Ophthalmologist Li Wenliang was one of eight doctors in Wuhan who on December 30, 2019 alerted colleagues and friends from the networks about the outbreak of a new coronavirus. Li ignored the ban on spreading sensitive information on social networks and was investigating: The police accused him of spreading rumors. Then, he contracted the coronavirus and died on February 6. From that moment, the news of his death ran like wildfire on Chinese social networks, and users posted messages and images that expressed anger, frustration and pain, and pointed to the Government.
Li Wenliang dies twice: The government tries to cover the news about his death
The world received conflicting information about the time of his death, as state censors intervened to try to stop the news and ordered Wuhan Central Hospital to postpone the announcement of his death. The Initium, a Hong Kong news outlet, gave details about efforts to manipulate the news:
The news about the death of Li Wenliang appeared in a number of news outlets at around 9:30 pm on February 6. In less than two hours, the topic ‘Dr. Li Wenliang passed away ’became a top search with 20 million search records, 540 million views and 73,000 posts on Weibo, the main Chinese social media platform. But after leading news outlets withrew their posts, and Caixin magazine published a report stating that the medical team was still attempting to rescue Li, the search record had lowered to 1.9 million at around 11:30 pm, before disappearing altogether.
One hour later, at around 12:20 am on February 7, a reporter from a business news outlet who was standing outside the ICU ward of Li wrote on his Weibo that Li's heart beat has stopped at 9:30 pm, but that he was attached to an oxygenation machine. At 12:40 am, the Wuhan Central Hospital posted a message on Weibo urging netizens to “pray for Li” as the medical team was still attempting to save his life. Multiple Weibo outlets then published positive comments urging netizens to let Dr. Li “rest in peace”.
At the same time, unverified claims citing screen-capture and sources from a medical staff chatroom alleged that the medical team from the hospital had been instructed to “buy time” and refrain from announcing Li's death without approval from the authorities.
The news of Li Wenliang's death appeared in various media around 9:30 pm on February 6. In less than two hours, the phrase “Dr. Li Wenliang dies” became the most sought after, with 20 million search records, 540 million views and 73,000 publications on Weibo, China's main social network. However, after the main media withdrew their publications, and Caixin magazine published a report stating that the medical team was still trying to save their lives, the search record dropped to 1.9 million around 11:30 p.m. , until it disappeared completely.
An hour later, at about 12:20 a.m. on February 7, the journalist of a business medium that was outside the ICU pavilion where Li was, wrote in his Weibo account that Li's heart had stopped beat at 9:30 pm, but it remained connected to an oxygenation machine. At 12:40 a.m., the Wuhan Central Hospital posted a message on Weibo asking citizens to “pray for Li” because the medical team continued to fight to save their lives. Then, many Weibo media posted positive comments asking users to let Li “rest in peace.”
At the same time, there were unverified allegations citing captures and sources from a medical chat room where the hospital team was said to have been instructed to “save time” and refrain from announcing Li's death without the approval of the authorities .
At this point, citizens could no longer contain their outrage. Weibo was flooded with comments and images that condemned the authorities for having manipulated Li's death (comments cited by The Initium):
心跳 停止 ， 卻不 讓人 死 ， 用 時間 換 維穩 ， 極其 可恥
Your heart stopped beating, and you don't let it die. They gain time to maintain stability. It is an absolute shame.
君 要 臣死 ， 臣 不得不 死 ； 君 不要 臣死 ， 臣 不得好死。
If the emperor wants his official to die, the official must die. If the emperor prohibits his official from dying, the official will have a miserable death.
拖延 幾分鐘 ， 說 還在 搶救 ， 這 是 輿論 控制 的 老 手段 ， 這叫 公佈 死訊 公眾 憤怒 太大 ， 要把 憤怒 轉化 為 對 奇跡 的 失望。 現在 大家 不 就 覺得 憤怒 少 了 很多嘛。
They can say that they were trying to save a life if it had lasted a few minutes. For those who know how public opinion is manipulated, this is called ‘emotion management’. Brutally announcing his death would have triggered a burst of pain and anger. Turning the news into a possible miracle, the emotion goes from anger to disappointment. Do you not see that rabies has decreased markedly now?
The comments above point to a common practice applied to sensitive issues that could generate protests on the networks: the authorities order social media platforms to censor, delete or turn the content to change trends in the desired direction, that is, , less criticism of the actions of the Government, as explained in this message spread in Chinese chat rooms:
关於 武汉 市中心 医院 李文亮 医生 去世 一事 ， 要 严格 规范 稿 源 ， 严禁 使用 自 媒体 稿件 擅自 报导 ， 不得 弹 窗 push ， 不 评论 、 不 炒作。 互动 环节 稳妥 控制 热度 ， 不 设 话题 ， 逐步 撤出 热 搜， 严管 有害 信息。
Upon the death of Dr. Li Wenliang at Wuhan Central Hospital, check the sources of information. The media should not accept or use information sources or reports from independent bloggers. Do not use pop-up windows to highlight the news. No comments, no stir. Control the “temperature” (of the debate) with the comment function. Do not generate topics, make the news gradually disappear from the “most wanted” section, strictly control the harmful information.
An ordinary hero
On this occasion, the attempt to manage emotions failed, and the manipulation of the moment of his death became very obvious. Li Wenliang immediately became an icon, an ordinary hero, as many came to see in his life and death a reflection of his own destinies.
