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A grain of the sands of time

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shí dài de yí lì shā | 时代的一粒沙

“A grain of the sands of time” is a popular phrase among Chinese internet users. It was coined by Fang Fang, the Chinese author famous for her diaries documenting the lives during lockdown in Wuhan, Hubei Province. The phrase became popular after the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s often used to express frustration at government policies or societal norms that do not respect people’s lives and dignity.

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 above an ordinary being.” I did not feel deeply about it when I said it. This time, 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. For example:

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

2020年就这样过去了,还有很多人我们无从寻觅和记录,无数“时代的一粒沙”在时间的冲刷和权力的蒙蔽中毫无痕迹地逝去。而主动对抗遗忘,就是留下来的每个人,在这一年和今后的每一年所背负的责任。

CDT Chinese uses “时代的一粒沙” as a tag to curate and present stories of the poor and the powerless.

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