Some of these foreigners chose to stay in China when the epidemic began to rage in the country. What was it that motivated their choices? When asked by their families or the media, what would they say? How did they occupy their time during this difficult period?
The book China, We Stand with You! includes 40 articles, 330 pictures, and 12 videos, created by 35 foreigners from 25 different countries working at China International Publishing Group (CIPG).
The writers are all international media professionals. They discovered that some Western media had produced distorted reports, which deliberately misrepresented the reality on the ground, causing panic. The CIPG foreign contributors to the book were therefore determined to set the record straight. Their personal stories are moving and thought-provoking.
Some of these writers have experienced the cholera outbreak in Peru in 1991, the SARS epidemic in China in 2003, and the earthquake in Japan in 2011. The COVID-19 disease triggered many memories of these other tragedies which will no doubt strike a chord with readers.
“A myriad of things have happened to me in Beijing: I have loved and cried, I have known happiness and I have been hospitalized, I have bid farewell to friends [returning home] every year, and yet, the city continues to captivate me,” said Michael Zárate, a Peruvian journalist at China Today, who wrote an article “A Day in My Life During the COVID-19 Outbreak.” After so many years, the pungent smell of bleach returned to his life, taking him back to February 1991, when his country, Peru, was suddenly thrown into a cholera epidemic which took the lives of almost 3,000 people.
This time, it is a man in a protective suit who uses bleach to disinfect his residence building that takes his mind back in time. On his way home, Zárate notices heroic doctors and nurses wearing protective clothing for their work on the frontline fighting against the coronavirus; there are deliverymen who have continued working and feeding the densely populated city of Beijing; sweepers who have kept the streets and squares in pristine condition; bus drivers and metro personnel who have remained in their posts and building security staff who remind people of temperature checks before entering apartment complexes while volunteers organized by the compound committees remain on duty during the biting cold. “I, on the other hand, can only use [the power of] my pen to help inform others how the Chinese people and those anonymous heroes are carrying on,” said Zárate.
American editor Zachary Gordon Lundquist started his story with Spring Festival, the most cherished moment of the year for Chinese people the world over. “It is always described as the most festive, active, and spirited time of the whole year. Celebrations begin with spring cleaning, and range from pasting couplets on the front door of the house, Lunar New Year family reunion dinners, visiting family and friends, to wishing family and loved ones good luck and best wishes for the new year and lighting firecrackers.” Lundquist and his wife returned to his in-law’s home in Ningbo in southern China’s Zhejiang Province for the festival. However, the epidemic changed everything. “This year’s Spring Festival will go down in history as one of the quietest festivals in history, not because people wanted it that way, but because they decided to do what they could to ensure the safety and health of the local and global community by staying at home,” said Lundquist.
His memory then travelled back to the summer of 2003 when he first arrived in China, not long after the SARS epidemic had passed. The only remaining signs of SARS at that time were the temperature screening checkpoints at the airport that passengers had to pass through before queuing up for customs. During the current epidemic Lundquist insisted on following the regulations, such as self-quarantine for 14 days, wearing face masks and reporting his physical condition to the employer. He firmly believes, “The coronavirus can be controlled, but not by the efforts of one country. It will be contained by the collaborative efforts of the global community.”
Pakistani editor Hassan Arshad Chattha was deeply moved by people who embraced the humanity within themselves and each other, but he also worried that fake news added more confusion and amplified the chaos. “We saw medical professionals, construction workers, and volunteers napping for short bursts on sites before returning to work. Their struggles and sacrifices are a testament to the will and determination of the human spirit and the dedication of the Chinese people.” However, almost instantaneously, a deluge of fake news, unverified reports, and old, unrelated pictures and videos emerged to mislead the public and create panic. Chattha wrote at the end of his story, “Rather than letting these events sow seeds of discord and division, this should be the basis for attempting to reach out across all our petty divisions and embrace a global unity and universal bond. If a virus does not discriminate, then perhaps we, collectively, can also strive to do better.”
China, We Stand with You! is a record of a special experience, and bears witness to the friendship between peoples from different nations. After reading it, you are sure to feel the spirit of humanity without borders, and relive an inspiring moment in history.