Thanatopsis — 4 April 2020

Viral Alarm

The Fourth of April 2020 marks the day for ‘sweeping the tombs’ 掃墓, a time in which respect is paid to the recently deceased, loved ones and forebears. Known since ancient times as Qingming 清明, ‘Clear and Bright’, it is commemorated annually on the Eighth Day of the Third Month of the traditional lunar calendar.

On 4 April 2020, the government of China’s People’s Republic held a formal national ritual of mourning for those who had died as a result of the 2019-2020 coronavirus epidemic. The following anonymous work is one of the numerous parallel or ‘counter-commemorations’ that appeared on the Chinese Internet in which people remembered, without government fanfare or ‘messaging’ victims of the Covid-19 epidemic that started in Wuhan, Hubei province in December 2019, spread throughout the People’s Republic from January 2020 and has now enveloped the world.

Each line refers to an anecdote or report that was circulated independently on the Chinese Internet at the height of the epidemic in the People’s Republic. We have annotated a number of the lines.

Tragically, one must presume that as the pandemic spreads ever more greater mayhem and death, similar compilations will be made by people who are outraged by political arrogance, systemic incompetence, religious mania, business cupidity, or merely in response to gross social and individual arrogance in countries as far-flung as Australia, Iran, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Poland, Russia, Sweden, Brazil, Italy, Spain, India, and so on.

— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
4 April 2020


Related Material:

4 April 2020: at the stele commemorating Wang Guowei 王國維 — a long-dead scholar celebrated for possessing ‘A Spirit Unfettered and a Mind Independent’ 獨立之精神, 自由之思想 — on the campus of Tsinghua University, Beijing. Source: Geng Xiaonan 耿瀟男


4 April 2020
As a Nation Mourns

In Remembering the Dead,
We Confront How to Live



Translated by Geremie R. Barmé

We remember:

That woman who beat a drum on her balcony protesting her illness.


The person who ran after the hearse soulfully crying ‘Mother!’


The fellow who was reading [Francis Fukuyama’s] The Origins of Political Order in a detention centre that had only one toilet for a thousand inmates.


The lorry driver who was left to wander the highways unable to go home.


The person who died seated and they were embraced by family members as they waited for the body to be collected.


That person in enforced isolation who starved to death.


The pregnant woman who, despite having spent 200,000 RMB couldn’t take it any more and gave up on further treatment.


The person who, fearful they might infect their family, dug a grave before committing suicide.


The person who couldn’t find treatment anywhere and, worried that he’d infect his wife and child, jumped out of the vehicle to end it all.


The ninety-year old who waited until they could get a bed for their sixty-year old son in a hospital and stayed at his side for five days and nights.


The person who wrote a comment on a WeChat appeal for a hospital bed: ‘I’ve just lost a family member so there’s a free bed here. Hopefully I can help you.’


That person who abused a person hysterically pleading for help as it might upset others. They then ended up doing the very same when they were in trouble themselves.


The person desperately seeking help who, upon learning to use WeiBo, first asked ‘How are you?’


That person who covered their mouth when being questioned by the authorities who wept out of a sense of shame since they couldn’t buy a face mask anywhere.


The person who used orange peel as a face mask.


That lonely individual who went to the Civil Affairs Bureau to report that their whole family had died — father, mother, grandfather and grandmother.


The person who donated all their wages to buy face masks for others.


The person who wrote the words ‘I face death calmly’ and ‘It is time for me to make a sacrifice’.

那個寫下「安心赴死」 「是時候奉獻出自己」的人。

The person who died twice: the first time was when he had to write the words ‘I can, I understand’ on a police confession that he then had to verify with a fingerprint. [This is a reference to Dr Li Wenliang]


The worker who, having laboured day and night building the Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan [to treat coronavirus patients] went back to his town only to be treated with contempt as someone who was a bearer of the plague.


The person suffering from leukemia who begged to be euthanised because they were blocked from going to Beijing from Wuhan for a bone marrow transplant.


