Art critique

Visiting scholar discusses Wuhan lockdown, limits of criticism – The Cavalier Daily


That of the University East Asia Center and Department of Media Studies hosted Goubin Yang, Grace Lee Boggs professor of communication and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, for a lecture entitled “The Wuhan lockdown and the limits of criticism” on Friday. Yang centered his lecture on his new book — The Wuhan Lockdownreleased last month — which provides insight into the early days of the first large scale confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yang’s book explores the stories of Wuhan residents and aims to make readers realize the importance of empathy and sympathy in the reading experience, Yang said. This perspective of getting in front of the text and opening up to critical personal engagement with the topics presented on a page is called post-critical approach, a term coined by English professor Rita Felski.

The lockdown in Wuhan – the largest city in China’s Hubei province – began in January 2020 in response to the discovery and surge of COVID-19 cases. The lockdown was only lifted on April 6, 76 days after it was put in place.

Yang made it a point to include untold accounts of Wuhan residents in his book, since their virtual non-existence in US mainstream media coverage meant many Americans were in the dark about the initial lockdown and its consequences. impacts.

“The pressing question for me in writing the book was not how to theorize the experiences, but how to bring their voices and stories, hopefully, to the public discourse,” Yang said.

Yang accomplished this task by devoting several chapters of his book to the raw accounts of Wuhan community members, which he collected from online diaries on Weibo as good as WeChat. Two popular social media platforms in China, Yang noted that they have allowed him to garner a significant number of accounts from a wide range of people, especially at a time when it was not possible to contact in person. Throughout it all, Yang has been focused on gathering diverse perspectives.

“The lockdown is testing the lives of tens of millions of people in a city of 11 million people,” Yang said. “And one of my goals was to recreate the galaxy of characters in Wuhan. Stories of people from all walks of life – healthcare workers, patients, therapists, volunteers, poets, writers, delivery drivers, retirees, teachers at the retirement, etc.

Yang always uses the term “characters” to describe the real-life stories of the people he shares in his book, which adds an intentional air of fiction to them. Yang said he did it for different reasons. A narrative, Yang said, involves a linear story, and the events of the pandemic in Wuhan were anything but linear or orderly, but instead were “flowing” and “messy.” More importantly, Yang said the nature of the sources — narrative stories posted by individuals on the internet — means the stories are inherently fictional, in a sense.

“It was through social media that they caught the public’s attention,” Yang said. “Once their stories were shared on social media, they became public figures. Social media users talked about them, tweeted and retweeted stories about them as if they were characters in an ongoing drama.

As a result, Yang pointed out that particular aspects of people’s stories are both potentially altered and subject to dramatization. A particular example of this provided by Yang is the story of Dr Li Wenliang, a Chinese doctor who was one of the first whistleblowers to warn everyone of the dangers of COVID-19.

Wenliang passed away from COVID-19 in February 2020 and to pay their respects, people shared content from his old posts on Weibo. Wenliang has become the “Chinese Internet Wailing WallYang said, as countless people shared post-mortem messages on his Weibo timeline, asking for advice and providing updates on his personal life.

Such an example prompted Yang to ask listeners about the narrative elements of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Can we say that the limits of life are transcended through storytelling? Yang asked. “Can the limits of criticism also be transcended by storytelling? Or maybe the question is not about transcendence, but about awareness of limits.

At the end of the lecture, Aynne Kokas, associate professor of media studies, asked Yang what it was like to write this book during such a difficult time. Yang responded by explaining how the relevance of the topic influenced his writing process.

“Because you’re in the middle of things, you’re deeply emotionally engaged, full of energy and enthusiasm,” Yang said.

Regarding the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic outside of the death toll, Yang explained how impressive it was to see the citizens of Wuhan playing the role of organizers, volunteers, advisers and protesters. , leaving Americans with an extraordinary precedent to follow — not just in the COVID-19 pandemic, but in all times of crisis and uncertainty.