolege, preko Shunfenga. Takođe, zamolio sam Zhao Benfu-a da pomogne Ruozhi-ju. I Ruozhi i ja smo znali da je ujak Zhao bio jedan od najbližih prijatelja njenog oca. Možda nije bila voljna da mu se obrati, ali ja jesam. Ruozhi je ipak ćerka kineskog pisca. Zapravo, koji ljekar ili medicinska sestra na frontu nijesu ćerka ili sin kineske književnosti? Poslao sam poruka i sjutradan dobio odgovor od Benfua: Primljeno. Stvari su loše. Ni ovdje ne možete da kupite ništa. Moja ćerka je prije nekoliko dana, preko internet, kupila 300 maski N95 i nijesu joj stigle. Juče je prodavac otkazao porudžbinu, rekavši da ih nema na skladištu. Zamoliću je da pokuša ponovo! Dan kasnije, Benfu je krenuo dalje. Njegova ćerka je već kupila dvadeset zaštitnih odijela i dvjesta pari zaštitnih naočara, koje je tražila da se isporuče direktno Ruožiju.

Šestog dana zaključavanja, tokom intervjua za kinesku novinsku agenciju, priznao sam da stvari koje su moji prijatelji poslali nijesu bile dovoljne, s obzirom na razmjere bitke za odbranu Vuhana, ali da je poruka nacionalne solidarnosti koju su ta djela nosila, bila da to našem izolovanom gradu daje snagu. Dobro smo znali da je maske N95 i drugu zaštitnu opremu skoro nemoguće nabaviti. Ali smo i dalje pokušavali. Tako je Dong Zi u Jinanu, koja je očajnički pokušavala da pomogne onima u karantinu, ali kad je vidjela da su njeni pokušaji uzaludni, izvinila se kao da je napravila neku grešku.

Posle više od trideset dana prinudnog karantina i koncentrisanih medicinskih napora, kriza u Vuhanu je malo popustila. Postao sam smirenije i mogao sam da razmišljam o svojim naglim postupcima do tada. Uprkos svemu, imali smo ogromnu podršku mnogih kolega pisaca. Samo jedna fraza se činila prikladnom: mi smo u istom čamcu; moramo se pouzdati jedni u druge! Naš književni krug je dovoljno mali da se svi znamo, ali sama književnost je džin, velika planina koja se nadvija nad nama. Kolege pisci kojima sam se obratio za pomoć, uglavnom su slučajni poznanici. Ne sjećam se kada sam posljednji put video Benfu-a. Imam samo nejasna sjećanja kako sam sjedio pored Zhou Meisen-a na konferenciji, prije mnogo godina. Nosio je novoopremljeni slušni aparat, koji je nedugo zatim u našem razgovoru frustrirano izvukao i ostatak dana insistirao na glasnom razgovoru s nama, bez miješanja te ogorčene stvari.

Na dan zaključavanja, stiglo je deset hiljada maski koje je donirao Ouiang Kiansen. Desetak udruženja iz federacije imalo je još mnogo posla, a članovi radne grupe i dobrovoljci svakodnevno su izlazili u zajednicu da pruže pomoć u naporima protiv virusa. Maske su bile apsolutno neophodne. Dva dana kasnije, još dvije stotine maski stiglo je od sekretara stranke Udruženja pisaca Hebei, Vang Fenga. U vrijeme kada su lične zalihe zaštitne opreme, koje su bile toliko bitne od početnog zaključavanja do zatvaranja stambenih četvrti širom Vuhana, bile iscrpljene, ovaj ugalj u snežnoj oluji, ova kiša usred suše, posjedovala je u svom dolasku značaj koji se ne može riječima opisati. Bilo za obične ljude, ili za ljekare i medicinske sestre koji rizikuju sve na liniji fronta, svaka dodatna maska značila je mogućnost još jednog spašenog života!

