Memory in the Year of Covid

Artist Zhang Xiaogang’s new painting in response to the pandemic – Jonathan Fineberg

Zhang Xiaogang, born in China in 1958, grew up during the Cultural Revolution and was among the first generation of artists to emerge from the newly reopened art schools after the death of Mao. He is today revered in China, and recognized internationally as one of China’s leading artists. He shows with Pace Gallery worldwide, but he lives and works in Beijing.

In late February, Zhang emailed me to say that he and his wife Jiajia “have been self-isolated at home for a month … during this special period. China is experiencing a double disaster – the challenge of disease and humanity.” Six weeks later (in April), he sent me a photo of a new self-portrait. In it, he sits on a brown sofa, eyes closed in contemplation, with a bell jar over his head. It is a poetic and poignant image that goes straight to my own sense of living in this moment of global infection. I don’t speak Chinese and Zhang doesn’t speak English. But this painting articulates a complicated set of feelings which we all understand.


Mr. Lovecraft Goes to China

Nick Stember delves into H.P. Lovecraft’s legacy, and a new Chinese collection inspired by it

Long a loomingly tenebrous presence in American pop culture, it was perhaps only a matter of time before the disturbing specter of H.P. Lovecraft slithered into Chinese. While the definitive history of Lovecraftian sino-fic remains to be written, Camphor Press’ new collection of Chinese short stories inspired by Lovecraft, The Flock of Ba-Hui and Other Stories, may well be the first to survived the journey into English, thanks to translators Arthur Meursault and Akira.

Although Lovecraft’s work had found its way into Chinese as early as 2005 with a translation of August Derleth’s classic 1969 collection Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (credited to Hu Jianhong and Yu Yunling, published by Harbin Press under the title Myths of Lovecraft: Return of the Evil Gods), this particular iteration would seem to trace it’s eldritch origins back to late 2007, in the heady days before the bacchanal of the Beijing Olympics. On (one would imagine) a dark and stormy night of December 5, 2007, a subforum dedicated to the bestselling tabletop roleplaying game Call of Cthulhu (CoC) was launched on The Ring of Wonder (TROW), an online community for Chinese (and Chinese-speaking) fans of fantasy gaming, roleplaying and fiction.


‘The Truth is the Most Effective Vaccine’

How the coronavirus pandemic exposes the suppression of information in China, and the real people’s war – Joan Judge

As the coronavirus pandemic escalates globally, and as we grapple with the missteps of our own leadership in the Western world, some are echoing the World Health Organization’s praise of the Wuhan lockdown as a model for the planet. At such a moment it is imperative to bear in mind the human cost of China’s belated and aggressive approach to the outbreak: both loss of life and the brutal repression of public-minded critique.

President Xi Jinping has declared this approach a “People’s War.” Desperate to deflect percolating anger and frustration over the local government’s delayed response to the virus, the central government’s subsequent draconian policies, and the over 3000 (recorded) deaths, Xi unimaginatively turned to familiar tactics of Maoist mass mobilization. Official media have glorified heroic medical personnel in the spirit of labor models of the 1950s and 1960s. They have gone so far as to post a video of a team of female medics having their heads shaved as they selflessly prepared to serve at the virus’s epicenter. Slogans are ubiquitous, galvanizing people to fight the People’s War by altering their behavior. “Those who gather together are shameless;” banners warn, “those who play mahjong are daredevils.”


How Anti-Chinese Sentiment During Covid-19 Draws on America’s Racist History

Trump’s “Chinese Virus” comments play up to xenophobic tropes – Elizabeth M. Lynch

Donna Chiu has dedicated most of her life to fighting for vulnerable New Yorkers. A petite, Chinese-American woman with a quick smile and contagious laugh, you would never think she would be able to take on some of New York City’s sleaziest landlords. But within the dark, dingy halls of New York City’s housing courts, she transforms into a pit bull, fighting for her clients, low-income tenants, and holding landlords responsible for illegal practices.

But Chiu has a new villain to fight – the anti-Asian sentiment that is on the rise in the United States as a result of Covid-19, and a President who seems to take sick pleasure in constantly referring to the pandemic as “the Chinese virus.” Since Covid-19 has hit the shores of the United States, anti-bias crimes and incidents against Asian Americans have increased. Since March 18, when President Trump doubled down on his use of the term “Chinese virus,” a Chinese language newspaper based in New York, The World Journal, published six articles on bias crimes and incidents against Asian Americans in New York City. Perhaps even more telling are the Wechat groups and Asian-American focused websites such as Angry Asian Man that are awash in conversations about the increase in anti-Asian incidents and crimes.


Is Coronavirus China’s Chernobyl?

Where similarities between the two disasters begin and end – Olivia Humphrey

Of all the images to hit the mainstream media over the past few weeks, some of the most arresting have featured Wuhan’s deserted streets during the coronavirus epidemic. These photographs take a city of eight million and reduce it to a ghost-town. In these still moments, it is hard not to think of another ghost-town – one that has actually been frozen in time, an ashy monument to a flailing communist superpower that mishandled a catastrophic crisis. For years, the empty factories, homes and schools of Pripyat were little more than a man-made playground for wildlife, tainted by plumes of plutonium. More recently, drones have been able to venture in. They have recorded beautiful and sad footage of what a town becomes when its people are suddenly wiped away: a ghostly observation wheel; a dodgem funfair ride overgrown with plants; a giant rusting hammer and sickle.

The Chernobyl-coronavirus analogy has not been lost on the media. Since the outbreak of the virus, and especially in February, journalists have pointed out parallels. First and foremost is the health toll, and how the damage proliferated. The radiation pollution that emitted from Ukraine in 1986 as a result of reactor 4’s meltdown nestled, quietly and terrifyingly, into millions of bodies. It is too early to tell the cost of coronavirus, but the fact that it also can spread silently, through people who are pre-symptomatic, gives it that same edge of phantom menace.