Deadly Quiet City

True Stories from Wuhan

From one of China’s most celebrated—and silenced—literary authors, riveting portraits of eight Wuhan residents at the dawn of the pandemic

“The enfant terrible of Chinese literature.” —The Sydney Morning Herald

Named one of the Best Books of the Year by The Economist and Kirkus Reviews

When a strange new virus appeared in the largest city in central China late in 2019, the 11 million people living there were oblivious to what was about to hit them. But rumors of a new disease soon began to spread, mostly from doctors. In no time, lines of sick people were forming at the hospitals. At first the authorities downplayed medical concerns. Then they locked down the entire city and confined people to their homes.

From Beijing, Murong Xuecun—one of China’s most popular writers, silenced by the regime in 2013 for his outspoken books and New York Times articles—followed the state media fearing the worst. Then, on April 6, 2020, he made his way quietly to Wuhan, determined to look behind the heroic images of sacrifice and victory propagated by the regime to expose the fear, confusion, and suffering of the real people living through the world’s first and harshest COVID-19 lockdown.

In the tradition of Dan Baum’s bestselling Nine Lives, Deadly Quiet City focuses on the remarkable stories of eight people in Wuhan. They include a doctor at the frontline, a small businessman separated from his family, a volunteer who threw himself into assisting the sick and dying, and a party loyalist who found a reason for everything. Although the Chinese Communist Party has devoted enormous efforts to rewriting the history of the pandemic’s outbreak in Wuhan, through these poignant and beautifully written firsthand accounts Murong tells us what really happened in Wuhan, giving us a book unlike any other on the earliest days of the pandemic.


“A shocking, heart-rending report from the front lines of the Covid-19 pandemic in China.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A harrowing compilation of testimonies from people living in Wuhan, China, during the beginning of COVID-19. . . . The testimonies are graphic and heartrending.”
Foreword Reviews
“A harrowing collection of stories, grippingly narrated.”
The Economist
“A harrowing snapshot of life in the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic. . . . This is a masterful exposé.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Prominent Chinese writer Murong Xuecun portrays ordinary people living in hellish Wuhan, a place where Orwell’s 1984 and Kafka’s immense bureaucracies intersect. . . . These stories of suffering, propaganda, and abolition of personal freedoms will inform, sadden, and enrage readers.”
“A courageous book that paints a portrait of a callous and dysfunctional state.”
Financial Times

News and Reviews

The New York Times Magazine

Read a profile of Murong Xuecun in the New York Times Magazine.

Literary Hub

Read an excerpt from Deadly Quiet City by Murong Xuecun in Literary Hub.

The China Project

Read an interview with Murong Xuecun in The China Project.

Kirkus Reviews

Read a starred review of Murong Xuecun’s Deadly Quiet City in Kirkus Reviews.

Goodreads Reviews