Usamljeni putnici književnosti, vješti perom, nemoćni i nespremni da deluju u normalnom svijetu, pronašavši dva zaštitna odijela na krovu svijeta, ili tražeći par naočara, osjećali su da je metropola blizu nemogućih zadataka. Da sam ja na njihovom mestu, da se tragedija dogodila negdje drugdje i da je trebala hitna podrška, vjerovatno bih postupio isto kao i mnogi autori - moje srce je puno ljubavi, ali od male koristi. Ali to nije bilo važno, jer je njihova iskrena podrška bila dovoljna. U posebnom TV izvještaju imao sam priliku da kažem u sočivo kamere: Vuhan, hvala! Hubei, hvala ti! Napokon sam mogao da iskažem „zahvalnost“. Dakle, iskoristiću priliku da zahvalim svim piscima koji to zaslužuju. Hvala ti, Ie Zhou! Hvala ti, Chen Huaiguo! Hvala ti, Li Jun! Hvala ti, Zhou Meisen! Hvala ti, Zhao Benfu! Hvala, Ian Zhi! Hvala ti, Ouiang Kiansen! Hvala Vang Feng! Hvala, Tsering Norbu! I posebna zahvalnost Dong Zi, Zhou Ksuanpu, Vang Hui, Zhang Ianling, Ksiao Hua, Han Chunian, Lin Nabei, He Ksiangiang, Zhao Ning, Bai Ksue, Kong Lingian, Li Fang i, konačno, Liu Kiong za, u našem najočajnijem času, toplinu i nježno, ljudsko saosjećanje!

Bilo je još mnogo isporuka koje nijesam uspeo da primim. Ne znam ko ih je poslao, znam samo da su, bilo u gradu ili van grada, moje kolege, kineski pisci, dali herojski doprinos i koristili sva moguća sredstva da postignu ono što je, na kraju, izgledalo kao mala stvar. Međutim, urađena čiste savjesti, svaka sitnica ima ogroman značaj. Duge, puste ulice zaključanog grada i dalje su strujile sa hiljadama vozača dostavljača. Na poleđini njihovih električnih bicikala, bili su paketi medicinskog materijala. U tim malim pokretnim planinama bili su impresivni napori Kineza da njeguje kinesku književnost, i spase Vuhan. Naročito u onim pakovanjima koja nijesu veća od šake i koja se mogu držati dvije ruke. U njima možete naći nekoliko dragocjenih maski. Da neko od vas, koga ja ili mi u ovom izolovanom gradu ne poznajemo, donira tako rijetke maske, zaslužio bi kod nas najiskreniju zahvalnost.

Vuhan pod blokadom bio je poput velikog broda, na kojem je svaki putnik, čak i kad se činilo da su vode neprohodne i neizbježna nepogoda, duvao je u jedra izlasku na pučinu. Svaki dah u jedro, bio je podvig.

Šta je ljubav, ako ne i zajednički zavjet, zalaganje za život i smrt. Čak i najveće nedaće moraju proći, a kada prođu, ono što ostaje na zemlji je uzajamna ljubav i podrška čovječanstva!

 

Liu Xinglong

 

Liu Xinglong, president of Hubei Provincial Federation of Literary and Art Circle, deputy director of Novel Committee of China Writers Association. So far, he has published more than 80 offprints including novella Phoenix Qin, Sharing Hardships, novel The Love Story of A Tree, prose A Way Up the Yangtze River and poem Walking Highland by Chest and so on. The Holy Heaven’s Gate won him the 3rd Novel Award of China Fiction Society; Pan Hui was awarded the Novel Prize of 2014 by magazine People’s Literature; prose Holding Father back to Hometown won him the 7th Lao She Literature Prize; novella Carrying Tea to Beijing was awarded the 1st Lu Xun Literature Prize and novel The Sky Dwellers won him the 8th Mao Dun Literature Prize.

 

What, dear world, is love

 

In early 2020, after the twenty-fourth day of the last lunar month, which in south China is the Festival of the Kitchen God, I started to send friends and family New Year’s greetings early. Under normal circumstances, the days that follow the festival are reserved for time with the family, celebration and preparing to bring in the New Year. But this year the Heavens had different plans: tragedy struck unexpectedly, and the world’s eyes turned to Wuhan and Hubei.

On New Year’s Eve morning, the day after Wuhan’s quarantine, I received a call from Tie Ning, President of the China Writers Association, asking after my family and repeatedly urging me to take care, keep safe and protect my loved ones. From that day forward, greetings and well-wishes poured in from all over, with such frequency that my mobile phone needed three charges a day. The gravity of the unprecedented quarantine filled me with an intensity of emotion that I could not shake. I knew I had to find the strength to not let my far-flung well-wishers down. But it was true that their regards were a boost. So, I sent the same two-sentence reply to each: In place of thanks, I send you strength! Your message has lifted my spirits!

