I had to end my travel in south China earlier during the last winter vacation because of the outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic. At that point, the war against the novel coronavirus dawned on me. But what had not yet dawned on me was the weight of what I would discover over the following months.
On the day of my return to Beijing where I live, the once bubbly, lively streets of the capital city were deserted and quiet. Shops were locked down, flights canceled and offices closed. I witnessed the whole country shut down in a matter of days and the sentence that dominated every conversation was, "Stay indoors, go out only when it is absolutely necessary to prevent the spread of the new virus." The spread of the virus became headlines of news media, and even while locked in at home, the vibe was palpable in the air. I was about to witness the greatest display of national unity in my life time.
I was not the only one whose plans were interrupted by this "unwanted national visitor." The whole nation was in a war on a common enemy - an epidemic. Businesses, schools, relaxation parks and recreational centers, all shut down. Plans for the lavish celebration of the Spring Festival I had so much heard about and could not wait to witness were hushed into a mere whisper. My fantasies and great expectations were all gone in a twinkling of an eye.
In the midst of the restrictions on movement, some residents had sleepless nights and troubled days for various reasons. Some tried their best to keep life running as normal as possible in the face of the lockdown, some finding ways to manage the epidemic, some looking for a cure, and some just staying at home, waiting for the day when it will all be over. Whatever the assignment, the aim was the same - containing the virus. I have never witnessed a whole nation unite with one voice. The cooperation from the highest to the lowest levels of society in setting up structures to test and prevent the spread of the virus has been really commendable and incomparable.
My school, Beijing Jiaotong University, and indeed every school resorted to very effective online teaching platforms. My university kept a close watch on us. Those who were in or out of China, on campus or out of campus needed to ensure that we were all doing well and were comfortable. The university also brought necessary services to the students living on the school campus.
Restaurants and supermarkets expanded online services, and home delivery services continued in order to keep business going and provide necessary service to the people who had to stay at home. In every sphere of society, I saw an unequaled display of creativity in getting things done and bringing services to the people. So, even though the streets were empty, the nation was never grounded to a halt.
As a reflection of how my host nation fought and won the fight against the coronavirus, I picked a few lessons.
First of all, if we unite as one, we can overcome any challenge.
Second, every individual has a part to play during an epidemic, no matter how little. Some people treated the infected people, some created apps to keep daily life running, some made donations in various forms to various quarters, and some just stayed at home. Whatever the contribution, it was positively significant in fighting the epidemic. Residents were willing and cooperative enough to achieve the desired result.
And lastly, I learned that faith in our leaders can be a strong force. The Chinese people trusted the leaders and followed them in the last few months. Without trust, the instructions and restrictions put in place by the authorities to curtail the virus could not be carried out promptly, and this war would have taken longer time and caused more casualties, making it even more difficult to manage.
I consider it a great privilege to be part of this national victory. If indeed I was asked where I would rather be in this testing time, I would still choose to be in China, to witness first hand this great display of national unity.
The author is a Nigerian student studying at Beijing Jiaotong University
(Print Edition Title: National Unity Defined)