“Life On Lockdown In China”

Peter Hessler writes in the New Yorker from Chengdu, where he lives with his wife and 2 daughters.

Last September, my wife, Leslie, and I enrolled the girls in the third grade at a local public school, in part so they would learn Chinese.

Like the other students, they also took English, and Unit 2 in their textbook was titled “My Body.”

All anatomical vocabulary was taught in the context of injuries, illnesses, or mishaps. There were cartoons of children lying in hospital beds, with labels that identified the patient, the age, and the symptom: “Bill—8 years old—foot hurts”; “Ben—10 years old—leg hurts”; “Lily—9 years old—ear hurts.”

One lesson read:

In the morning, I play with Lucky. He bites my hand! It really hurts.

At lunchtime, I bite my tongue. It really hurts.

In the afternoon, I play football with Andy. He kicks my leg. It really hurts.

This is a very bad day!

For weeks, Ariel and Natasha returned home imitating the class’s taped dialogues, which invariably ended with the phrase “I’m going to the hospital!”

It seemed to confirm an unscientific impression that I’ve long held of the Chinese view of health: namely, that people are even more fearful about children’s safety here than they are in other places I’ve lived. My daughters often complained that at recess the simple jungle-gym equipment at their school was strictly limited to sixth graders, because teachers believed that younger children would injure themselves.

After the epidemic began, though, I saw that recurring phrase—“I’m going to the hospital!”—in a new light. The textbook was accurate: if somebody’s ear hurts, often her only option is to go straight to the hospital.

In China, there’s no comprehensive primary-care system, which is one reason that the coronavirus spiralled out of control so quickly in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province, where the epidemic started. Some of the most awful images from the early days were videos of mob scenes at hospitals, where terrified citizens, many of them sick, clamored to be tested and treated. Contact in these crowds undoubtedly accelerated the rate of infection.

Read the whole thing here.