That same day, the last of the lunar year, I received ten boxes of medical masks from Lanzhou. Six days before, on January 19, after returning home from an ophthalmology appointment at Union Hospital, I had received a call from Ye Zhou in Lanzhou, explaining that he was stood outside a pharmacy and, having heard how bad things were in Wuhan, wanted to buy me masks. A fundamental shift in Wuhan’s attitude toward the epidemic occurred that day. Though in reality, it was only the beginning of how serious the situation would become. Nobody in Wuhan or Hubei, to say nothing of the rest of China—or the world, could predict what would take place a mere four days later, when this metropolis of over ten million people was quarantined overnight. I calmly told Ye Zhou over the phone that it was not all that dramatic, and the handful masks we already had at home would be plenty. But he insisted and outright refused to hang up until I gave him my address. In the end, I gave in. The next day when I returned to hospital for another check-up with the ophthalmologist, I overheard two medical workers talking in the lift about how their department told them to make each mask last for two days. At that, for the first time, I became truly concerned. And later, outside, another first: people queuing to buy masks in front of every chemist along Lihuangpi Street; yet, they were all already sold out. Fortunately, the masks Ye Zhou insisted on sending guaranteed that my family of six had an emergency supply in lockdown. 

Even before quarantine, medical supplies throughout Wuhan had been scarce. On day one, the twenty-ninth of the last lunar month, a friend messaged on WeChat to wish us an early happy New Year. She also happened to mention that I should let her know if we were struggling to get hold of anything. I was already unusually anxious because of the lockdown, so seeing the message, I skipped all courtesies and implored her to do everything she could to send us masks, along with either granules or capsules of traditional Lianhua Qingwen medicine. She cleared two of her local pharmacies of their stock and sent it all to us by Shunfeng express delivery. By morning the next day, last of the lunar year, the Internet had flooded with desperate calls for help. Most frightening of all of them were those from the local hospitals, who having found they had no reserve medical supplies whatsoever were appealing to the community for urgent help. Though when I asked Xiao Ge, a doctor at Union Hospital, about the situation, I was told that things might be even worse. Right on time, a message arrived from Chen Huaiguo, a Hubei local from Laohekou County: Hi Xinglong, Happy New Year to you and your family, wishing you well for the year ahead! My child is on duty through Spring Festival, so I’m staying in Beijing. Are you in Wuhan? Heard that masks are in short supply there. If you need, I can send some. I wasted no time answering that Union Hospital was in urgent need of masks, protective suits and goggles and was calling for assistance from both the public and the private sector. Masks and protective suits in particular, which are single use, were running out fast. I asked if there was anything he could do to help from Beijing. A very loyal friend, Chen Huaiguo went out that same day to several large pharmacies in search of either, only to be told that the situation in Beijing was no different. Believing that was the end of it, I never expected to receive another call from Chen Huaiguo a little past four that afternoon. He had managed to purchase 4500 masks in Shijiazhuang and was asking for my address to post them right away.

Acts of generosity like this filled me with tremendous confidence.

On January 27, lockdown day five, news arrived in the morning from Dr. Xiao Ge that she was headed to the frontline: the fever ward in Union Hospital’s Isolated Intensive Care Unit. A lack of PPE at the hospital meant that shifts normally lasting four hours had to be doubled or more, because doctors were not allowed to remove or change their PPE once on. Dr. Xiao Ge and I had only actually met three times before. The first was an academics’ trip to Xinjiang with the Xinjiang Aid initiative; Xiao Ge was our accompanying doctor. The second was a chance meeting during a physical examination at Union Hospital a few years back. And the third was during my recent hospital visit for an eye exam. From that very first encounter, I formed an unshakable impression of her as so very alike Svetlana Alexievich’s descriptions of female doctors and nurses in The Unwomanly Face of War: women weighing around forty-five kilograms who, when they risked their lives joining the front to save those of their compatriots, would carry on their backs Russian soldiers that weighed over twice that. Then when the war ended and the doctors and nurses looked back on that time, they had no idea how they had found the strength to carry those injured soldiers! Dr. Xiao Ge even told me that putting on her PPE felt like going into battle. As soon as she said that, I WeChatted Li Jun, a military hospital worker in Beijing, urging him to find whatever PPE he could and mail it over. I impulsively gave him Xiao Ge’s contact details too. The Hong’an native and military writer did not disappoint. He found four protective suits and sent them express to Wuhan the very next day.

