In official exhibitions and media, Wuhan is celebrated as the “city of heroes,” a triumph of the Chinese Communist Party.
Across China, mentions of fatalities are muted.
Wuhan still has not released statistics for cremations in the first quarter of last year, many months after they would normally be reported. Writers and independent journalists who even mildly challenge the glowing official accounts of Wuhan’s crisis have been vilified in Chinese media, detained or even imprisoned.
“It has always been this way in China. How many tens of millions died in the Great Leap famine? How many in the Cultural Revolution,” says Ai Xiaoming, a retired professor in Wuhan who, like quite a few residents, kept an online diary about the lockdown. “Everything can be forgotten with the passage of time. You don’t see it, hear it or report it.”
Many in Wuhan now embrace the version of events offered by the Chinese government, and say that their “city of heroes” waged a proud fight against a virus that has gone on to humble wealthier countries. Some residents view the early failures in a more forgiving light, after seeing the trail of calamities in the United States and other democracies.
“This is not boasting either,” says Huang Qing, 55, sitting on a bench in the East Lake Park with her husband, sharing a small bottle of white wine. Last winter before outings were banned, residents gathered in the park to share their worries. Now elderly couples and parents with small children walk among the weeping willows, taking in the sunshine.
“The Wuhan epidemic was dealt with well, really well,” she says. “It fully showed the superiority of China’s policies.”
Across Wuhan, people have learned again to take joy in crowds, exhaling after a year when the very act of breathing felt dangerous.
The Yitang Crawfish restaurant, which specializes in the popular Wuhan dish, is full, except for a table by the drafty front door. A marriage fair, where fretting parents swap information about possible spouses for their unmarried adult children, is back to brisk business. At the Happy Valley Wuhan theme park, people squeeze into rides and roller coasters.