How I am surviving in China

By Kevin Spencer
Posted 2/19/20

Quarantined in a highly censored and monitored country while the spread of a possibly deadly virus is on the loose. Well, that’s where I am now. 

My name is Kevin, age 26, and I am an …

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How I am surviving in China


Quarantined in a highly censored and monitored country while the spread of a possibly deadly virus is on the loose. Well, that’s where I am now. 

My name is Kevin, age 26, and I am an international student at Xiamen University. I’ve lived in China since 2015 as a chemistry teacher and now finishing up my master’s this spring. Thinking I’d finish up my last year in China without any issue, I expected a quiet easy year. Turns out to be an oddly exciting one. 

Back in the middle of January when the government announced the shutdown of Wuhan, things really did seem scary. The WeChat social media group chats were all posting panicking messages about how this could blow up and turn into a crazy deadly incident. These thoughts were magnified when we realized that 5 million people had already escaped Wuhan before the shutdown. Safe to say, no one really knew what was going to happen. 

Luckily for me, I left Xiamen and went to Nanjing, where I have been staying with my Chinese wife’s family since Jan. 19. I’ve stayed inside each day, only to go out maybe once a week to retrieve some food. It has actually been really comfortable. The shutdown of the country doesn’t really affect me because I’ve just been working on writing my thesis. 

My local area doesn’t have any reported cases, even a month later. Everything across the city was really quiet for the first three weeks, but since Feb. 10, the streets have been noisy with cars and people like usual. It seems that only essential jobs have continued, while most other jobs are either taking an extended holiday or working from home. The communities within the city seem to be blocked off from public transportation, so there is not much of a chance for me to return to school anytime soon. All in all, the people of the country have been doing well with working to protect themselves from the virus while keeping the economy going. I can’t say the same for Wuhan though.

Everything on Chinese social media about Wuhan appears to have everyone looking calm and comfortable with the passion to fight the virus. The only thing that shows any signs of stress for the people would be the empty streets and crowded hospitals. When I go onto social media and news outlets overseas, it shows a bit of different picture which makes me feel that the people of Wuhan might be having a harder time that what I am seeing. I’d look more into the situation in Wuhan, but recently my internet has been blocked more than usual. 

So why did I decide to stay in China? My family urged me to leave the country before the USA banned their flights, but I felt no need to leave. My wife is in the UK, studying as well, but neither option would be easy to do so suddenly. I have been in China for so long now that I believe it would be easier for me to survive my daily life here more than trying to stale for a few months in Rhode Island or the UK. 

There is something really amazing how the government is able to take control of this situation. I always hear my American friends talk to me about how it is risky living in a country where the government can do anything they want, but I see a positive side to it all. When the news of a new outbreak went national, the government was able to act quickly and get the entire country onboard for how to handle this situation. 

I’ve been seeing online videos of trucks going down public roads spraying cities for the possible aerosol-based viruses along with the local hospitals getting prepared for the possibility of a Wuhan style shutdown across the country. The government has been giving daily instructions to its people on how to stay clean and how to take this issue very seriously. Most of all, the government has been doing very well in downplaying any sort of panic. I’ve seen loads of rumors online, but the local governments have been able to send out messages stating which information is true and false. Think of it like Facebook, but the government has a larger amount of control of what you are shown on your news feed. 

Feeling safe in China makes me think about how other countries might be able to handle the spread of a virus. I don’t have much confidence in any country to handle it like China. If this virus started in the USA the way that it did, then this story might be going in another direction. I don’t see the USA being able to shut down all economic processes while keeping the people in order and reducing chaos. 

It doesn’t feel like the USA people would be prepared for something as contagious as this virus let alone any mass spreading illness. Imagine if this spreads to places like India or the middle of Europe. Being able to control all of the people for a few months in Europe doesn’t sound that easy, while China has shown its capability to control mass amounts of people.

I’m not an expert in global affairs and have no experience in economics and politics, but I have some experience with life in China. Life in China will continue after this virus dies down over the next few months. There doesn’t seem to be any need for panic from my end of things. Hopefully, the world will be able to deal with this as swiftly and effectively in all matters as with how China did. Let’s hope this won’t turn out as bad as the 1918 flu. 

Kevin Spencer is a 2011 graduate of Portsmouth High School who’s lived and worked in Nanjing, China, since 2015. He is a student at Xiamen University.

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