Postcard from Wuhan

A guest post by Bai Chun Xiao

Currently, Bai Chun Xiao is Associate Research Fellow of Ancient Greek History in the History School at Wuhan University, and Eftichia Chen is a Post-doctoral Researcher on Byzantine Studies in the History School at Wuhan University. Bai Chun Xiao was a visiting scholar at the Center in Greece (Nafplio) during the academic year of 2013-2014. He and his wife Eftichia Chen were at the Center in Washington DC during Bai’s fall term fellowship in 2016.
On January 20, in a television interview, Chinese academician Zhong Nanshan said, the “novel coronavirus pneumonia can be transmitted by people.” Further, the situation would be very serious if the strict measures were not taken. Then, on January 23, the government decided to seal Wuhan city.
Meanwhile, Eftichia and I usually plan to visit our parents’ home and celebrate the Chinese Spring Festival. However, when we learned that the COVID-19 novel coronavirus was very severe and easy to spread on trains and airplanes, we canceled our plan to go to our parents’ home (my mother’s lungs are not so good. I was especially worried that she would catch it). Therefore, we decided to stay in Wuhan. Fortunately, as the Spring Festival was coming, we had prepared a lot of food before the epidemic spread. Before the seal of the city, we further stocked up some more food, drinks, and masks. During the closure of our neighborhood, people can buy food (rice, noodles, oil, vegetable, fruits, etc.) in groups on the internet. Then the staff of the community delivers them to us. At this point, local government, communities, and volunteer organizations are all very good.
We also owe our great thanks to Prof. Gregory Nagy, Prof. Anna Stavrakopoulou, and Dr. Christos Giannopoulos. During the epidemic, we have exchanged emails and cared about each other’s situation.
Now, the overall situation in China is getting much better. However, I have also read the latest news from Europe and the United States. In my opinion, the situations are like Wuhan in January and February (more or less). I recommend that my friends in the epidemic area should go outside as little as possible. If you have to go outside, you must wear masks, gloves, and hats. Wash your hands immediately after you go home. It’s better to take another bath and wash all your coats, hats and gloves.
In these seventy days, Eftichia and I are getting used to working and living indoors. As the universities cannot be open, but the courses need to be carried out, I taught a Global History course on the internet from February 17 to March 17 at home. This is my first time doing online teaching. The effect is better than I expected. Eftichia also continued to organize online discussion classes, teaching undergraduates to read and discuss the works of Herodotus, Plato, Sima Qian, and several other great authors.
On March 4, I published an introductory essay about the plague of Athens, which was published on a history website, The Paper, in Shanghai (“What disease was the plague of Athens recorded by Thucydides?“). The editor told me that around 100,000 people have read it. Besides The Paper website, several other Chinese academic media are organizing an introduction to all the plagues in history, including ancient and medieval plagues in China and other regions outside of China.
Moreover, I am writing a research paper about the reception of Thucydides, and I have published two articles on this topic last year. I hope to continue. Besides, I am translating P.J. Rhodes’ Thucydides (2015) now. I think it is helpful for Chinese readers. Eftichia will soon publish an article on the Byzantine Emperor Nikephorus Ⅰ’s immigration policy in Greece at the beginning of the 9th century. Thucydides and Sima Qian did not give up writing in a difficult environment. I think we should learn from their true classical spirit.
As Thucydides described 2,400 years ago, the most harmful and fatal disease — the plague— is coming again. “Those nations suffered many cruelties that occur and will always occur as long as men have the same nature, sometimes more terrible and sometimes less, varying in their forms as each change of fortune dictates.” This is just a cyclical view of human history, which I discussed with the friends at the CHS on December 3, 2016.
As Pericles taught us, “Those who are least distressed in their minds confronting misfortunes but must hold out against them are the strongest of nations and individuals.” Mencius also said, “Heaven will give us great responsibility after those pains and toils.” I think that we can receive inspiration from the classical spirit and get through this difficult period. The novel coronavirus pneumonia not only brings disaster and suffering but also brings about the opportunity to rethink human society and gives those responsible people a new mission and new ways of cooperation.
We would like to deliver our sincere wishes to all our friends at the Center and beyond. We hope we can all get through this crisis safely.