Tzu-i Chuang, the wife of the US consul general in Chengdu, said 35 years of exchanges between Beijing and Washington had been consigned to history following China’s closure of the American consulate in the southwestern city.
The Taiwanese food writer, who is married to Jim Mullinax, the US consul general in Chengdu, wrote a Facebook post describing her sadness at the impact of the mission’s closure on its more than 100 local staff, and on the 23 US diplomats and their family members who had flown back to China only last week after leaving during the country’s coronavirus outbreak.
According to her post, employees at the consulate – which had been open since 1985 – worked 24-hour shifts during the three days it was given to close, and many cried after the American flag was lowered for the final time on Monday morning.
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“They wanted to order a banner that read ‘thank you Chengdu 1985-2020’ to hang in front of the consulate building, but unfortunately they were unable to do this, which was very regretful,” Chuang wrote on Monday.
“Thirty-five years of exchanges have become history, and we are just silt in the tide [of history], powerless to recover everything that should be cherished.”
Chuang – who posts regularly to more than 605,000 followers on Weibo and nearly 70,000 on Facebook – penned the tribute to Chengdu following Beijing’s closure of the US consulate there, in retaliation for the US ordering the shuttering of the Chinese consulate in Houston over alleged espionage activities.
But the writer was also targeted on Chinese social media, as rapidly deteriorating relations between the countries have spurred nationalistic comments on China’s tightly censored internet.
She on Monday addressed criticism about a July 1 post on Weibo in which she had likened her rushed departure from China in February – ordered by the US because of the pandemic – to that of Jewish people fleeing the Nazis during the second world war.
“Perhaps it’s because the game of chess between the two countries seems too unreal, so many people have turned the focus to the consul general’s wife, but aren’t we just one of the hundreds of families who have been impacted?” she wrote.
“Rumours have flown across social media in recent days and my old posts have been dug up and interpreted. I also feel some regret about my word use that was frank to the point of being crude, but I believe my openness and honesty are clear and there is no need to delete, edit or close down my platforms.”
Mullinax had been due to end his three-year term at the US consulate in Chengdu this month, but Chuang and the couple’s two young sons had first returned to the United States in February as the coronavirus spread around China. A farewell party for Mullinax was held two weeks ago with local businesspeople, according to the American Chamber of Commerce in Southwest China.
Chinese state media quoted Mullinax as saying via WeChat that Monday had been a “tragic day”, after the mission’s 35 years in the southwest – although he sounded a note of optimism.
“Even though the situation now seems cloaked in darkness, I believe we will find new ways to establish friendship between the people of our two countries,” Mullinax reportedly added.
Chuang said she expected their family to be reunited in the US in August at the earliest.
“Chengdu has over the past 2½ years truly given me a sense of belonging in my soul,” she wrote. “Thinking back to those spicy days that felt almost otherworldly, I realise it would be difficult to replicate them, and I am reluctant to part with them in every possible way.”
In a previous post on July 1, the food writer had expressed how difficult it was for her to bid farewell to Chengdu, a vibrant city known for its spicy Sichuan cuisine.
“Sometimes I think that when you have to leave a place that is this difficult to part with, and it is too hard to say goodbye, maybe it is better to leave quietly instead,” Chuang wrote. “If you don’t say goodbye, it’s as if you haven’t actually left. My heart will remain here, and I will return one day.”
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More from South China Morning Post:
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This article US consulate closure in Chengdu lost 35 years of exchanges, says diplomat’s wife first appeared on South China Morning Post