29/09/2020

The Chinese Communist Party’s handling of coronavirus and the death of Dr. Li Wenliang, who alerted people to the existence of the virus, has resulted in backlash from Chinese communities around the world. Experts say it could signal a long decline for the CC…

VANCOUVER—Grief and anger is vibrating through Chinese communities in Canada and around the world Thursday as news that the doctor who “blew the whistle” on the novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan apparently died of the virus. Then reports he had come back to life surfaced, further enraging the public. By the afternoon, he was declared dead again.
The ensuing backlash in China and by Chinese people around the world, against the Chinese Communist Party over the handling of the virus and the death of Dr. Li Wenliang could signal a long decline for the CCP. It’s a bold statement, but one that’s backed up by history, according to experts on China.
“This is a very typical sign of the fall of an empire,” said Victor Ho, a former Chinese-language newspaper editor in Vancouver and founder of social media outlet Media Analytica, which examines Chinese news and current events.
“You are going to send astronauts to the back of the moon,” Ho said, referring to China’s space ambitions. “But you cannot save people at the back of your house.”
Li was an ophthalmologist at a hospital in Wuhan who is regarded as a national hero for exposing the novel coronavirus and, subsequently, the Chinese government’s failures to properly deal with the outbreak.
The 34-year-old was quickly detained by police for “rumour mongering” when he tried to warn classmates at a medical school about the virus in late December.
On Saturday he was diagnosed with the virus and Chinese state-run media reported his death Thursday before changing their reports hours later to say Li’s heart had stopped but started again, and he was in critical condition. The confirmation of his death came once again hours later.
Rumours that Li’s pregnant wife had also died began circulating Thursday as well. As of Thursday evening, those rumours were still unconfirmed.
YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN…
Ho said he suspects the reports of Li’s death were reversed in state media as an attempt to quell an outburst of anger across China while the government tried to figure out how to handle news of his death.
“They want to manipulate the way to tell the public what happened,” Ho said. “Especially the death news.”
Ho said it’s likely state media will try to will try to portray Li as a hero for blowing the whistle on the discovery of the virus, while downplaying his arrest and government mishandling of his findings.
But the efforts were not working well across social media Thursday, when posts written in Chinese about Li’s death and the government’s handling of the situation flooded WeChat. Some began to disappear shortly after they were written. WeChat censors posts that the ruling CCP may find troublesome, even outside China.
“The Coronavirus plague we saw is just one of the symptoms of another, bigger plague,” said Tao Duanfang, a Vancouver resident on his WeChat channel. “That’s it. That is all I can say for now. We mourn the passing of Dr. Li Wenliang. Some people die; but he is living forever.”
YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN…
In China, where the risk of criticizing the government is heightened, WeChat users were becoming bolder.
“This is the first national funeral since the birth of internet,” wrote one. “And the complete collapse of the credibility of authorities.”
Another person added, “It is different from the past, since everyone is confined to their homes and refreshing their smartphones, which is intensifying the memory.”
Others called for a “Li Wenliang Act” to promote free speech and free media in China. One drew a cartoon of Li with a barbed-wire mask around his face. One post referencing the poet John Donne read, “don’t ask for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for all of us,” while another referred to Li’s story as a “day of infamy” for China.
Smaller acts of defiance, such as reposting official state media articles declaring that Wuhan officials had arrested eight people — doctors talking in a WeChat group about the virus — for “spreading rumours” were common.
So far, there are nearly 30,000 confirmed cases of the virus and more than 550 deaths. The city of Wuhan is regarded as the epicentre of the virus and its 11 million residents have been under heavy restrictions to stay inside their homes, leaving streets deserted.
Charles Burton, a former counsellor at the Canadian embassy in Beijing and China expert with the Macdonald Laurier Institute said that, historically, China’s public has seen catastrophic events as a sign that the national authority must be replaced.
“There is a cultural proclivity to identify these disasters with the failure of government,” Burton said. “And arguably, in this case, there’s some basis for thinking that.”
Get more of the Star in your inbox
Never miss the latest news from the Star. Sign up for our newsletters to get today’s top stories, your favourite columnists and lots more in your inbox
Sign Up Now
Unlike other disasters in China, such as the Sichuan earthquake that claimed 70,000 lives in 2008, the coronavirus outbreak is affecting the entire nation, with numerous cities on lockdown and cases popping up all over the country.
The “enormous disruption to the normal cycle of life” can’t be ignored by China’s population, he said.
Making the situation worse is already simmering anger about repression of information about the virus early on and the near disappearance of the country’s chairman Xi Jinping during the outbreak, Burton said.
With files from The Washington Post