Global Times: Having weathered epidemic storms overseas, Chinese return to hometown for safe, joyous Spring Festival reunions

BEIJING, Jan. 31, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Red lanterns are once again hung in the contemporary houses that combine Chinese and Western elements in the famous hometown of overseas Chinese in East China’s Fujian Province.

For countless overseas Chinese, this year’s Spring Festival provided an opportunity to be reunited with family for the first time since China’s prevention and control of the COVID-19 epidemic entered a new phase.

Different from most people in China who meet again across mountains and bodies of water, during the holiday, in Fujian, a province which is the hometown of 15.8 million overseas Chinese in 188 countries and regions, numerous long-awaited reunions across continents and oceans took place: Once again, children received lucky money in dollars, euros, and other currencies, echoing the splendid fireworks exploding auspiciously on the seaside and river beaches. Practically every household sent out a warm welcome and best wishes to their friends and relatives who had returned from afar.

What made these wanderers, who had been working and living overseas for decades, choose to celebrate the Spring Festival in their hometown? What kind of life did they lead during the three years of the COVID-19 pandemic? What new plans do they have while in their hometown to face the post-epidemic era?

In the coastal city of Fuzhou, the provincial capital of Fujian Province, the Global Times reporter heard several weighty and hopeful answers.

Tide of reunion across ocean

On the morning of the Spring Festival’s Eve, in the Overseas Chinese Innovation and Entrepreneurship Zone in Mawei district, Li Hua, president of the United Federation of American Fujianese, who had just returned to China for a month, received countless phone calls wishing him happy Chinese New Year from home and abroad.

“My local relatives and friends want to meet with me and my compatriots in the US want me to tell them more about China’s current development situation,” Li told the Global Times.

Li pointed out that with the optimization of China’s epidemic prevention and control policy, many Chinese Americans are now paying close attention to China’s visa policy.

“During the years of the epidemic, most of us were confined to the US, feeling confused, uncertain, and unable to contain our homesickness,” Li said. “And there are many practical problems and opportunities for future development for which we need to ‘return home’ to solve and explore.”

Li cherished every pleasantry he received back in China this year’s Spring Festival holidays. “Whether we meet or greet each other by phone, everyone is joyful and full of hope.”

During the holiday, such conversations and gatherings were common in Fuzhou.

Early in the morning of the fifth day of the first Chinese lunar month, Chen Kehui, president of the China-Lesotho People-to-People Friendship Action Fund, drove back to his family’s birthplace, Yuxi town, with his father and brothers, to meet with relatives they had long been separated from at the family shrine where he donated part of the money.

“This year, many of my family members who have worked in Africa and the Southeast Asia returned home from overseas. My father offered to take advantage of this reunion time, so we gathered together to talk about our experiences in different parts of the world over the last three years since the global COVID-19 pandemic began,” Chen said, noting that such warm meetings and cordial communications have not been felt or experienced for a very long time.

The reunion is also particularly important for Chen Yunbin, chairman of Confederation of Fujian Associations Europe, who has been living in Germany for more than 30 years.

“My 92-year-old grandmother has been bedridden for two years; I wanted to spend a lively Spring Festival with her,” Chen Yunbin told the Global Times.

Chen Yunbin’s biggest regret in the past was that the sudden epidemic three years ago hindered reunion opportunities among people. Due to the resurgence of the global pandemic, Chen Yunbin, who had planned to return to his hometown in February 2022, delayed his trip until October that year not least due to repeated flight cancellations.

Witnessing the adjustment of China’s epidemic prevention and control policy, Chen Yunbin pointed out that currently “going home” has gradually become the biggest wish and the practical action for many overseas Chinese.

Striking contrast

On December 4, 2022, Li boarded on flight to China from the US alone. But Li was not alone on this home journey.

“I was caught up in the ‘untimely bus’ of medical quarantine for international arrivals in China, but during the quarantine period, Fujian’s thoughtful arrangements and considerate greetings made me feel the warmth of my hometown. I also felt the responsible attitude of China in efficiently coordinating epidemic prevention and control and economic and social development, and ultimately adjusting and optimizing prevention and control measures in conjunction with the actual situation,” Li said.

Li said he felt the “people first, life first” principle of epidemic prevention and control in his native country. “China has made vulnerable groups, including children and the elderly, and patients with underlying medical conditions a priority for protection.”

Li, who is over 65 years old, immediately received anti-epidemic supplies and medicines distributed by the community and enjoyed their warm concern when he arrived in his hometown and even to the province to where he was on a business trip.

Li said “what I saw back home was a very stable price level.”

Even after December 8 [when the government scrapped mass nucleic acid testing and allowed home quarantine for COVID-19 patients with mild or no symptoms], life quickly returned to normal, much faster than in the US, Li said.

Li said he spent nearly a year in “self-imposed isolation” at home in the US.

Chen Kehui returned to his hometown in Fuzhou at the beginning of the outbreak in China in early 2020. In the last three years, he has traveled between China and the African continent, feeling incredibly fortunate to have spent the majority of the time during global pandemic mainly in China, which is a “strong haven” for him.

China deployed enormous financial, material, and human resources to effectively contain the epidemic and has done its best to protect people’s lives and health, action that only the Chinese government can do,” Chen said.

With his family and main business in Lesotho and South Africa, Chen has been closely following the situation in Africa for the last three years.

Lesotho’s medical resources are relatively modest, and many Chinese there were hit hard by the outbreak after the peak in infections in the first half of 2020, Chen noted. “Going to the hospital didn’t help, they chose to stay at home and rely on supplies donated by their home countries.”

“Countless Chinese people in Africa have experienced numerous psychological breakdowns, and even if they are infected, they still prefer to return to their home countries for treatment,” Chen said.

People in China live a quiet, peaceful life, thanks to the scientific, precise, and efficient epidemic prevention and control measures put in place by the government, Chen Yunbin said.

Looking ahead in hometown

When he came to China, Li was surprised to find that Fujian powerfully overcame the impact of the epidemic factor, with its 2022 GDP exceeding 5 trillion yuan ($750 billion).

“I also saw that at the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Central Economic Work Conference, the ruling party of China emphasized stepping up efforts to promote high-level opening-up.” Optimistic about the business environment in her hometown, Li hopes to explore new investment businesses in China in the near future.

During the holiday, Chen Yunbin organized a meeting of the new generation in his hometown with in a homestay he funded. Thanks to an in-depth reconnaissance and research back home, he had a good understanding of each participant.

“I hope to communicate more with local young people so that they can understand the highs and lows of our experiences overseas and also inspire them to do more meaningful things for our country and hometown in the new era,” Chen Yunbin said, noting that with the support of the local government, he is building a number of contact platforms for overseas Chinese to provide high-quality business services for Chinese people around the world.

“In particular, given the changing of the epidemic situation, our home country has optimized its epidemic prevention and control policies. We also need to seize the opportunity to make full preparations for great changes and development in the post-epidemic era,” he said.

On the eve of the Spring Festival, Chen Kehui moved into his newly renovated home, a six-story villa. “I bought this house back in 2017, but I had not thought about how to deal with it before. Now, I witnessed China is gradually stepping out from under the shadow of the epidemic and has begun to show new vitality. I have more confidence in this country, I look forward to further career development in China in the future,” he said.

Outside Chen Kehui’s villa, bright red lanterns swayed in the soft breeze blowing in from the sea.

“Thirty years ago I went to Africa to make a front stop. Currently, I am back in my homeland to make a front stop for my friends in Africa. There is a huge amount of opportunities with good security, policies, and a great investment environment in China,” he noted.