A wild night out in post-pandemic Wuhan

The city at the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak hasn’t recorded a locally transmitted case since May. Aly Song captures the celebratory mood, and a glimpse of life after lockdown

Cate Cadell,Thomas Suen
Saturday 02 January 2021 13:38
<p>Revellers dance at a nightclub almost a year after the global outbreak of coronavirus in Wuhan, China</p>

Revellers dance at a nightclub almost a year after the global outbreak of coronavirus in Wuhan, China

In a crowded Wuhan beer hall, Zhang Qiong wipes birthday cake from her face after a food fight with her friends.

“After experiencing the first wave of epidemic in Wuhan, and then the liberation, I feel like I'm living a second life,” says Zhang, 29, who works in a textiles shop in the central Chinese city that was the original epicentre of Covid-19.

Outside, maskless partygoers spill onto the streets, smoking and playing street games with toy machine guns and balloons.

People play with toy guns outside a bar in Wuhan

A food fight breaks out during a birthday party at a beer hall

A man opens a bottle of beer with his teeth at a street restaurant at night

Nightlife in Wuhan is back in full swing almost seven months after the city lifted its stringent lockdown and the city’s young partygoers are embracing the catharsis.

In scenes unimaginable in many cities around the world reeling under a resurgence of the pandemic, young Wuhan residents during a recent night out crowd-surfed, ate street food and packed the city’s nightclubs as they looked to make up for lost time.

The revival of the city's hard-hit nightlife economy offers a glimpse into a post-pandemic lifestyle that many hope will become a reality in 2021, after the global rollout of Covid-19 vaccines.

Zhang Qiong, 29, wipes birthday cake off her face at a beer hall

Young people embrace the catharsis of being able to dance at a nightclub

A girl arrives at a nightclub

A man hugs his girlfriend on a street outside a nightclub

Wuhan hasn’t reported a new locally transmitted case of the disease since 10 May, after undergoing one of the strictest lockdowns worldwide.

The city of 11 million was shut off from the rest of China in a surprise overnight lockdown that began on 23 January, with road blocks erected and planes, trains and buses barred from entering the city. Almost 3,900 of China’s 4,634 recorded Covid-19 deaths occurred in the industrial city.

Students, musicians, artists and young workers – the backbone of the city’s nightlife scene – told stories of being stuck in their homes for months, many using the opportunity to prepare for a time when the city would recover.

Empty cups are left on a dining table after a dinner at a street restaurant at night

People dance at a nightclub like they’re making up for lost time

A man vomits on a street outside a nightclub

A woman drinks a bottle of beer at a street restaurant 

“Some of my new music will definitely be about the pandemic time,” said Wang Xinghao, frontman of Wuhan pop rock band Mad Rat, which drew a crowd of over 100 people to a local venue on a recent Wednesday night.

Wang flailed and jumped on stage, pulling crowd-surfing fans up to the stage, and at one point, tossed his faux-leopard skin coat into the screaming audience.

He said one of the new songs was inspired by the three months he spent living in close quarters with his mother.

People wearing face masks walk out of a ferry as they pass the Yangtze River at dusk

A man drives a car past a nightclub

The end of lockdown has inspired larger crowds, such as these people dancing at a park at night

A birthday party celebration at a street restaurant 

Many said the end of the lockdown has inspired larger turnouts.

“During the epidemic time, Wuhan was really a dead city,” said rock music enthusiast Yi Yi after the show. “Now people are all coming out to eat and have fun. I don’t think there were as many people before the epidemic.”

Despite the thriving night scene, Wuhan business and restaurant owners say it could still be some time before the surge in turnover makes up for massive losses during the lockdown.

But for patrons now flooding Wuhan's nocturnal hotspots, the message is more straightforward.

“I just really want to cherish this time, because in life you never know when it will end,” said Zhang in the Wuhan beer hall. “Make every happy day count.”

Photography by Aly Song, Reuters

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