Chinese writer faces online backlash over Wuhan lockdown diary

Helen Davidson
Photograph: Roman Pilipey/EPA

A Chinese writer who published a diary during her time under lockdown in Wuhan has been subjected to widespread online criticism for publishing her book in English and German.

Fang Fang has been accused of contributing to a negative international narrative on China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The popular Wuhan writer began chronicling the lockdown in late January, including criticism of the official response.

“How many people have died in Wuhan and their families destroyed?” she wrote on 31 January. “But so far not a single person has said sorry or taken responsibility. I’ve even seen a writer use the phrase ‘complete victory’. What are they talking about?”

Her posts were shared widely on social media even as each was quickly deleted by censors, according to the Diplomat magazine.

Her Weibo account, which had more than 3.8 million followers, was shut down in February. It has since been reinstated.

But her writing was picked up and turned into a book, due to be published by Harper Collins in June, translated and published in English and German.

For publishing in the western languages, Fang Fang has been accused of helping foreign countries attack China, giving them “a giant sword”.

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China is in the midst of a western media campaign and soft diplomacy push to improve its reputation over its handling of the virus and accusations of underreporting statistics.

“Wuhan Diary is a knife handed over to foreigners and a bullet shooting at Chinese,” said one poster on Weibo.

Another wrote: “The woman only writes articles in her own small blog, and does not know the overall situation of our country at all. Maybe she does not admit that she is unpatriotic, she thought we were extreme, in fact she was just a stupid old lady.”

On Weibo, “Fang Fang Diary” has had 380m views, 94,000 discussions, and 8,210 original posts, peaking last week. On Twitter, the hashtag #wuhandiary shows hundreds of critical posts.

“The attack on Fang Fang is so vehement and hateful that it’s scary to watch,” said Li Yuan, a New York Times columnist. “Fang Fang herself said that it reminded her of the Cultural Revolution.”

On Wednesday, China’s English-language state newspaper said it was “shameful” to see Fang Fang praised in western media that had been dedicated to defaming China’s pandemic response.

Citing “observers”, the editorial said her diary was “biased and only exposes the dark side in Wuhan while ignoring the efforts that local people made and the support extended across the nation”.

Additional reporting by Pei Lin Wu