The Battle of Beijing: On the Frontline Against SARS

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In the spring of 2003, Beijing found itself staring death in the face in the midst of a terrifying epidemic. A number of strange and surprising stories arose as a result. In the city of Langfang in neighboring Hebei province, people dug a twenty-meter deep, thirty-meter wide pit in the road, saying it was to prevent Beijingers from driving through the area, forcing them to turn around. One village relied on tourism from Beijing to earn money. Terrified by the possibility of contracting disease from fleeing Beijingers, villagers worked to erect a three-meter high fence encircling the village, with only two doorways for entry and exit. The doorways had manned sentry towers, where villagers stood guard with kitchen knifes and iron rods, ready to chase away strangers. When they heard that the people approaching were from Beijing, they drove them off, taking no heed of their protestations...The Battle of Beijing takes author He Jianming's first-hand experience and interviews with people in every aspect of the battle against SARS to create a true account of the horrors of the SARS epidemic.
About Author

He Jianming, a well-known author of reportage literature, has been awarded the Lu Xun Literature Prize three times, the National Excellent Reportage Prize seven times, and the Xu Chi Reportage Prize four times. His main works include The Country, Fidelity and Betrayal, Fundamental Interests, and Falling Tears are Gold. He is additionally the author of the filmscripts Westbound Convict Train and Folksong Xintianyou, and the TV series Founders and National Action. He has published over 50 works of literature, including over 30 works of literary reportage, which have been translated into dozens of languages. He is vice president of the China Writers’ Association.

Table of Contents

Prologue 5
Chapter 1 7
Chapter 2 24
Chapter 3 51
Chapter 4 67
Chapter 5 83
Chapter 6 99
Sample Pages Preview
Wang Chen was a rank-and-file staff member at the Beijing SARS treatment center. He pushed open the window behind his desk, looking out onto the heavy traffic on Chang’an Avenue.

“The first day I arrived at the headquarters,” he said, downbeat, “I saw the Beijing I knew go completely empty in the space of just a night. I felt a tear roll down my cheek. It was such a desolate sight.” “Everybody in Beijing felt like that in those days,” I told him.” We all wondered how a place as prosperous, and bustling, and modern as Beijing could become such a ghost town in the blink of an eye.”

Those were dreadful days. Th e air resounded with a sickened gasping. People hurried through the fog, frenetic and frightened. It lasted for weeks. Was it April? Th e beginning of May? Mid-May? Beijing, with no exaggeration, went through what felt like the moments before the sinking of the Titanic. Anyone who experienced this epidemic looks back on those painful days with grieving sighs.

On May 29th, the news broadcast information on the nationwide epidemic that China was facing. For the first time, Beijing had
no new recorded cases of SARS. That evening, the people living below me let off a string of firecrackers in celebration. Setting off
firecrackers was banned, but the long-suffering citizens of Beijing laughed, cheering on the off enders.

“It wasn’t easy! We went from the first case, to a peak of 343 cases in one day, and now we’re finally back to zero! It’s all thanks to the leadership of the Party and the government!” A pious old woman in her seventies fell to her knees, prostrating herself in the direction of Tiananmen. The people in the square sighed. It wasn’t easy. It felt like it had taken decades.

That day, many people in Beijing celebrated “zero” in their own way. Their beaming expressions announced to each other an
irreversible fact: the day of Beijing’s victory against SARS was at hand.

On May 31st, there was only one case of SARS diagnosed in the whole country — it was in Beijing. Th at month, Beijing saw the
“zero” mark twice — as a city, and ultimately, as a nation. What the public did not know was that this “zero” was only made possible several days prior.
The Battle of Beijing: On the Frontline Against SARS