Wuhan coronavirus: the death of the Chinese doctor feeds anger and demands for change | World News
Ophthalmologist Li Wenliang was among the eight doctors who gave the alarm about the virus at the end of December, only to be reprimanded and censored by the authorities in the central province of Hubei.
After Li’s death was confirmed early Friday, the 34-year-old doctor was praised as a hero on social media, while officials were vilified for allowing the epidemic to turn into a national health crisis instead of Listen to the doctor.
But many also took the opportunity to demand more freedoms in the country ruled by the Communist Party, with the hashtags “I want freedom of expression” and “we demand freedom of expression” that appear on Weibo, similar to Twitter, before being censored.
“The Chinese are only allowed one type of freedom, and that is the freedom granted by the country and the Communist Party,” said a Weibo user.
“But clearly it is we who must be the owners of the laws of this country.”
Local authorities in Hubei and its capital, Wuhan, the city at the epicenter of the crisis, had already faced unusual and uncensored criticism online in recent weeks to minimize the magnitude of the outbreak.
While the World Health Organization and some experts have praised China, saying it took decisive steps to try to contain the virus, critics say precious time was lost due to the early inaction of the local government.
Hubei and Wuhan officials held key political meetings in the first weeks of January. The death toll and the number of cases only began to increase later, from a death on January 11 to more than 630 just four weeks later.
Li, who was diagnosed with the virus on February 1, said in a Weibo post in late January that local police had forced him to sign a statement agreeing not to commit more “actions that violate the law.”
He said police had called him after seeing test results from some patients suggesting SARS in December, and decided to remind his colleagues in a group chat to take stronger precautionary measures.
After Wuhan Central Hospital confirmed in Weibo early Friday that Li had joined the growing number of victims, the mourners left hundreds of thousands of compliments.
“Everything in the world can be suppressed except pain,” said a blogger on the Chinese Baidu website.
The sadness of the public seems to have led to the propaganda apparatus of the Chinese government, usually strictly controlled.
The state television network CCTV and the tabloid Global Times reported his death in Weibo on Thursday night, but deleted their reports shortly after the news became the main search item on the platform with 12 million views.
Later, the hospital issued a statement saying Li was receiving emergency treatment before confirming his death early Friday.
Dali Yang, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, said the authorities probably ordered the delay to show that there was an effort to save the doctor “because there was so much emotion and they wanted to give a sense of hope.”
“Clearly, there was an effort at the national level to channel these very strong emotions from across the country,” Yang told AFP.
But the government also didn’t want to “let it get out of control” and instead move the pain in the direction that the leaders want it to go, he said.
The party wants to show that only under its leadership can the country overcome the crisis, he said.
“That is a revolutionary speech that the party has used again and again,” he said.
In recent weeks, censors allowed Weibo users to criticize Hubei officials, a measure that caught their attention instead of the central government.
China’s anti-graft agency said Friday it was sending investigators to Wuhan to investigate “problems” related to Li.
After Li’s death, criticism went well beyond anger directed at local officials, and users questioned the nature of the communist state itself.
Some Weibo users used historical references, pointing to Wuhan as the birthplace of the 1911 revolution that ended thousands of years of imperial rule in China.
“The eight heroes of Wuhan: the Qing dynasty died 100 years ago, how can there be such bloody tragedies?” wrote a user
By Friday morning, several hashtags related to Li’s freedom of expression and death had been erased from Weibo’s search results.
“If you delete it, post it again. I oppose the criminalization of speech,” wrote a Weibo user in a post that had been shared thousands of times.
In one of his latest Weibo publications, Li wrote to the intensive care unit that he had trouble moving and breathing.
“Seeing all the support and encouragement of my friends online, my mood has become more relaxed,” Li said.
“Please don’t worry everyone, I will actively cooperate with the treatment and fight to be discharged soon!”