One student fantasized about buying a $30,000 seat on a private jet. One mother, frustrated with her inability to bring her daughter home, sent masks instead. One group of desperate parents made an unusually public appeal to the Chinese government for help.
The coronavirus outbreak has stranded more than one million Chinese students in empty dormitories and fearful towns and cities around the world. Many of those overseas students want to flee back to China, where official numbers suggest that the authorities have made progress in containing the pandemic. Fear, politics and the competing priorities of the Chinese government stand in the way.
Virtually all flights to and from China have been canceled as Beijing tries to keep infected travelers from reigniting the contagion there. Remaining seats are breathtakingly expensive. For students trapped in the United States, their families worry that tense relations between Beijing and Washington will hinder Chinese-run evacuation efforts.
The fears led one group of parents to publicly petition the Chinese government, a risky move in a country that increasingly tries to keep a lid on dissent. In an open letter posted online and addressed to the Chinese ambassador to the United States, the parents of 200 students in the New York area carefully praised the Chinese government’s support for its citizens overseas. Then it cited the “Wolf Warrior” series of films, huge hits in China, in which patriotic soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army protect Chinese people from overseas threats.