My name is Sandile Dlamini 李厚德 from the Kingdom of eSwatini (Swaziland) and I am currently doing my master's degree at the Yenching Academy of Peking University in Beijing, China.
This letter is focused on the COVID-19 situation in China and it is addressed to three groups of people: 1) a Chinese passenger who was passed over by a taxi driver, 2) the whole world, and 3) the Chinese people.
The Chinese passenger that was passed over by a taxi driver
Two days ago, I received a call from a dear friend who runs a taxi business inquiring where I was in the world. From his voice, I could tell that he was anxious and wanted to know if I was safe and in good health, as he knows that I am currently studying in China.
He said, "Sandile, I have been thinking about you and I hope you are not in China. I just passed a Chinese passenger that needed my service. I signalled to her that I was in a hurry. Actually, I was not in a hurry, it's just that I am no longer taking Chinese people. I do not want to get the coronavirus. Please do not go back to China.”
Before he had finished, I heard a beeping sound from my WhatsApp, and I knew I had exhausted my mobile data. The call left me with questions about how Chinese people in different parts of the world are being treated during this difficult time. As an African, I thought of the Ebola virus and what it would feel like if people treated all Africans as though they had Ebola; how terrible that would be.
Therefore, dear Chinese passenger passed over by a taxi, on behalf of my friend, I am sorry that he left you. Please forgive him.
The whole world
The call from my friend made me think about how we treat each other in times of crisis. As someone who is fascinated by Chinese culture, this situation made me reflect on the Chinese character for people, 人, which clearly shows that human beings should rely on each other because one single stroke (/ or \) by itself as seen in the character cannot stand steady. It needs at least two strokes (人).
Many of us, if not all of us, have benefited from the industriousness of Chinese people who work tirelessly in manufacturing the products we use on a daily basis. Hence, our ignorance and wariness of Chinese people during this tough time is unreasonable and inhumane. What the people of China need is support by all means - be it prayers, well wishes, or acts of kindness to those among us - not discrimination and stigmatization.
Let us not pull away from a community which has given us so much to our lives in this globalised world. Let us be the other stroke in the character 人 so that we can stand together as one people and face whatever challenge may come.
The Chinese people
Thank you for always opening your doors and welcoming me into your homes. Having had the privilege to live, study and work in China, I have been inspired by your spirit of community and collectiveness. I have faith that your unwavering resilience, optimism, and love for your country will enable you to defeat this virus and add this victory to your precious history books.
A telephone call with my dear classmate Ankang this week left me even more optimistic about China's future when she reminded me that the Chinese people will work together and fight until the end. She said, “As Chinese people, we understand that a drop of water will dry up unless it is put into the sea. We know that one chopstick can easily be broken unless it is tied together with other chopsticks. So, Sandile, do not worry. We will solve this!”.
I hope the world also learns this lesson from China and continuously unites to help those in need. I know that the chances of containing the virus are high and the date for resuming business as usual in China is approaching.
I will soon be in Beijing to continue the journey of learning and working with my classmates on how to improve China-Africa relations. Most importantly, I look forward to enjoying Peking duck with my Chinese host family.