Lavender Au is a writer from London currently based in Beijing. (February 2020)

Follow Lavender Au on Twitter: @lavender_au.


In Hong Kong, Uncertainty Rules as Beijing Asserts Control

A participant displaying images on a tablet device at a vigil in Victoria Park linking pro-democracy protests with the 1989 Tiananmen Square in China, Hong Kong, June 4, 2020

Hong Kong has long been haunted by the thought of its future. Many of its citizens worry that it will become just another mainland Chinese city. This fear is often voiced as though to ward it off. But it is also spoken of as if it is already a reality. Beijing’s decision to intervene is an aggressive assertion that in the name of “One Country,” it can redefine “Two Systems.” What once worked by seeming to accommodate a spectrum of views now appears more like a fundamental contradiction. The space for different readings of what the coexistence of Hong Kong and mainland China means is contracting.

Evacuation from China, Quarantine in the UK: A Covid-19 Dispatch

A neighborhood committee member guarding the entrance of a residential building as efforts continued to control the spread of coronavirus infection, Beijing, China, February 28, 2020

The coronavirus is imagined in the media, and in some people’s minds, as a disease that comes from meat hung outside, from exotic animals caged, from people willing to eat things that they shouldn’t. Never mind that the original vector is still unclear. Some kinds of criticism become a way of affirming a superior civilization, from a far-away land where epidemics could never happen. Covid-19 has thus mutated into a matter of image and character. The Chinese face has become a way of wearing disease.

Stuck in Central China on Coronavirus Lockdown

A street-cleaner working in a virtually deserted shopping precinct during the coronavirus lockdown of Wuhan, Hubei province, China, February 3, 2020

There is the online reality, the reality portrayed by state media, and the reality I’m living in Shiyan, in the same province as Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. We may be seven hours’ drive away from Wuhan, but this city, too, is on lockdown. On the seventh day after the quarantine began, a university classmate called my friend Ningning, with whose family I’m staying, and told her about another version of reality: hospitals do not have enough beds for the infected in Wuhan, she said. They go home, they die, they never enter the official count as they were not diagnosed.