Tears in Rain, Vol I: Voices from Wuhan [updated]
Many of those who tried to warn us of COVID-19 have disappeared; their words are all that's left. To honor them, the world must listen.
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In 1982’s classic science-fiction thriller Blade Runner, Harrison Ford hunts down escaped ‘Replicants’ in a future Los Angeles; replicants were AI/human cloned synthetic beings used as slave labor for off-world mining. A group of replicants revolted and fled to Earth after killing the humans overseeing their work, with the hope of experiencing ‘normal’ human life and understanding their own origins. Shortly after learning that his system was set to shut down within days, he is confronted by Ford and ultimately saves him from death, despite the carnage that led to that scene.
The brief soliloquy that followed [from Rutger Hauer, playing the replicant] is one of the most famous scenes in movie history. In it, he explains his frustrated struggle for meaning in a world that doesn’t accept his emotions as ‘real;’ the incredible experiences he’s had will die with him, as if ‘tears in rain,’ as there is no legacy through which they can be passed down to others.
There are an incredible number of lessons to learn & analogies that can be drawn with our post-modern world, but the COVID-19 pandemic has led to one that is especially tragic - and it comes from Wuhan, the epicenter of what has now killed more than 4.2 million people.
It was in Wuhan where the extent of China’s surveillance state was brutally applied, with the same intensity as the physical lock-down measures - and yet the very nature of that brutality has meant that very few records remain of what took place in Wuhan over a 4-6 month period. It’s very easy to write-off the void as a victim of vast cultural differences, but the silence that emerged from Wuhan must be viewed within its demographic context to be fully appreciated and understood.
Even though few people in the West had ever heard of Wuhan, it would be the 3rd largest city in the US, with more than 11 million people hugging the banks of the Yangtze River. Consider what the outbreak in Wuhan would look like if we simply replaced ‘Wuhan’ with ‘Los Angeles:’
A deadly outbreak begins in Los Angeles on 12/1, and by 1/1/20, 174 people are sick [but authorities wait a year before releasing the full number, and 100,000 scientific articles are written based upon a figure of 44 cases for that period.
On 12/30, Dr. Ai Fen sends out a text message [below] warning of a possible SARS case after seeing a lab confirmation [next bullet]; an optometrist [Li Wenliang] shares that text more broadly, and is punished for that action 4 days later. Li later becomes one of the first health care workers to die from COVID-19, early on 2/7.
Although a lab reports that a SARS-like coronavirus (CoV) has been found in early patients on 12/30, and a world-famous scientist [Zheng-Li Shi, or ‘Batwoman’] sequences the full virus genome on 1/2, officials do not confirm human-to-human transmission until 1/20.
Which is odd, since all known CoV’s that affect humans are respiratory viruses. Only after 1 patient infects 15 doctors/nurses does the public health office confirm the obvious.
*The world-famous scientist doesn’t release her sequence until another lab does so on 1/11. By then, at least 5 other LA labs have come to the same conclusion. The central government, however, has already ordered the destruction of those samples.
LA implements a full lock-down on 1/23, almost a month after the first lab finds evidence of a CoV. 5 million people leave Los Angeles in the two weeks prior to the lock-down, infecting 6 continents [&, eventually, Antarctica too]
Rapidly, virtually all communication out of LA ceases; most social media posts are erased, all info questioning the origins of the pandemic cease to exist. Some large proportion of 11 million residents remains stuck in the city, bearing witness to untold numbers of people randomly collapsing [likely due to poor oxygen levels in their blood], overcome in the midst of their daily routines [video further down]. One can imagine that sick people were aware of how futile going to hospitals would be, with hundreds of people filling the halls [another video]:
Given that Hollywood is part of LA, it’s impossible to imagine such an information blockade here in America, even for 24 hours. All of the following snapshots from Wuhan were captured before 4.2 million people died-before COVID-19 even had a name. Yet, if not for the efforts of those who’ve ‘disappeared,’ most of the meager images I’ve placed below would also have ceased to exist - lost, like tears in rain.
