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A grain of the sands of time

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shídài de yí lì shā | 时代的一粒沙

Expression of frustration at government policies or societal norms that do not respect people’s lives and dignity. “A grain of the sands of time” was coined by Fang Fang, the Chinese author famous for her diary documenting life during lockdown in Wuhan, and came into common use after the COVID-19 outbreak.

On February 3, 2020, shortly after the city-wide lockdown measures were imposed in Wuhan, Fang Fang wrote:

In the most heartbreaking video I saw today, a daughter was chasing a hearse while crying her heart out. Her mom had died and was carried away by the hearse. She couldn’t bury her mom. She may not even know where the ashes would be. [...]No one knows what to do. The only thing we can do is to shoulder it all. But the patients probably won’t be able to shoulder it. Nor would most of their family members. But what else can we do? I once said: “A grain of the sands of time is as heavy as a mountain when it lands on your head.” I did not feel strongly about it when I said it. Now, however, it has been engraved in my bones. [Chinese]

People often use this phrase to lament insensitive policies and societal norms that do not respect people’s lives:

The year of 2020 has come to an end. There are many lost lives nowhere to be found or documented. Countless grains of the sands of time are washed away by time and obscured by power. It is the responsibility of us who are living to fight against oblivion in the next year and thereafter. [Chinese]

CDT Chinese tags stories uses of the poor and the powerless 时代的一粒沙.

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