Lost

Opinion: The virus in the body politic: We have lost our ability to cherish each other

Untitled, by Ai Weiwei’s son, Ai Lao.

Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio

Ai Weiwei is a Chinese contemporary artist who splits his time between Cambridge, U.K., and Berlin. This text was written in Chinese and translated to English by Perry Link.

I was living in Beijing in 2003 when SARS struck, and I can remember how that felt. It descended as an entirely new thing – a new concept, an unwelcome intruder, an ominous threat. It galvanized a new mindset in society and led the government to impose unprecedented defences. Some of those defences have been used again to combat the coronavirus, but to citizens, the two campaigns have felt different. SARS felt like a battle; coronavirus feels like a war.

With SARS, the government’s first response was to seal off all reports and to deny that a problem existed. The truth only emerged when an elderly military doctor, who

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