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China's Reaction to Doctor's Death 'Almost Unprecedented'

Chinese speak out about freedom of speech on Weibo after Li Wenliang's death
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 7, 2020 6:21 AM CST
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People pay condolence in front of flowers lying near a photo of the late Dr. Li Wenliang at a hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province, Friday, Feb. 7, 2020.   (Chinatopix via AP)
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(Newser) – Hundreds have been killed by the coronavirus in China, but none of those deaths have rattled the nation like that of Li Wenliang. The 34-year-old Chinese doctor sounded an early alarm about coronavirus in December, only to be silenced by police who warned him about spreading rumors. Li died at Wuhan Central Hospital on Friday morning local time, and the public has been vocal about its anger on social media—to an extreme. As the BBC puts it, "it is hard to recall an event in recent years that has triggered as much grief, rage, and mistrust against the government." Indeed, CNN called it "almost unprecedented." The Guardian reports that Li's death surged to the top of the most-read list of topics on Weibo, with more than 1.5 billion views.

"Wuhan government owes Dr Li Wenliang an apology" and "We want freedom of speech" were trending as hashtags until they were censored by the "hundreds of thousands," per the BBC. Indeed, the latter hashtag amassed 1.8 million views before being censored. That's highly unusual, observes CNN, which notes that topics relating to censorship itself [are] usually absolutely verboten" but weren't deleted for a number of hours in this case, "rare evidence of indecision and confusion." Another rare more: The New York Times reports the government reacted unusually quickly to the clamor, with the State Supervisory Committee issuing a one-line statement Friday that said it would conduct an investigation in Wuhan "on related issues reported by the masses about Dr. Li Wenliang." (Read more coronavirus stories.)

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