What you need to know to discuss COVID lockdowns in China
This week we discuss two articles about covid lockdowns and quarantine in China.
The first is by Xuē Liángquán (薛良权), a US-based Chinese lawyer and founder of Newbright Law Group, a law firm in California. Xue documents his surreal experience (in Chinese) on his Wechat account of being quarantined for three-months in China on his way to visit his family in Shandong.
Shortly after he first landed in Guangzhou on 1 January, Xue tested positive for covid, which was the beginning of a series of stays in quarantine hotels in Guangzhou and Shanghai. He eventually left the country exactly three-months later on 1 April, not able to visit his family.
He sums up his three-month ordeal:
My experience of that surreal three months is like being transported from being a child to being in old age. People need hope to survive, no matter how small or large. If hope is taken away from you, and then another feeling of hope comes back, and is then shattered again, over and over again, it can be really painful.
The second is a post is by Chairman Rabbit (兔主席 tù zhǔxí) in which he gives his interpretation of China’s dynamic zero covid policy (动态清零 dòngtài qīng líng):
The established guidelines and policies for pandemic prevention and control remain unchanged, and so is the policy direction of zero covid in the whole of society.
I’ve collated my favourite five words and phrases from these two articles, and gone into more depth in consuming the conversation.
1. The Favourite Five
毕业 bì yè
graduate, get out of quarantine
从广州八院顺利毕业后，被转移到广州南沙医院继续医学观察14天 - After successfully graduating from Guangzhou No. 8 Hospital, I was transferred to Guangzhou Nansha Hospital to continue medical observation for 14 days.
Note: also a common phrase for getting the sack or being laid-off (see last week’s newsletter)
听上面 tīng shàngmiàn
listen to what I’m told from above
我索要疾控的报告，但是他们说没有报告，他们都是听上面的通知，说你有问题就有问题 - I asked for the Disease Control Centre’s report, but they said there wasn’t one. They take orders from above. If there’s a problem then there’s a problem.
恍如隔世 huǎng rú gé shì
it’s like another world
当时感觉恍如隔世，好像自己来到了另外一个世界，预感不妙 - It was like entering a different world, as if I was on another planet. It felt ominous.
鸳鸯封城大法 yuānyāng fēng chéng dàfǎ
duck hot pot lockdown, partial lockdown of Shanghai
上海发布鸳鸯封城大法，我也了解到上海疫情已经全面爆发，并流窜各地 - When shanghai announced its partial lockdown, I saw that the outbreak in Shanghai had already taken hold and spread to other cities.
Note: mandarin duck hotpot (鸳鸯火锅 yuānyāng huǒguō) is a half-spicy, half-mild hotpot, with a divider down the middle separating the two pools of broth. Some Shanghai residents used it to describe the city’s COVID-19 partial lockdown where the eastern districts were put into lockdown first, followed by the western part.
More: See John Pasden’s excellent ARC Substack newsletter for more on this meme and other social media reactions during the early part of Shanghai’s lockdown.
开弓没有回头箭 kāi gōng méiyǒu huítóu jiàn
once you’ve shot the arrow there’s no getting it back
中国对新冠病毒真的动态调整“放开”，开弓就没有回头箭，我们只有一次机会 - For China to truly open up and lift its zero covid policy, once the arrow is fired there’s no getting it back. China only has one chance to get it right.
2. Consuming the conversation
魔幻 mó huàn
我在中国三个月的魔幻之旅 - My surreal three-month trip in China.
异样 yì yàng
除了口罩之外，没有感觉到什么异样 - Apart from people wearing masks I didn’t sense anything strange.
荒凉 huāng liáng
来到白云机场就不一样了，感觉非常荒凉，整个机场里面好像只有我们这一个国际航班 - When I arrived at Baiyun Airport, it was completely different. It felt completely deserted. It was as if in the whole airport there was only our international flight.
大白 dà bái
‘big white’ - covid worker (in full body hazmat suit)
我们被安排在一个候机大厅，远出是一排办理登记手续的大白 - We were directed to a waiting room. In the distance there was a line of covid support workers in hazmat suits processing registrations.
折腾 zhē teng
这位大叔声如洪钟，已经被折腾了三个月了，家人一个也没见到 - The old man had a booming voice. He’d already been through three-months of quarantine, and hadn’t seen one member of his family during that time.
