Over the weekend, an extended essay about Wuhan’s observation of the 2021 Qingming Festival (Tomb Sweeping Day) received considerable attention on Chinese social media. Weaving together painful memories from last year’s lockdown with reporting about the thousands of residents who flocked to cemeteries last week, the essay movingly captures the lingering grief of a city still recovering from the first coronavirus outbreak. The essay was first published by NetEase News (163.com), but was later deleted. Its recollection of tragic episodes from the initial outbreak carries some echoes of a previously translated post by Weibo user “Marilyn Monroe,” who was sentenced in February to six months in prison for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” CDT has republished the original essay and translated it in full.
Heavy Rain in Wuhan, 320,000 People Flood the Cemeteries: After the Crowds Dispersed, They Cried
The hardest thing in life is separation,
but to miss out on it is the greatest source of regret.
Last night, Wuhan shed a lot of tears.
is dedicated to those who cannot hear.
Our longing for you
Yesterday, Wuhan was cold and wet. After a full day’s rain, one could smell the dew on the wild foliage.
In the words of the elderly, ghosts don’t walk on dry paths.
Perhaps the people who left last year have all hurried back to see their relatives.
Someone left a comment online that made my cry:
“Every year, it rains on Qingming Festival, but this year, Wuhan’s rains fell for longer than ever, because so much love has been divided by forces beyond its control.”
It was not rain that fell during the Qingming Festival, but tears.
Those who departed suddenly, snatched away by the god of death … higher powers listened to their sorrow, and family members rushed to reunite with them. They need not worry any longer.
On the first night of the first Qingming Festival after the pandemic on which Wuhan could travel freely, the streets were crammed with people. Traffic flowed like a dragon, boundless and unending, clusters of incandescent light shining in a daze.
This traffic belongs to the grief of last springtime.
There is a beautiful verse that reads “in my feeling of longing, the sea no longer seems deep.”
Meaning that, in fact, the sea is not that deep, but my longing is deeper than the sea.
But behind this longing is heart-wrenching regret, the suffering of millions of families.
Beginning last week, Wuhan cemetery entered its busiest period. At its peak, it welcomed the melancholic tears of 320,000 mourners.
Why did so many people tend to the graves so early? Did they forget that Qingming would not be for several days?
The answer would leave you silent.
Too many people left Wuhan last year. If they all returned on the day of Qingming festival, it would be crowded beyond control.
Those who came early hoped there would be fewer people. They staggered to the familiar graves of their loved ones, standing outside, facing those lying in their tombs, trying not to disturb them, leaving behind only heartfelt words.
This conscientious choice to come early–in fact, their sad reality had made the decision for them.
On Lunar New Year’s Eve two months earlier, a similar instance of overcrowding took place here.
There is a custom in Wuhan: if someone dies that year, the following Lunar New Year’s Eve, their loved ones purchase and lay down chrysanthemums to express their grief.
In order to acquire chrysanthemums, buyers would line up early in the morning. Even if demand outstripped supply and the price was high, they would nonetheless press on. But unexpectedly, the number of chrysanthemum buyers was far too great, and supplies across the city were sold out.
Consequently, on New Year’s Day in this devastated city, what lined the streets were not red lanterns and bursting firecrackers, but throngs of chrysanthemum bearers, walking along the side of the road in a daze, abruptly bursting into tears.
A year has passed in the blink of an eye.
The past winter was filled with the heartache of the Wuhan people.
The coming spring will be filled with their grief.
Do you remember the heartbreak outside of the funeral homes?
On this day last year, in Wuhan, a long line of people waited to collect ashes.
Perhaps we only saw the backs of those burdened people, their necks seemingly clasped by fate, their indiscernible hands held upwards, their pain held inside of their throats, leaving anyone watching shifting in their seats.
But behind their silence was an agony like flesh being carved.
There were several stories just like this.
At 3 o’clock that afternoon, a ferocious thunderstorm descended on Wuhan, but a second truck of ashes was yet to be unloaded.
