Death of Coronavirus whistleblower sparks outrage on social media


Photo by Ed Crisostomo

  During the early weeks of the Coronavirus outbreak, seven people were quarantined in Wuhan Central Hospital after exhibiting symptoms comparable to the SARS illness. Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist at the hospital, posted about the patients in his medical school alumni group on WeChat, a Chinese messaging app. The seven patients Li posted about were some of the first sufferers of Coronavirus. 

   After posting about the patients, Li was accused of rumor-mongering by Chinese authorities. Li, among other medical officials, was detained on January 3 for continuing to warn Wuhan citizens about the spreading virus. While working with Coronavirus patients, Li was infected and died on February 7 from the virus he tried to warn the world about. 

   Li Wenliang’s death has sparked outrage across China concerning the government’s methods of dealing with disease outbreaks. The Chinese government has been accused of mishandling outbreaks in the past, including the swine fever and SARS outbreaks. During the AIDS outbreak in the early 2000s, China was accused of concentrating its efforts on covering up the spread of the disease instead of providing treatment to the infected. 

   After Li’s death, Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, overflowed with protest posts of the Chinese government’s censorship of Li’s warnings. People also began to protest China’s censorship laws when many posts about Li’s death were censored by authorities. The topic “We want freedom of speech” had almost two million views on Weibo before it was deleted. 

   China’s government issued an apology to Li Wenliang for accusing him of rumor-mongering, but the apology was not enough for the angry Chinese citizens on social media. Online protests continue, even as censorship proves to be an issue for protesters.