An American in a Locked Down Chinese Town: ‘Everyone Here Is So Bored’

Policed by his neighbors and inundated with misinformation, Bob Huang watches a small community grow increasingly isolated.

Comments: 32

  1. About a year ago, I bumped into a vlog on You Tube, laowhy86, created by an American who moved to China 10 years ago to teach English. He was in his 20's then so it's a bit of a coming of age story line. He has since married a Chinese woman, had a child and now lives in the US. I've never recommended any specific internet info to anyone but with his contacts with regular citizens in China, he's provided a very useful and interesting space to convey information regarding this virus that regular media isn't reporting maybe due to their lack of feet on the ground. I suggest you visit it. It's not a pretty picture.

  2. @Susie B - Thanks for mentioning this - I've been hooked on his videos along with his buddy's - SerpentZA - who has been living and video blogging from China for 14 years. They also have a combined YouTube channel where they discuss life in China, and often scoop the NYT in breaking stories. Both left China with their wives last year as censorship and threats increased. A fascinating big world out there to learn from.

  3. If he is an American citizen, how can he "move back" to China? Are you suggesting that his citizenship oath was a sham, and he remains a Chinese citizen? Either this American "moved abroad" to China, or this Chinese "moved back" to China.

  4. @Rustamji Chicagowalla Residency and citizenship are not the same thing. He is a resident of China. He is a citizen of the US.

  5. @Rustamji Chicagowalla I don’t see why an American citizen who was born in China couldn’t move back to China without it causing problems with his citizenship. American citizens move to or from China all the time without it raising any questions.

  6. Naturalized US citizens are allowed to live in China with their Chinese parents. However, they are not always allowed to leave China.

  7. As an American living in Hong Kong, we’re feeling isolated and burdened and we’re under far fewer restraints than in Mainland, so I can imagine the isolation must be unbearable there. Bob, sending my best to you and your mother, and all your neighbors. Thanks for sharing your story and please keep doing so. Hang in there.

  8. "But eventually, when I retire,” he said, “I don’t want to live inside a country that has all this" So he won't be going to the USA then.

  9. As someone who has traveled the world over since 1979 and continues to this day I have for decades tried to explain to non travellers, that people the world over are pretty much the same regardless of the language they speak and their local customs. I had to crack a wry smile when I read about the conspiracy theories exposed by one of the volunteer guards, sounds just like half of my coworkers.

  10. I admire the people of this town for having the gumption to gut this out. Can you imagine how this would go over in this country? Where we’re all special and armed to the teeth?

  11. Wow Mr. Huang’s father came pretty close to describing the economic system conservative Republicans are trying to impose on America, “elite controlled capitalism”. His father was a observant smart man.

  12. The current pandemic, like most pandemics, originated in one of the many live animal markets in China. Like the coronavirus crisis, both the avian flu outbreak and SARS were traced to this dangerously unsanitary practice. The world is literally sick of "wet" markets. If China's government cannot put an end to them, the nation should face an international embargo and quarantine.

  13. @Tom View it this way Tom, it’s been seventeen years since SARS. How many markets have been as you describe in the period and what has been the effect on the million and more who have shopped there? China as a FDA that sets regulations and one failing in that period is hardly worth comment – almost. The shock westerners often feel when seeing a market is “That’s where food comes from?”

  14. @wsmrer You are defending wet markets even after three animal to human outbreaks? Unbelievable hubris and ignorance. Selling wild and endangered animals in a wet market is hardly civilized, but it does show the world how pitiful and dangerous traditions are even in a highly educated population. Nothing good came out of enfettered trade with China, not one single thing.

  15. I’m locked down in Enshi, Hubei, about 440 km west of Wuhan. My wife’s family is in Enshi, and we were just going to have another fun Spring Festival. It’s no fun. We’re limited to leaving the compound once a week. Food is delivered. Days drag on endlessly. The economic impact of this is going to be immense. Small business is the heart of the economy. A day without income is a disaster. We’re looking at months absent income. I have no idea when I might be able to get out of here and back to America. It could be months. There was no way to get to Wuhan for the last plane out. Anyway, I heard it was like the last copter out of Saigon, a total freak show of panic. Our government’s response has been predictably anemic to nonexistent. We’re on our own.