Tears in Wuhan
Evidence without context can be easily misinterpreted [or manipulated] to fit in with expected results. China's extensive efforts to withhold/destroy samples & erase websites/files [and often fabricate new ones] ultimately cause context to fade away - as my pic above shows. What follows is a collection of memories gleaned from sources whose original links [for the most part] were deleted by Chinese censors
A compilation of now-deleted news stories from Chinese media outlets, about conditions early in the pandemic, was created by The Nation, and the list has been preserved on Google Docs [‘mainland news outlets coverage’].
The Sierra Nevada 'MACE-PAI' report was quickly dismissed by the Daily Beast last May, 2020 but is actually growing in credibility today. It depicts cell phone and internet usage changes in Wuhan, and especially in the area around the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
This video contains the testimony of one particular resident, who noticed on 12/31/19 that a very large number of ambulances were arriving at the nearest hospital [the PLA hospital in Wuchang, the location of the very first patients] - many of which came from Jiangxia, the district where the new BSL-4 lab had been built, even though there were closer hospitals between the lab and Wuchang [about 10 miles/16 km apart]. The unknown informant assumed that there were too many sick people to be contained at hospitals further south, which is odd as the WHO report showed less than 5 of the pre-2020 cases as from south of Wuchang:
Here is a American’s narrative of life back with her family, stuck in Wuhan after the lockdown:
Dr. Ai Fen went missing after being one of the early, consistent voices about the COVID-19 threat; from her personal experience [she ultimately reappeared, but it was her tweet that was translated into Elvish and other languages above]:
A heartbreaking video of a dr. who so exhausted himself treating patients in Wuhan in early January that he collapsed, unconscious, twice during the walk to his car:
The top photo: consoling siblings en route to picking up ashes.
The bottom photo: Overcome at the destination - a makeshift mass graveyard
And lastly, the doctors & nurses enduring the restrictions on the front lines:
I’ve now spent more than 7 months solely researching the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic; approximately half of that time has been focused on the tragedy that was erased in Wuhan. The largest single project [still in progress] involves cataloguing the details of 9-1-1-type requests, with the hope of gaining a clear picture of how the outbreak unfolded. I must be honest and admit that it has been heartbreaking to scroll endlessly through descriptions of families desperately searching for help, and often being turned away by full hospitals anyway. This is even more stunning when one considers that tens of thousands of doctors and nurses were mobilized and sent to Wuhan from all across China.
The brutality of the Wuhan lockdown is largely unknown to the rest of the world. Residents were ultimately restricted to their own neighborhood; most of the city’s population lives in 1 of 7,000+ such neighborhoods, and anyone who was found outside that perimeter without approval was ‘harshly’ punished. Often, barricades were set up to prevent unauthorized exits. Citizens were forced to sign death certificates that listed something other than the COVID-19 they’d watched kill their loved ones. Many were paid and/or forced to wait months to retrieve the ashes of their dead relatives, to limit the number of people who showed up at the traditional times of the month to honor the dead.
But, in the midst of scenes that almost seemed medieval, I’ve also found beautiful examples of compassion, courage and defiance. I’ve discovered heroes, martyrs and saints.
I’ve seen just how much like us the Chinese people are, and it’s that realization - far more than any other - that strengthens my resolve to keep looking for evidence and answers. When the outbreak ended, they were still as locked down in spirit by their brutal government as every other day of my lifetime.
We cannot right every wrong for them, but we can seek some measure of justice for them, and the rest of us. We have no excuse to be less resilient; as dark as the last year and a half has been, or how painful the rest of this pandemic might be, we have more light to look forward to.
We must follow the example of the unknown doctor below who, in the darkest days of a brutal lockdown enforced by a potentially complicit regime, cared enough to wheel a dying man out into the empty street, simply to give the gift of a final sunrise. He didn’t wait for the WHO or the CCP to lead by example to show compassion in the midst of tragedy.
And neither should we