In pictures: The other side of Wuhan, before the coronavirus outbreak
Here's a different view, one that is in stark contrast to the stereotype that is emerging of Wuhan, China, the city at the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic.
For the indefinite future, the world will think of Wuhan, China, as the origin of the COVID-19 outbreak — despite the fact that the exact source of the coronavirus has not been confirmed. Wuhan is now synonymous with "coronavirus," and "pandemic," even as its lockdown will be partially lifted on April 8, 2020, reports say. The city conjures images of crowded hospital waiting rooms, masked citizens walking through eerily empty streets, and, perhaps most grotesquely, "bat soup" (whatever that looks like). But this couldn't be further from how locals see Wuhan; they see it as home.
There are countless people in India and elsewhere who probably learned about Wuhan only now. However, before the current coronavirus outbreak — which has now affected more than 4,40,000 people worldwide and killed around 19,700, according to the Johns Hopkins University data dashboard — Wuhan was a thriving transportation and manufacturing hub, known for its commitments to industry, technology, and innovation.
Some decades ago, too, Wuhan was known globally as a major industrial city, famous as a trading hub for teas and silks, among other commodities. In fact, in the early 20th century, the Chinese city was given the moniker, The Chicago of China, and the term appeared hundreds of times in just about every newspaper around the world, according to a news report in the US-based, CNN.
This city of 11 million people — situated on the junction of the Yangtze and Han Rivers — is reportedly home to more than 350 research institutes and 1,500 tech enterprises and incubators. In 2017, UNESCO named Wuhan a Creative City of Design, commending its commitment to "accelerate the development of creative industries and give a new momentum to economic growth based on culture and innovation." Last year, Wuhan hosted the seventh Military World Games, which saw nearly 10,000 athletes from 110 nations compete in 27 sports.
Lifestyle-wise, Wuhan is akin to any of the biggest cities in the world. You can stay at luxury hotels, browse boutiques at futuristic shopping centres, sip lattes, and appreciate art at both modern and historical museums. Wuhan is also home to more than 20 universities and colleges, including the renowned Wuhan University.
Another enduring landmark? East Lake, a large freshwater urban lake where the city's 11 million residents flock to enjoy water activities, scenic sites, and food. Within the lake area, there is a bird forest, a cherry blossom garden, and several tree-lined causeways that make driving through an almost cinematic experience. Think of it as Wuhan's lake equivalent of New York City's famous Central Park.
But perhaps the most powerful testament to Wuhan's essence and beauty is its strength and character, its very response to the coronavirus outbreak. Despite being forced into a citywide quarantine by the Chinese government — a move that critics viewed as sacrificing one province for the greater good of the world — the people of Wuhan have maintained their spirit. But life in Wuhan won't be ordinary for the foreseeable future. And Wuhan's name and legacy could forever be marred by this tragic outbreak.