China Daily Global Edition (USA)
Virus viewed through children’s eyes
Anyone who wondered how the COVID-19 outbreak was viewed through the eyes of children can find myriad answers in a book written by 51 primary school students and their teacher in Wuhan, Hubei province, last year.
The book, Writings by Children on the Outbreak: from the Canoe of Wind to the Song of Spring, is a compilation of about 150 diary entries from third graders at the Gangcheng No 17 Elementary School in Wuhan. Chinese teacher Yu Jing, whose comments on their entries are also in the book, encouraged her pupils to write down their thoughts and feelings when the city was placed under lockdown on Jan 23 last year.
“When the news of a citywide lockdown broke, I was at home for the winter holiday and was startled. Harrowing scenes from movies like Resident Evil flashed through my mind,” said the 43-year-old Yu.
Her trepidation was eased after medical assistance teams were dispatched from across the country to bolster the local fight against the disease. On Jan 24, Yu volunteered to do cleaning and cooking at hotels where medical workers were staying.
“It occurred to me that the outbreak, despite all the suffering and pain, provided a great opportunity for my students to practice writing and for us to understand the unprecedented event from the point of view of children,” she said.
A new daily routine was set up via messaging apps and embraced by the entire class: Each of her 51 students would write about 100 words every day, and their parents would send them to Yu for correction and review. Stories of innocence and wonderment, sorrow and hope, unfolded in front of Yu as she reviewed the entries.
Missing his mom
Yin Xizhe, whose parents had been working on the front line as medical workers since Jan 19 last year, wrote on the first day of the lockdown: “I missed my mother so badly! It is the first time that I can’t celebrate the Spring Festival with my mom and dad, and I felt very disappointed and worried.”
In a television program that reported the heroic deeds of doctors and nurses fighting the virus, Yin said he caught a glimpse of his mother’s name. “She is really brave. She offered to work at the fever clinic where there are a lot of people with a fever and a lot with the virus. I am so proud of her,” he wrote.
Yu said six of her students’ parents were front-line medical workers.
“I learned from the diary that Yin’s parents had sent their son to their hometown, Ezhou in Hubei. Due to limited supplies during the early stages of the outbreak, Yin’s grandpa used a raincoat as protective clothing and his grandma sprayed white spirits on the floor to disinfect the surfaces,” she said.
“You can tell how selfless that these medical staff are from these journals. Yin’s parents were fully devoted to battling the virus and saving lives without even thinking about preparing medical equipment for their family members before they left.”
Some stories also showcased how the 9- and 10-year-olds seemed to grow up overnight, Yu said.
Making dad proud
One of the girls had to live with her father’s colleagues after he and her grandmother contracted COVID-19 and were sent to the hospital on Feb 11 last year. “I want to help my dad feel better, but he is isolated at the hospital and all I can do is hope for him really hard in my heart,” she wrote on Feb 21 last year.
“I have learned how to wash dishes, sweep, mop and take out trash. I also learned how to cook and all kinds of household chores,” her diary read. “My dad will be very happy to see I have become so capable when he is discharged from the hospital.”
There are moments of levity interlaced in the collection, including one entry from Cai Yaru, who explained how her family managed a meal of fragrant braised beef, a rarity during the lockdown due to restrictions on movement.
“I’m sure you’re wondering how I could get beef and not you? Ha-ha, it is all attributed to the almighty internet nowadays,” she said.
“My mom joined a community online chat group where people pool orders to buy vegetables and meat. Then someone brings these goods to the gate of the neighborhood, delivering supplies while reducing gatherings.”
As the lockdown continued into its third month, the diary entries expressed an eagerness to return to normal lives.
One of the students, Tian Jiachang, wrote about her desire to play outdoors. She wrote: “I welcomed snow and bid farewell to it; embraced sweet winter flowers and waved goodbye, then canola flowers came and went away. Now cherry blossom trees are blooming, and I hope I can get our diary collection before the cherry blossoms wilt so that I can let them go after saying a proper goodbye.”
Her wish came true. On April 8, Wuhan emerged from the 76-day lockdown and Yu took the book printed by a local nonprofit organization to each child’s household.
The collection is also on display at the China Teachers Museum in Qufu, Shandong province, as part of an exhibition on the COVID-19 epidemic.
“In the hardest times, my students, their parents and I cared for and warmed each other through diaries. These days will be remembered for a lifetime,” she said.