Amid the pouring rain, most of the early arrivals dispersed, leaving just one elderly grandmother waiting in the rain, as if roots had grown beneath her feet, the thought of leaving never crossing her mind.
A crowd stepped forward to urge her to seek shelter and hide from the rain.
The elderly woman shook her head.
She said that she and her husband had been married for more than 60 years and had never been separated. Now, her husband had departed for so long, she had to stand at the closest spot to wait for him to come out.
People say that every time one says goodbyes, it’s best to use a little bit of force; utter one more sentence, for it could be the last time you speak; give them one more look, it might be your last.
Real goodbyes never provide us with warnings. Just as there is no idyll outside the pavilion by the old road, there is no final cup of wine to share among friends. We thought we had many days ahead, but in fact we had already witnessed the last of this life.
There was a front line nurse who passed away after getting infected.
Later on, her father, mother, younger brother, and several others in her family were all infected with the virus, leaving this world, desolated, one after another.
The ashes of the entire family were left unclaimed.
This is one wretched story.
I don’t know whether they were afraid on their way to heaven.
I only hope that after the boundless wilderness, in heaven, their family will be reunited, father holding brother, mother holding sister, a family of four continuing to live happily together.
There, they will encounter no sickness, no separation.
Sometimes I feel as if the reason people enter this world is to be punished.
We spend our entire lives fighting farewells.
But sometimes, our wishes fall short.
For some, watching their dearest loved ones pass away one by one is the worst nightmare of their lives.
In line to collect ashes that day was an eight year old boy.
His mother and father fought the pandemic together, and both passed away.
The child did not understand the meaning of death. A lady from social services took him by the hand to the funeral home. He was still very happy, holding the ashes of his mother and father, he said excitedly:
“Dad, mom, are you coming home now?”
Then he turned his head, his big, innocent eyes fluttering, and asked the lady:
“Are they getting better? I miss dad and mom.”
Perhaps one day when he is older he will understand that dad and mom are never coming back. They have become two small graves.
Never again will someone walk him to school, or slip change into his little school bag. Never again will he grow hungry and taste a warm meal made by his mother.
This is the reality of growing up.
On earth, people come, and people go.
In heaven, people come, and people come.
Perhaps one day they will be reunited.
But the courage to live demands that we survive the suffering of longing, that we pick up our scattered emotions, that we piece ourselves together and pretend to be strong.
Hayao Miyazaki wrote this line in “Spirited Away”:
“Life is a train to the grave. There will be many stops along the road. It is hard for someone to accompany you until the end.
When the person accompanying you is ready to alight the train, even if you cannot bear to, tell them you are grateful, and then wave goodbye.”
The hardest thing in life is separation.
Swan geese disappear without a trace, fish sink to the sea floor, letters are broken off, lyrics conclude.
But for those who live on, how much pain must they endure? How much love does it take to fill the desolation of one’s heart?
These few days mark the first anniversary for remembering the pandemic’s martyrs.
The China Martyrs website homepage features Doctor Li Wenliang. Clicking in, users can commemorate him digitally, entrusting their grief to this place during the Qingming festival.
By the time I opened his page, 62,490 people had already paid their respects to Doctor Li, 37,012 had left flowers, 30,440 had poured wine, and 30,994 had burned incense.
Doctor Li, are you watching?
We have not forgotten you, we will carefully protect you.
But our concern will never relieve the pain of longing felt by Mrs Li.
Yichan asked the Master:
“I heard that when I miss someone very much, that person will appear in my dreams.”
The Master replied:
“Deep in the woods you will see a deer, deep in the sea you will see a whale, deep in your dreams you will see the person you miss.
However, fog can descend over the woods, the sea can become awash with waves, and when one wakes up from their dreams, they face the blackness of the night sky alone.
Then, you see no deer, no whale, nor the person you miss.”
On the days when Mrs Li‘s face is soaked in tears, she searches for answers.
How long will it be before she dares to face the fact that her husband is gone?
Doctor Li Wenliang died on February 7, 2020.