A poem that accompanies the portrait of Li Wenliang circulating in the networks captures the general public sentiment:
生 受訓 戒
死 受 輿 控
夜深 雪 重
While alive, he was threatened with disciplinary measures;
Deceased, they used propaganda to control.
At night, the snow is heavy and the darkness is deep;
Lament and rage are beyond words.
When Li and the other seven doctors were interrogated by the police for spreading rumors, they were forced to sign a letter in which they “recognized” their mistake and promised that they would never commit a similar crime, otherwise they would be prosecuted legally. The alleged crime was to alert family members, friends and colleagues in a chat room about an outbreak similar to SARS in Wuhan. When the case was taken to court, the judge criticized the police for the exaggerated definition of “rumor.” On January 31, the Caixin news site interviewed Li, who said: “The most important thing is that people know the truth, not my claim. A healthy society must have more than one voice. ”
Li's words showed that he did not look like a hero, but instead aspired to live in a healthy society that is only sustainable if people know the truth.
He is survived by his parents and his pregnant wife. None could say goodbye, as they cremated his body, according to reported Free Radio Asia.
Jia Jia, a journalist from mainland China, commented on the consequences of seeing Li as a hero:
请 在 一个 普通人 的 意义 上 悼念 李 医生 ， 因为 我们 任何 一个 普通人 ， 都 可能 重蹈 他 的 悲剧。 没有 什么 英雄 ， 当 所有人 都 怯懦 的 时候 ， 那个 稍微 不 那么 怯懦 的 人 就会 成为 英雄。 如果 只是 说 了 一句 成为 的 话 谎言 他妈 这个 是 世界 就 全 的 谎言 ， 的 ， 的 的 每天 都 ， ， 危险 危险 ， ，所以 ， 丧钟 为 每个 人 而 鸣。 你 明白 了 吗？
Please commemorate Dr. Li as an ordinary person, for all of us, who are ordinary, can share his tragic destiny. There are no heroes as such but people who, in cowardly times, can overcome for a moment their cowardice and be heroes. If someone becomes a hero just for saying something ordinary, this world is a dump of lies. And those ridiculous things happen every day. One day, if you feel any sign of courage in you, just a pinch, get into the danger zone. Li's bells redouble for all of us. Do you get it
Claims for freedom of expression
The rage and lament of Chinese citizens was transformed into variations of “five lawsuits,” which took the form of a political statement evolved from the Hong Kong protests of 2019. Then, five lawsuits circulating online:
五大 诉求 ， 缺 一 不可 ： 撤回 对 李文亮 的 训诫 ； 撤回 所有 撤销 所有 因 言 获罪 的 指控 ； 成立 独立 调查 委员会 ， 彻底 追究 涉事 官员 责任 ； 立即 归还 人民 言论自由。
Five lawsuits, not one less: Withdraw warnings of police disciplinary measures; Withdraw all censorship orders; dismiss all judicial charges; establish an independent investigation commission to punish the officials involved (in covering up the outbreak); Give people the right to freedom of expression.
The youth also used the TikTok video platform to express their claims for freedom of expression. On Twitter, user @ yingyi8798 compiled some short videos of TikTok and posted them:
“让 大家 知道 真 相比 自己 平反 更 重要 ， 一个 健康 的 社会 不 应该 只有 一种 声音。” —— 李文亮 pic.twitter.com/9XbAFFfvn5
– yingyi (@ yingyi8798) February 7, 2020
“The most important thing is that people know the truth, not my claim. A healthy society must have more than one voice. ” – Li Wenliang
It is not surprising that the patriots in favor of the Government have marked the claims for freedom of expression as a revolution of colors. They put the same label on protests against the Government in Hong Kong. The following are two typical comments copied from WeChat.
不 知道 什么 是 “阿拉伯 之 春” 、 什么 是 “颜色 革命” 的 网友 们 ， 好好 感受 一下 今晚 的 微 博 吧！ 某些 势力 某些 人 ， 你们 要 发起 总攻 了 吗？ 你们 真的 是 在 担忧和 哀伤 吗？ 不! 李 医生 只是 你们 用来 挑拨 煽动 的 幌子!
If you don't know what the “Arab Spring” and the “color revolution” are, you can live them tonight at Weibo! Specific forces, specific people, are they launching a great attack? Are they really hurt? No. They only use Dr. Li to incite people to cause problems!
颜色 革命 的 节奏 一波 又 一波 ， 还 记得 去年 十一 发 朋友 圈 的 自己 吗？ zf 固然 有 错 ， 就 错 到 要 推翻 它 的 地步？ 疫情 如此 严重 ， 不能 仅仅 看见 当初 的 错误 ， 一个 医生 的去世 能被 上升 为 国家 ， 体制 ， 香港 ， 台湾 问题 等等 层面 ， 还是 你们 义愤填膺 的 理由 吗？
Waves and waves of colored revolutions are being orchestrated. Do you remember your patriotic pride of national day last year? The government may have made mistakes, but do we get to the point of overthrowing it? The pandemic is now very serious, and we cannot focus on the mistake made at the beginning. Now, the death of a doctor becomes a criticism against the state and the political system, and everything is connected to what happened in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Don't you see that they channel your anger?
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