More: I discussed the many meanings of 折腾 in 10 April newsletter last year - one year ago!
抑郁 yì yù
但是这位兄弟好像已经严重抑郁了，每天走来走去，心情不太好 - However, this man was already seriously depressed. He paced around all day in a really bad mood.
曙光 shǔ guāng
dawn, a glimmer of hope after a dark time
是阴性，一如既往的阴性。心中大喜，看到了曙光 - My test result was negative, as always it was negative. I felt so happy. I saw the light at the end of the tunnel.
Note: I see this colloquial word used a lot in discussions about getting through lockdowns
万事俱备 wàn shì jù bèi
everything is prepared or ready
做完了新冠检测，拿到了阴性报告，万事俱备，只欠机票 - I did my covid test, got my negative result. Everything was ready. All I needed was my flight ticket.
Note: this is a twist on the eight-character idiom, 万事俱备，只欠东风 wànshì jù bèi, zhǐ qiàn dōngfēng - everything was ready, apart from the easterly wind. This is from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三国演义 sān guó yǎn yì), the 14th century historical account of the Three Kingdoms period at the end of the Han dynasty. In the story, the easterly wind was the critical factor needed for an attack planned by Zhōu Yú 周瑜 against Cáo Cāo 曹操. Without it, Zhou Yu’s firepower was useless.
事必亲躬 shì bì qīn gōng
do something yourself
重要的事情，事必亲躬，不要丢给别人 - You must do the important things yourself. Don’t delegate them.
身心疲惫 shēn xīn pí bèi
入住酒店后，身心疲惫，心里想着总算是安定下来可以好好休息了 - After checking in at the hotel, I was absolutely exhausted. I felt that I could finally settle in and have a rest.
事与愿违 shì yǔ yuàn wéi
things didn’t turn out as expected
后天就可以出院了，但是好几次都事与愿违，今天是阴性，明天是阳性 - I would be able to leave the hospital the day after tomorrow. But on so many occasions things didn’t turn out as expected. I might test negative one day and then positive the next.
循环往复 xún huán wǎng fù
over and over again
今天是阴性，明天是阳性，循环往复了多次，持续了两周多，最后整个人都被搞崩溃了 - Today I test negative, tomorrow positive. Over and over again so many times. After more than two weeks of this, it was too much for me.
Related: 周而复始 zhōu'ér fù shǐ - time and time again (see 12 June newsletter last year)
一片狼藉 yī piàn láng jí
来到金山公卫的病房，一片狼藉，估计是上一波病人刚离开 - When I arrived at the room in the Jinshan Public Hospital it was a complete mess. I reckoned the last patients that stayed here had only just left.
严防死守 yán fáng sǐ shǒu
strictly guard against
上海疫情已经全面爆发，并流窜各地，各地是严防死守，形势非常紧张 - There was a full outbreak in Shanghai which had spread to other cities and parts of China. Local governments were implementing strict policies and it was very tense.
A common idiom when discussing covid policies.
国之大者 guó zhī dà zhě
a matter of national concern
国之大者。全国一盘棋，十四亿人统一部署 - This is a critical national priority. It has to be implemented and coordinated across the whole of China, with a population of 1.4 billion people.
无巧不成书 wú qiǎo bù chéng shū
为了迁就这位大哥，我昨晚还特意配合改签了晚一点的飞机。但是无巧不成书，我的另一场上海的噩梦就此埋下了伏笔 - I especially changed my flight in order to help another traveller out. But as luck would have it, that was the beginning of another nightmare.
大的小的，远的近的 dà de xiǎo de, yuǎn de jìn de
small and large
这就是希望，人总归是要有点希望的，大的小的，远的近的 - Everyone needs to have hope. No matter how small.
把坏事变成好事 bǎ huàishì biàn chéng hǎoshì
turn something bad into something good
要把“坏事”变成“好事”，把上海这次抗疫战疫新的经验教训补充进来，帮助我们未来更好的应对新冠 - Take something bad and turn it into something good. Learn from the mistakes that happened in Shanghai and apply these learnings to help improve future policies to deal with covid.
For members of the Slow Chinese 每周漫闻 community, this section is now packed with more learning resources: recommended links, reading and listening practice and a poem by Song dynasty poet Lù Yóu 陆游.
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That’s it for this week.