Brian Linden, now living in China’s Yunnan Province, supports China’s fight against COVID-19 on the video provided to People’s Daily app on Monday.
Our old square is empty, shops closed, and a red banner playfully blows from the upper reaches of a stone arch and inspires our town to pull together to fight off the virus.
A few local residents sit on wooden benches, all but their eyes covered in cloth. I do not recognize some of them and cannot tell if they are smiling or frowning under their veils. I tell myself that this cannot be my adopted home. Our village is usually alive with the commotion of merchants, farmers, and tourists. And yet today all is quiet.
Chinese New Year is the most raucous time of the year in rural China. The seeming discordance of firecrackers, joyous family reunions, and mischievous children together take on the form of comfort and harmony. It is a time of celebration and hope.
This year is different. Signs are posted everywhere encouraging us to wash our hands, wear masks, stay away from crowded spaces. The streets are regularly sprayed down with an ammonia mixture to drown out any remnants of the bread stands that closed a few weeks ago. Dogs and cats are often more visible than people.
I feel safe here, however. Even while we all struggle to respond to the impact of the coronavirus, I believe that everyone is trying their best to ensure that the virus is contained, and the sick are taken care of. I admire the thousands of doctors who have given up their family time (Chinese New Year is meant to be spent with one’s elders) and put themselves in harm's way to help those who are suffering. I only wish that we could do more.
These past few weeks have unfolded in a surreal manner. Our hotels were filled with guests, but gradually reservations were cancelled, visitors cut their stays short, and transportation links were curbed. We are already seeing cancellations extending to late summer and early autumn. And while we are sending out regular notices to our friends and followers, urging them to trust that this is only a speed bump, we are not sure how effective this is. Walking through the empty streets of our village makes last month's zeal seem like a dream.
Fear is common during periods like this. But such concern should not lead to discrimination or hasty judgments. Panic and misunderstanding can be just as contagious as disease, and it’s easy to forget that our common enemy is the virus, and not each other. While this virus may have struck China this time, no country is immune to this type of outbreak (see the statistics from the US seasonal flu and H1N1). The Chinese people and the international community can and should come together to manage the outbreak as they have before with others like this.
While many in China’s foreign community have gone back to their host countries, my wife Jeanee and I are proud to be staying, standing alongside our Chinese friends and family during this period of crisis. The Chinese government, in the face of massive economic losses, has gone above and beyond to control this disease. We feel safe here.
Camus wrote in his novel, The Plague, "This day. I thought it would be marked by terrible signs-lowering clouds, ominous winds, a crack of thunder…Yet, it is so ordinary a morning that I grow frightened."
Life will return to normal here soon. I admire the solidarity of those around me as we all struggle with the unknowns of this virus. Many from the outside may look at us with concern. I wish to tell them (and you) that the government is doing everything to control the spread of this disease.
Here in Yunnan, sunshine warms the days under the shadow of the snow-capped Himalayas. The fields of rapeseed react to the glow and capriciously unfurl their golden boughs to the skies. Unlike Klaus in The Plague, with every ordinary morning, I grow less and less frightened.
(Linden is a Chicago native who has been in China for 35 years. He is the founding partner and president of the Linden Center, which concentrates on the culture and tourism industry, and is based in a heritage hotel in Xizhou, Yunnan Province. The views don’t necessarily represent those of People’s Daily.)