The person who, dressed up for their own funeral, died at home after having been refused a bed in any hospital.


The person who was refused their regular dialysis due to the epidemic and, after their mournful pleas at the entrance to their residential area went unheeded, jumped to their death from a building. The corpse lay out in the open for six hours.


The person forced to write the sentence ‘A face mask must be worn at all times when outside’ one hundred times by the local police.


The person who was left bleeding after having been beaten for not wearing a face mask.


The person who pleaded that they were starving to death and that his wife and child were at home hungry who said: I’m sure you must all have plenty of food to eat yourselves.


The bee keeper who, having been forbidden from moving his bee hives because of the strict restrictions imposed during the epidemic, committed suicide out of despair.


The person who couldn’t get any treatment and, worried that he’d infect his wife and child, wrote a will donating his body to medical research in the hope that it might somehow spare others from suffering. Leaving the keys to their apartment and his phone, he set out to walk back to his old hometown but died on the way.


The fellow who wrote the words ‘I donate my corpse to the state, but where’s my wife?’ [For the story behind this line, see Fang Fang’s Wuhan Diary 方方,《武漢日記》, here]


The person who, because the city was on lockdown and driving was prohibited, carried his mother on his back for three hours in search of somewhere that would accept her for treatment.


The person who left their newly born baby at a hospital with a note: ‘I’ve spent everything I have in giving birth, now I’m destitute’.


The person who crawled down ten floors from their apartment just so they could buy some meat.


The child who covered their dead grandfather’s body with a quilt and waited with him for five days and nights.


The person who, after recovering from a severe bout of the illness, discovered that their whole family was dead and hung themselves from the rafters.


The sixty-year old who was in sole charge of taking care of a whole police station with over sixty people in it. Her duties included buying all the food, making all of their meals, washing all the dishes and keeping the kitchen clean. Utterly exhausted she finally collapsed in a corridor crying.


The person whose hair turned grey after they had been wandering the streets of Wuhan for over twenty days unable to get any help.


The child who, in despair, took the medicine their mother had been prescribed for psychotic episodes because they couldn’t afford to buy a phone to take online school classes.


That twenty-five year-old journalist who quit their job with China Central Television and went to Wuhan at the most dangerous time to report independently on the situation. When those people were at his hotel door and about to detain him he recited the lines [from Liang Qichao]: ‘If our youth are strong, the nation will be strong; if are youth are enfeebled, our nation will be weak’. [This is a reference to the journalist Li Zehua 李澤華. See The Heart of The One Grows Ever More Arrogant and Proud, China Heritage, 10 March 2020]


The person who shouted out from their apartment that ‘It’s all a sham!’ when a party-state leader was on an official inspection tour of a residential area in Wuhan.  [This is a reference to Vice-premier Sun Chunlan’s ‘inspection tour’ of Wuhan on 5 March 2020. For a video of the incident, see here]


The person who, having recovered the bodies of three children killed when the Xinjia Hotel [in Quanzhou, Fujian province, which was being used for sequestered people affected by the coronavirus] collapsed, broke down sobbing uncontrollably. [For details, see here]


The writer who produced sixty daily diary entries despite having her WeChat accounts repeatedly censored and being vilified relentlessly by thuggish characters. [A reference to Fang Fang]


That seven or eight year-old child who lined up with all the adults to collect the ashes of their dead parents.


The person who rang a government official to warn at length and in detail of the dangers of a new virus and the need for people to be protected and provided enough food to eat who eventually just gave up with a sigh.


That respected doctor who was repeatedly criticised by their hospital for wearing a face mask but ended up being infected and dying from the virus.


The person who said: ‘If I’d known things would end up like this, I would have ignored all of their criticisms and had the courage to spread the word everywhere’. [This is a reference to Dr Ai Fen 艾芬, director of the emergency department of Central Hospital of Wuhan, the first medical professional to disclose details of the dangerous new virus.]



‘The days pass in heartbreak’, in the hand of Zhao Mengfu 趙孟頫