Coronavirus: 'When Fury Overcomes Fear,' a 'Viral Alarm' by Xu Zhangrun

This essay on the Wuhan coronavirus by Xu Zhangrun, translated from the original Chinese and annotated by Geremie R. Barmé on, is absolutely amazing. I'm grateful it is now available for English-speaking audiences.

Excerpt first from the translator's notes:

In July 2018, the Tsinghua University professor Xu Zhangrun published an unsparing critique of the Chinese Communist Party and its Chairman of Everything, Xi Jinping. Xu warned of the dangers of one-man rule, a sycophantic bureaucracy, putting politics ahead of professionalism and the myriad other problems that the system would encounter if it rejected further reforms. That philippic was one of a cycle of works that Xu wrote during a year in which he alerted his readers to pressing issues related to China's momentous struggle with modernity, the state of the nation under Xi Jinping and the mixed prospects for its future. Those essays will be published in a collection titled Six Chapters from the 2018 Year of the Dog by Hong Kong City University Press in May this year. Although he was demoted by Tsinghua University in March 2019 and banned from teaching, writing and publishing, Xu has remained defiant. His latest polemical work—"When Fury Overcomes Fear"—translated below, appeared online on February 4, 2020 as the coronavirus epidemic swept China and infections overseas sparked concern around the world.

An excerpt from 'When Fury Overcomes Fear,' by Xu Zhangrun:

In the end, it is about Freedom—that Transcendent Quality; well-spring and fulcrum of conscious action; that secular value proven to be the most divine aspiration of humankind; that innate sensibility that truly makes us human; that ineffable "suchness" that we Chinese share with all others. The spirit of the world, that spirit incarnate on earth, makes possible a glorious unfolding of Freedom itself. This is why, friends—my countless compatriots—though a sea of flames confronts us, can we let ourselves be held back by fear?

Oh, Vast Land beneath our feet, it is You that I now address:

You inspire the most profound feelings, yet you can be cruel in your dispensation. Despite the bounty of your promise all too often you assail us with ceaseless troubles. Bit by bit you gnaw away at our patience, inch by inch you chip away at our dignity. Are you deserving of all of our praise or are you worthy only of our curses? One thing there is that I do know, and it is a hard-won truth: at the mere mention of you my eyes fill with tears and my heart gasps. And so it is that I say unto You, in the words of the poet [Dylan Thomas]:

I will not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And that is why people like me—feeble scholars though we are—are useless, for we can do nothing more than lament, take up our pens, avail ourselves of what we write to issue calls for decency and advance pleas on behalf of Justice. Faced with the crisis of the coronavirus, confronting this disordered world, I join my compatriots—the 1.4 billion men and women, brothers and sisters of China, the countless multitudes who have no way of fleeing this land—and I call on them: rage against this injustice; let your lives burn with a flame of decency; break through the stultifying darkness and welcome the dawn.

Let us now strive together with our hearts and minds, also with our very lives. Let us embrace the warmth of a sun that proffers yet freedom for this vast land of ours!

Viral Alarm: When Fury Overcomes Fear
An Essay by Xu Zhangrun, Translated and Annotated by Geremie R. Barmé
[February 10, 2020,]

PHOTO: Volunteers visit a community in Jiang'an District of Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, Feb. 9, 2020. Wuhan, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak, is combing communities to ensure every confirmed or suspected patient is located and attended to. (courtesy of the government of China's official propaganda website, Xinhua, photographer: Cheng Min)