In the end though, Dr. Xiao Ge never received the four protective suits. Anything sent to the hospital marked as “Protective Suits”, “Goggles”, “Masks” or “PPE” was collected together and distributed as needed by the management. I only learnt this after following up the delivery. Later, I contacted Yan Zhi of Zall Smart Com, asking him to ensure that the necessary equipment reached the hands of Dr. Xiao Ge no matter what. This approach proved highly effective, and on the morning of February 2, two hundred protective suits and a hundred pairs of goggles were delivered straight to Dr. Xiao Ge and the other medical professionals fighting alongside her on the frontline. 

As the battle against the epidemic spread beyond the hospital into the community, members of the Hubei Provincial Federation of Literary and Art Circles (PFLAC) task force were dispatched to their assigned posts; there was not one protective suit between them. The Provincial Writers Association that is housed in the same building reported a similar predicament. I had no choice but to turn to Yan Zhi once more, even though it embarrassed me to explain what was happening. Yan Zhi agreed, without hesitation, to provide the PFLAC and Writers Association with a hundred protective suits, two hundred pairs of gloves and five hundred masks. For any one of us, sometimes the unexpected delivery of a mask, protective suit or a pair of goggles serves as a reminder that there is great virtue in the world.

In someone like Tsering Norbu in Lhasa, for example, who sent Xiao Ge two protective suits. Dr. Xiao Ge sent me a photograph via WeChat on day 30 of lockdown of a package that she had received. At this time, she had withdrawn from the frontline to rest and self-isolate. She had searched for the sender’s name online and when she discovered Tsering Norbu was an author, wondered whether he was a friend of mine. Then I remembered that when I contacted him early on asking for help, he had scoured Lhasa for protective gear, eventually finding two suits on New Year’s Day, but had been unable to mail them. It was only when Tsering finally managed to get them to the hospital that I remembered I had asked him in the first place.

Or take someone like Zhou Meisen in Xuzhou, who ordered a pair of goggles to be delivered from Shenzhen. Years ago, when my literary elder, Jiang Tianmin, submitted his story ‘Ninth Kiosk’ to Youth journal, which would go on to be awarded the National Short Story Prize, Zhou Meisen had been the editor. Sadly, Jiang Tianmin died young, leaving his four-year-old daughter Ruozhi solely dependent on her mother. Regardless that their situation forced them into running a street stall outside Ruozhi’s school gates, they never asked for any help from her father’s friends. After graduating university, Ruozhi became a doctor at the central municipal hospital. Just like her mother, she would never ask for help even if the sky were falling down around her. When Wuhan went into lockdown, I asked how she was doing, and she just said that all was fine. Then when the epidemic worsened, I inquired again: this time, she told me that she was waiting to be called into the isolated zone. In that moment, I thought of Zhou Meisen. I messaged him that evening, and he replied immediately: OK, I’m on it! A constant stream of messages followed, reporting all sorts of setbacks, before news finally came that he had sent forty-eight masks and one pair of goggles via Shunfeng to his former colleague’s child.

I also asked Zhao Benfu to help Ruozhi. Both Ruozhi and I knew that Uncle Zhao had been one of her father’s closest friends. She might have been unwilling to reach out to him, but I was not. Ruozhi is the daughter of a Chinese writer after all. Though actually, what doctor or nurse on the frontline is not a daughter of China’s literature? The message sent, I received a reply from Benfu the next day: Received. Things are bad. Can’t buy any here either. My daughter bought 300 N95 masks online several days ago and they never arrived. Yesterday the seller cancelled the order saying they’re out of stock. I’ll ask her to try again! Take care! A day later, Benfu followed up. His daughter had already bought twenty protective suits and two hundred pairs of goggles, which she had asked to be delivered directly to Ruozhi.

On lockdown day 6, during an interview with China News Agency, I admitted that the few things my friends had been able to send made little difference given the scale of the battle to defend Wuhan, but that the message of national solidarity these deeds conveyed was what gave our isolated city its strength. There were many more people who, knowing all too well that the N95 masks and other PPE were close to unobtainable, still tried every possible means, searching at two or three in the morning, tirelessly, to find a way. Like Dong Zi in Jinan, who, after being asked, became more anxious even than anyone in quarantined Wuhan as she tried desperately to help, then apologized profusely when her attempts were in vain, as if she had made some terrible mistake.

