Editor’s Note: Yuli Yang is a Hong Kong-based journalist who worked for CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera in greater China for over a decade. Her Twitter is @once.
I am a Wuhan girl living in Hong Kong. Right now, my close family is all under lock-down in my hometown, the epicenter of this epidemic.
Every day, I worry for their safety, their health and their mental well-being. They worry, too, that I am worried about them. Sound familiar? I’m sure anyone living far away from their parents can relate to this funny cycle of love.
I’m also a news producer and aware of the blame, the frustration and the outrage that circulates in the wake of a crisis. I’m grateful for my tireless, fellow journalists, who keep the world abreast of the battle against this coronavirus outbreak.
I understand and support the physical measures that airlines, governments and institutions have put in place for control and prevention. But at the same time, I invite you not to put up walls between our hearts.
By this, I’m referring to the emerging trend around the world of discrimination towards Chinese people, and towards those who simply look like us.
This virus brings death and fear. People see the infection spread across borders and they grow afraid for their children, parents, for themselves.
But the virus also reveals an amazing truth – that we’re all interconnected, so much more closely than we might have thought.
The Greek philosopher Plato claimed that all of us are parts of one single, living organism: the universe. But we don’t need to look to Plato to know that the world can only survive this crisis if China pulls through. And China can only pull through when Wuhan heals. Like it or not, this is the reality of our oneness.
Sometimes it’s hard to fathom this oneness. It can feel like we know so little about people in far flung places around the globe, and that can make us feel even further apart.
That’s why I would like to tell you a little bit about my hometown, Wuhan.
Around China, my city is known for a mouth-watering noodle dish. It has a texture similar to spaghetti, and is soaked in thick and rich sesame sauce, often with fresh spring onions sprinkled on top. I vividly remember the first time my late grandfather bought a bowl of these noodles for me. My eyes widened. Staring at the shiny noodles in the brown sesame sauce, I shouted “chocolate noodles!” My grandfather smiled: “These are called hot dry noodles.” And I’ve been best friends with them ever since.
Lakes in bloom
By now, you might have learned from the news that Wuhan is the capital city of Hubei province. Hubei has a nickname – “the province of a thousand lakes.” Most of those lakes are in or around Wuhan. In the summer, lotuses bloom across the lakes, making my city extremely Instagrammable.
But what cannot be captured on Instagram is the sweet yet gentle fragrance from those pink petals and their generous, green leaves. The sweet smell forms the backdrop to some of my best childhood memories.
A province of rebels
Those of us from Wuhan are proud of our tennis legend Li Na. She’s won accolade after accolade: In 2011, she became China’s first Grand Slam singles champion, in 2019, she became the first Asian-born player to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. She’s been dubbed “China’s Tennis Rebel” by the New York Times, thanks to her strong will. But that rebellious spirit isn’t unique to Li. A rebellious spirit is deeply rooted In my hometown. In 1911, an armed rebellion in Wuchang, a district of today’s Wuhan, kicked off the Xinhai Revolution, which eventually overthrew China’s last imperial dynasty, the Qing.
An ancient tale of true friendship
The tale goes like this: One autumn night more than 2,000 years ago, a musician named Yu was playing his qin, an ancient Chinese string instrument, by the river under the moonlight. Zhong, a man who was walking by the river, stopped and relished the sound. The pair soon began chatting, and Yu was in awe of how deeply Zhong understood his music. The two promised to meet again in the same place, at the same time a year later. When that date come around, Yu played his qin by the river as he had promised, but Zhong never turned up. He later learned that Zhong had died, but before his death Zhong asked to be buried by the river, so he could listen to Yu’s music. In sadness, Yu smashed his qin on a platform and said: “The only one who truly knows my melody is no longer in this world. What’s the point of this qin now?” Today that spot is known as “Qin Tai” – which literally translates to “platform for qin.” And until this day, the Chinese word “zhi yin” meaning “the one who knows the melody” remains a synonym for a friend who truly knows you.
With these Wuhan vignettes, I hope you can open up a small space in your heart. A space for compassion. A space to love and to support the millions of my fellow Wuhaners.
Your support will empower them. And that is the first step of our collective healing.