From China Digital Space
Fāng Fāng | 方方
Fang Fang is the pen name of Wāng Fāng 汪芳, a Chinese writer based in Wuhan, Hubei Province. Her daily social media posts during Wuhan’s COVID-19 lockdown won her widespread public attention. She was later attacked on the Chinese internet for her decision to have her lockdown diary translated and published in the United States.
Born in 1955, Fang Fang obtained her bachelor’s degree in Chinese from Wuhan University. She started writing poetry in the early 1980s. Her breakout novella, “Scenery” (Fēngjǐng 风景), won the National Outstanding Novella Prize in 1987. Fang Fang has gone on to write numerous novels and essays. In 2010, she was awarded the prestigious Lu Xun Literary Prize. From 2007 to 2018, she served as chair of the Hubei Writers’ Association, to which she was first inducted in 1989.
On January 25, 2020, two days after China launched an unprecedented lockdown in Wuhan, Fang Fang began her first-hand chronicles of life in the original epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. While not overtly critical of the Chinese government, her firsthand account from inside the sealed city sometimes contradicted the official discourse. Fang Fang also warns her fellow writers to think twice when asked to praise the government.
“Wuhan Diary” (Wǔhàn rìjì 武汉日记) has resonated with many Chinese, who view Fang Fang’s accounts as a voice of rare authenticity. However, it also drew fierce criticism from others who felt that her stories would harm China’s reputation. When it was announced in April 2020 that an American publisher would publish translations of the diary in English and German, the backlash against her intensified.
Fang Fang was no stranger to controversy prior to her Wuhan diaries. She has been embroiled in two libel lawsuits with two different poets over the past few years. Her 2016 novel “Soft Burial” (Ruǎn mái 软埋), a fictionalized account of the Land Reform Movement of the early 1950s, created a storm of controversy, and publication ceased in 2017.
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