Since then, falling asleep has become difficult for her.
She keeps her eyes open, late at night, because she sees traces of her husband in the moonlight.
She still doesn’t want to believe that her husband is gone.
How she wishes that all this was just a dream.
Upon waking up from her dream, her husband, ever the early riser, would embrace her tenderly.
In the darkness of the night, her feeling of longing, suspended 1000 feet in the air, becomes its own echo.
Once, after she woke up from her sleep, she reached for the other side of the bed in a daze, still believing that her sleeping husband would be there.
But her hand felt nothing except for the cold air.
The step count reading zero on Li Wenliang’s WeChat account constantly reminds her:
He has passed away, and she can no longer lie to herself and say: “My husband has gone to work.”
When she went to deal with Li Wenliang’s SIM card, as the card was removed from his phone, tears began to fall from her eyes.
Her gray-haired mother-in-law could not help but feel distressed, watching her pregnant daughter-in-law.
The elderly woman hid all of the photos of Li Wenliang displayed at home.
“Gaze at them any longer, and you’ll cry yourself blind!”
But how can she forget the person she loves so much?
Last year, their child was born. If Li Wenliang was still alive, he would’ve heard his son call his name.
But he will never hear his son’s voice.
Also subject to the torture of longing is the wife of [hospital director] Liu Zhiming.
On the day he passed away, she seemed to have cried a lifetime’s worth of tears.
She was the head nurse of the hospital, ordinarily dignified and gentle. But she wrestled out from the restraint of several people to chase after the car carrying her husband’s body, weeping aloud.
She dared not believe it, how could the person who doted on her daily be gone?
After her husband passed, she dared not return home for a long time. Every time she entered the house, she felt a sharp pain in her chest.
The house was full of memories of her loved one. The longing she felt for her husband was like a boulder pressed against her chest.
She worked relentlessly, refusing to rest. As soon as she stopped, the feeling of longing shook her like a storm.
[Doctor] Xia Sisi’s family was tortured in the same way.
If this young woman had not left this world, she would have a very happy life.
Her son is cute, her husband is loyal, her parents are healthy and strong.
But as she passed away, everything changed.
Her son stopped smiling, often crying out for his mother.
The tiny furrow on her husband’s forehead grew deeper, and his hair turner grayer. He often stared at photos of his wife in a daze, falling into a bottomless sorrow.
Her mother still cries. She often thinks of when her daughter was first infected with the virus, how she would comfort her mother, telling her her body was recovering, and that she wanted to go back to the front line.
She has lost her conscientious child forever.
Some time ago, when the Aid Hubei medical team returned to Wuhan, she made more than 2,000 bowls of her daughter’s beloved lotus root soup as a gift for her daughter’s comrades in arms.
Perhaps she feels a sense of kinship towards those heroes, the people who, along with her daughter, fought for their homeland.
The cherry blossoms are blooming, children play in the park. The elderly play chess by the roadside, while the food stalls have reopened. The night market is bustling, the flow of traffic on the Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge is back, as the city slowly returns to its former vibrancy.
But the city’s scars have yet to heal.
During Qingming it rained heavily, while pedestrians were overwhelmed with sorrow.
It rained for many days in Wuhan, perhaps because of all those sad people. I suddenly understood the meaning of Qingming, which is to remind everyone:
The mountains and rivers are solemn, the grass and trees contain sorrow. Qingming is the memorial.
When our lives are back on track, do not forget these tragedies. Please remember that we have truly suffered.
More important than pain is reflection.
The reason you cannot see the darkness is because there is someone standing in front of you.
Don’t forget the sacrificed martyrs.
Cherish everything that we have now.
The hardest thing in life is separation, but to miss out on it is the greatest source of regret.
Cherish the people in front of you, cherish their moments of affection, the sun may not rise tomorrow.
If happiness is hard, then I wish you peace. The winter has passed, and the spring flowers are blooming again. May the dead be strong, and the living work hard. [Chinese]
Translation by John Chan.