  16. @Kurt I wish you and your family the best of luck. I lived in Hong Kong before, during and after the handover. I think when you get through this, you will be more resilient than ever.

  17. Still In Enshi.... My nephew and I were emailing, talking about the mess. I was making a list of all the things I observe the CPC doing and enacting to confront the crisis. After item 8, my nephew and I emailed simultaneously.... IT’S THE GOP! And I’m not a Democrat. It’s not just similarities. The CPC is the model. Seriously.

  18. I feel sorry that Mr Huang and his mother are trapped in this lockdown. The grim takeaway for me was this part - Mr. Huang’s father was a Communist Party member and local official who described the corruption he witnessed. “What he told me was that in China there is no socialism or communism. He called it ‘elite controlled capitalism.’”

  19. @Michael “Elite controlled capitalism” ... sounds just like the US!!! No difference.

  20. @Michael Often see your name in this section, interested in China and Asia? Pick up Branko Milanovic’s Capitalism, Alone to see that we are all Capitalist now but with some differences.

  21. I've been trying to imagine life under quarantine so thank you for sharing your story. Very interesting from an American's point of view. We are all empathetic and hope this disease subsides soon so you can carry on with your lives.

  22. he doesn't believe the chinese government - because he's watched the x-files?? how about, because it's an authoritarian regime that tells the public whatever it feels is best for the regime itself?

  23. Another Berkeley grad in China not at all unhappy, but yes concerned. My town of about the same size as Mr. Huang has the same restrictions on social interchange with trips out for groceries the common occurrence but people accepts the intent and most, but not all wear mask. Hunan province is next-door to Hubei and many cases have occurred, and the next sizable town 50 k away reported cases went from 1 to 5 a day ago. My wife reading the continuing flow of information asked last night that I contact the Embassy about outs for Americans – might do that just to see their response. I delight in China and its people and grieve for Dr. Li Wenliang whose family picture was posted by a Wuhan friend with wife and son, but that is history unfolding and this land has plenty of that. They'll come through.

  24. Bob Huang the Berkeley grad naturalized American citizen has lived in China since 2003. How he must have suffered greatly through the years. 17 years is an awfully long time for Bob Huang to experience the tyranny of authoritarian rule. Very perplexing that he didn't act like a typical Chinese son to bring his mother to live with them in USA to enjoy all the freedom and advance healthcare. Why wait for retirement to leave China? USA and Donald Trump need him. China doesn't. For the first time I read about the conspiracy theories told by the volunteer guards in Huang's story, courtesy of NY Times. Thank you Alexandra Stevenson for sharing them.

  25. @Observer I lived in China for a number of years, and "the tyranny of authoritarian rule" was never part of my experience. The tyranny of obstructive bureaucracy, once or twice.

  26. I am not sure this man is very likeable. I have been an expat for decades. American expats who look down on natives - I am sorry - why we are called ugly Americans. He may have a good motive to look after his mother to stay in China - but he should at least be grateful that China has prospered enough for his mother to live a life that old. His patronising attitude towards Chinese when they are going thru some of the hardships - I just can't believe the man is saying that. I think Chinese government - not that I am a fan of - but they are doing their best. As an American, I know I would have volunteered to be a guard and not be so rude to the locals. This man needs to learn that in America - if he were to talk about Americans the way he talks about the locals - he would have a rude shock and he should.

  27. @Neil I disagree 100%. He, and anyone else, can say anything they want about us Americans as far as I'm concerned. His words don't change anything and don't hurt my feelings. Your controlling attitude is detrimental however.

  28. I am quite familiar with the residency laws in China. How does this American Citizen remain legally in China for 17 years? This article is just strange.

  29. @Robert I'd assume he has a job that supplies him with a work visa.

  30. Asie from the core of his story, I will hold onto Mr. Huang's fathers description of the CP system: 'elite controlled capitalism.’ Nothing at all to do with socialism, especially democratic socialism. just would be oligarchs, determined to get and stay on power.

  31. @cheryl Just like the former Soviet Union right? The movie 'Death of Stalin' was pretty eye opening. Amazing film!

  32. If coronavirus hits the U.S. as hard as it hit China, I don't think we'll do any better at controlling it and that scares me.