After over thirty days of enforced quarantine and concentrated medical efforts, the citywide crisis eased a little. I started to feel calmer and was able to reflect on my impetuous actions up to then, how despite everything, they were repaid with immense support from so many fellow writers. Only one phrase seemed appropriate: we are in the same boat; we must trust in each other! Our literary circle is small enough that we all know one other, but literature itself is a giant, a great mountain that towers out of sight. The fellow writers who I turned to for help are casual acquaintances at most. I cannot remember the last time I saw Benfu. And I have only vague memories of sitting beside Zhou Meisen at a conference many years ago. He wore a newly fitted hearing aid, which not long into our conversation, he frustratedly pulled out and for the rest of the day insisted on talking with us loudly, without the interference of that infuriating thing. And how long must it be since I last visited Nanjing. On lockdown day 26, ten thousand masks donated by Ouyang Qiansen arrived, to heartfelt thanks from every one of the hundreds of members in the PFLAC. The some dozen associations under the federation still had much work to do, and task force members and volunteers were going out into the community every day to provide assistance in the efforts against the virus. The masks were absolutely essential. Two days later, another two hundred masks arrived from Party Secretary of the Hebei Writers Association, Wang Feng. At a time when personal supplies of protective equipment, which had been so vital through the initial lockdown to the closing off of residential districts across Wuhan, were all but exhausted, this coal in a snowstorm, this rain mid-drought, possessed in its arrival significance beyond words. Whether for ordinary folk or for the doctors and nurses risking everything on the frontline, every additional mask meant the possibility of another life saved!

Putting myself in other writers’ shoes, I realized, who among us is not proud and aloof? Lone travellers of literature, skilled with a pen, powerless, and unwilling even, to operate in the normal world, for so many of us writers, finding two protective suits on the roof of the world or searching out a pair of goggles in a densely packed metropolis felt like formidable, near on impossible tasks. Were it me in their place, had tragedy struck elsewhere and urgent support was needed, likely, I would have given the same as many authors—my heart full of love, but of little use. But that was unimportant, as their earnest replies were help enough. Every last voice formed a vital part of the herculean support effort. In a special TV report, I had the chance to say into the camera lens: Wuhan, thank you! Hubei, thank you! I was able finally to say the “thanks” that I had been yearning to express. So here, I will take my chance to give thanks to all those writers who deserve it. Thank you, Ye Zhou! Thank you, Chen Huaiguo! Thank you, Li Jun! Thank you, Zhou Meisen! Thank you, Zhao Benfu! Thank you, Yan Zhi! Thank you, Ouyang Qiansen! Thank you, Wang Feng! Thank you, Tsering Norbu! And a special thanks to Dong Zi, Zhou Xuanpu, Wang Hui, Zhang Yanling, Xiao Hua, Han Chunyan, Lin Nabei, He Xiangyang, Zhao Ning, Bai Xue, Kong Lingyan, Li Fang and, finally, Liu Qiong for, in our most desperate hour, extending to us such womanly warmth and such tender, human compassion!

There were many more deliveries that I was unable to receive. I do not know who sent them, I only know that whether inside or outside the city, my colleagues, the writers of China, made what heroic contributions and used whatever means they could to achieve what, in the end, seemed a small thing. However, done in clear conscience, any small thing holds enormous significance. The long, deserted streets of the locked down city still streamed with delivery drivers in their thousands. Piled high on the backs of their electric bikes were packages of medical supplies. Contained in those little moving mountains were the Chinese people’s impressive efforts to nurture Chinese literature, and to save Wuhan. Especially in those packages no bigger than a fist, which could be held two to a hand, within those you could find the few remaining precious masks. To have you, any of you whom I or we in this isolated city do not know, donate to us such rare masks was nothing less than the greatest encouragement, and deserves the sincerest gratitude.

Wuhan under lockdown was like a great ship, on which every passenger, even when the waters seemed impassable and calamity imminent, planted their feet where they stood and blew into the sails to aid our advance; and every breath they blew was a valiant feat. What, dear world, is love, if not a shared vow, a commitment through life and death.[1] Even the greatest calamities must pass, and when they do, what remains on earth is humanity’s transcendent and mutual love and support!

 

 

 

[1] This sentence and the article title are adapted from Yuan Haowen’s (1190-1257) lyric poem, “The Tune of The Wild Geese’s Tomb”.

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