Chinese locked down in coronavirus epicentre Wuhan fight despair and boredom with humour

04-Feb-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

From love cabbages and dancing in the park to wry comments about the “patriotic virus”, bored Wuhan residents locked down due to coronavirus have turned to gallows humour to boost morale.

The central Chinese city, along with several others in Hubei province, has been sealed off by a government-imposed quarantine since January 23 after scientists discovered a new strain of coronavirus believed to have originated at a seafood market.

The virus has killed at least 259 people in mainland China and infected more than 11,900 worldwide.

Roughly 9 million people remain in lockdown in Wuhan, and some of them have taken to uploading humorous posts on social media to get by.

Under the hashtag “Diary of a sealed-off city”, which has amassed more than 1 billion views on Chinese social media platform Weibo, Wuhan residents have been posting snippets about life at home.

One social media user posted a video of a “dama” middle-aged women who usually dance in groups in public parks doing a routine alone in a public square.

Another uploaded a photo of a supermarket shelf with remnants of “love cabbages” donated by Chongqing province. “The cabbages have all been snatched, thanks Chongqing citizens,” the person wrote.

Others posted videos of their daily routine, photographs of snaking supermarket queues or stockpiles of food at home.

“Don’t know how long we will be sealed off for… Not sure if we will die of this illness first or starve to death,” one user wrote.

Sharing dry humour online, especially during a national crisis, was not unusual, said Kecheng Fang, assistant professor at the School of Journalism and Communication of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He pointed to the outpouring of dark jokes during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake as an example.

“In the specific case of the novel coronavirus, I can recall that people called this virus ‘patriotic’ because except for Wuhan, only foreign countries reported cases before the Chinese government acknowledged the scale and severity of the epidemic,” he said.

“This topic was highly sensitive before January 20, and people could only use the half-joking name of ‘patriotic virus’ to question the information transparency.”

Fang said the prevailing sentiment both online and offline was boredom.

“The majority of the Chinese population are now staying at home with no work to do and no banquets or gatherings to go to. I think that’s an important factor driving the circulation of humorous posts.”

Humour has also been a way for Chinese internet users to get around online censorship.

“[Using humour] is effective in circulating the sentiment, but it’s not effective in holding the government accountable,” Fang said.

Residents last weekend sang the national anthem from open windows or the balconies of their flats to raise community spirit.

The next day, however, doctors issued an appeal online asking them to stop for fear of spreading the virus.

“Watching people everywhere singing songs through open windows, it is too dangerous and terrifying. Droplets can scatter to the floors above and below, people who sing take in deep breaths, and the wind can blow droplets into neighbouring homes,” read the appeal posted to Weibo on Monday.

The warning prompted one online commenter to say half in jest: “It is too difficult to be a Wuhan resident.”


Category: China

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