Domestic tourism is back on the menu in China, as new daily cases of Covid-19 drop to single digits across the country. Earlier this month, China’s Tourism Research Center reached out to the newly unlocked-down to see what their top domestic destination was for 2020, and Chinese travelers chose Wuhan as their number one spot.
While the epicenter of the virus outbreak might seem like an unlikely travel destination, Chinese netizens are rallying around the city, citing a desire to help it rebound economically as the main reason for choosing Wuhan. It’s the natural extension to the cries of “Wuhan jiayou!” heard round the country during the worst moments of the pandemic here.
Translated literally, the phrase means “Add gas, Wuhan!” But jiayou is often read as “Let’s go!”, and you’ll hear it everywhere from soccer games to office meetings as a form of encouragement. Nowadays you’ll read the phrase in the comments section of Dianping (China’s version of Yelp if it also included Grubhub) on listings of Hubei restaurants (Wuhan is the capital of Hubei province), along with inspirational slogans like “众志成城，共度难关” or “Our will can unite like a fortress, and together we can overcome all obstacles.” The patriotic solidarity is as plain as the Chinese flags in the comment section.
Now does not feel like the time to go negative online, so recent reviews are mostly glowing with descriptions of the Hubei provincial restaurants and their 热干面 (reganmian, or hot-dry noodles). The famous sesame sauce dish was the symbol of national support in a popular meme that depicts hot-dry noodles holed up in a hospital bed. All of China’s famous provincial dishes, from Shaanxi’s roujiamo to Shandong’s spring onion, crowd around the window to wish it an “added gas” speedy recovery. (For a fun quarantine activity, try to name every specialty and match it with its hometown province.)
At my most recent visit to Chuzhu Hot-Dry Noodles, a Hubei snack shop chain that has nine locations in Shanghai, I popped in off-peak hoping to chat with the manager about business and order a bowl of hot-dry noodles. The shop had been closed for all of February, only opening back up in March. But the waitstaff was too busy for a chat as they organized boxes that took up almost half of the tiny dining room. A huge shipment of ingredients had recently arrived from the central kitchen so they could restock after a week of big orders. When I asked how business was, the waitstaff responded with “挺好! – Extremely good!” as another delivery order announced itself from the computer in the back.
Other restaurants serving Hubei cuisine in Shanghai are just coming into their busiest time of the year: crawfish season. The province is known as the land of a thousand lakes, and farms over half of the crawfish in the country. Since China eats about 90 percent of the world’s crawfish, to say the industry is an important one to Hubei is to put it lightly; in 2018, the crawfish market was worth US$52 billion in China, and there are three times as many crawfish restaurants as KFCs throughout the country.
So there was much concern when the government postponed the start of the farming season in February as the province was in lockdown. Road closures mucked up the logistics for feed for the “little dragon shrimp” as well as the ability of farmers to send the processed crawfish out of Hubei.
But the country is doing their best to support the industry. Just one example is Alibaba, who in early April placed an order to Hubei’s crawfishermen for US$140 million’s worth to sell across their platforms Taobao (Chinese Amazon) and Hema (one-hour grocery delivery). The fact that these crawfish originated in Hubei is part of their selling point; Taobao created a special sales page just for Hubei agricultural products, and customers can place orders directly with farmers while the crustaceans are still larvae. While sales and prices will likely still flag year-on-year, the national outpouring of love and support for Hubei is one of the uplifting stories coming out of the post-Covid-19 world in China.