Controversial Baibuting speaks up on banquet

By Zhao Yusha in Wuhan Source:Global Times Published: 2020/4/25 17:58:40

Residents refute reports of severe infections

A 73-year-old resident surnamed Zou at Baibuting community in Wuhan practices tai chi on Saturday. Residents refuted rumors that the community recorded far more COVID-19 cases than anywhere else, saying the outside had some misunderstandings about Baibuting during the epidemic. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Wuhan's Baibuting community has been at the forefront of criticism for its controversial banquet days before the city imposed lockdown in response to the coronavirus onslaught. The Chinese public and foreign media have deemed the banquet as a symbol of the local government's previous mishandling of the crisis. 

After the city revoked its 76-day lockdown as life gradually returns to normalcy and cases of infection considerably decline, GT reporter visited the 'infamous' community and found that life there is no different from other residential compounds in the city. Although the fear of the banquet still lingers in their mind, Baibuting residents shrugged off rumors that the place recorded much higher cases of infection than anywhere else. 

Residents are strolling freely on wildflower-covered crisscross walkways inside the Baibuting community, which covers an area of 4 square kilometers with a population of 130,000. Senior citizens can be seen practicing tai chi in tiny open spaces, tennis playground is filled with players engaged in intense competition with each other, housewives carrying bags of fresh vegetables are waddling back home to prepare lunch for families…

At first sight, the community has no clear distinction with other residential compounds in the city. But the name "Baibuting" had gained popularity nationwide for convening an annual banquet to celebrate the Lunar New Year holiday on January 18, five days before Wuhan enforced a city-wide lockdown. 

Thereafter, the Baibuting community was portrayed in many foreign media, such as BBC and Financial Times, as a miniature model of the Wuhan government's preliminary mishandling of the virus. The international press kept reiterating that the residential community has recorded disproportionately high infections, because of the large-scale banquet, attended by tens of thousands of residents who were unaware of the real situation.

Baibuting has quite a reputation in Wuhan; it was accorded with the 'model residential community' title. Its banquet tradition dates back 20 years and is seen as a symbol of the community's harmonious atmosphere.

In mid-January, the virus failed to catch the nerves of the Wuhan government and ordinary people, just as many Western countries, who neglected early warning of the virus and insisted on holding massive gathering as scheduled. As the Chinese public better comprehends the virus, the community has been nailed on the center of criticism.

But dozens of residents reached out by the Global Times whisked off the speculation that infection and death cases in this community are much higher than other Wuhan communities.

"I knew nothing about the virus back then, if we'd know, we won't go," 75-year-old Li, a banquet attendee, told the Global Times. Li said she did not realize the seriousness of the virus until the government sealed off the entire city.

Li said none of her fellow companions who attended the banquet, contracted the virus. 28-year-old Wei Wei said he only heard a siren, once, in his residential building when he was out to pick his patients, "other than that, the community is just another Wuhan community, not engulfed by the smell of death as many hyped."

Wuhan government reported on Monday that all nine sub-communities in Baibuting recorded zero infection. The city's COVID-19 prevention steering team also noted that as of February 8, there were 87 coronavirus patients found in the Baibuting community; 113 suspected cases, accounting for 0.18 percent of the total.

"Although it was called "banquet for tens of thousands," the actual attendants were not that much," a resident surnamed Zheng told the Global Times.

Zheng whisked off imagination of the outside world of the mass scale banquet being like tens of thousands of people sitting together and sharing food. "Each building sent one to two people to prepare two dishes and display at the celebration site, which is expected to be shared among only three or four hundred people. Other participants were attracted by other celebrations, such as performances, that they were reluctant to sit down and enjoy food."

Many dwellers of the residential compound told the Global Times that although the banquet did not evolve into a big catastrophe, in retrospection, it "makes our hairs stand on end."

A community worker, on condition of anonymity, told the Global Times that three days before the banquet, they tried to warn the community committee to cancel the event, as they learned from news the virus could transmit from "human-to-human."

But they believed we were making a fuss, said the anonymous volunteer.

Twenty-eight-year old Xie Mei was lucky enough to receive early warning of the virus days before the banquet from her doctor boyfriend; when she tried to caution her grandparents, who live with Xie in Baibuting, they shrugged off the threat.

"They went anyway, but luckily nothing happened to them afterward," said Xie. 

She told the Global Times that most residents of this community are elderlies, who get no timely updates on current affairs, so they disarmed their guard off from the potential safety hazard.

In early January, discussion of the virus was already simmering across the city; the infamous banquet then hit the headlines in many local newspapers, who devoted several pages to illustrate the event, saying it embodies "community harmony," a move deemed by residents as to "assuage our anxiety and whitewashing potential danger."

Zhou Xianwang, mayor of Wuhan, explained in a state television interview on January 21. "The reason why the Baibuting community continued to host the banquet this year was based on the previous judgment that the spread of the epidemic was limited between humans, so there was not enough warning," he said.

Seventy-six-year-old Zou Furong has another grievance. According to him, several Baibuting employees that were in charge of community management quit their jobs out of fear at the early stage of the outbreak, which descended the community into a chaotic and disorderly status. 

Unlike many other residential compounds in Wuhan, Baibuting has a unique management system that doesn't belong to any street committee but managed mostly by Baibuting corporation.  

The corporation did not respond to an interview request sent by the Global Times as of press time.

Zou said after corporation employees quit, there was no one they can turn to until volunteers and grassroots Party members came into rescue. 

"They came knocking door to door to check our temperature, deliver food for the elderlies who live alone, and sent the ill patients to the hospitals," said Zou.

He said since the outbreak, residents also set up chat groups for group-purchase of food and maintained frequent communication with each other. Wei said his neighbor also wanted to set him up with girls after they learned he is still single. "The 20-year-old banquet failed to bound us together; mutual assistance during the coronavirus did," Zou joked.

Zou said he followed the news and saw how the virus gradually ravaged other countries, such as the US and Italy. "Baibuting has been nailed on the pillar of criticism after the outbreak in China and taught the whole nation a lesson, but those Western countries just don't learn," said Zou, referring to US presidential campaign gathering and large-scale sports matches in Italy's Lombardy region in early February.  


blog comments powered by Disqus