July 7, 2020

Wuhan, the new Chernobyl?

The death of Li Wenliang, the ophthalmologist who warned already in December about the epidemic that was coming to China because of a new coronavirus, has not been in vain. Since it was known that this doctor died last week because of the same virus as he warned, in China something staggered. Many citizens did not think twice to raise their voice in the controlled Chinese social networks. Nor are some businessmen and recognized figures. And even the state media echoed an avoidable death, that which has since become a sort of national hero.

That day at night the Chinese censorship took a few hours to take their digital scissors for a walk, leaving some room for critical voices to play their part. The messages of malaise and the anger of the citizens on the management that has been done of the current crisis walked through the network with joy in the closest thing to a protest that China has lived since in 1989 the student revolution and subsequent Tiananmen slaughter. “He was an ordinary figure, but a symbol,” Zhang Lifan, an independent historian from Beijing, told the WSJ newspaper. “If it wasn’t for the epidemic and nobody could leave their home, there would probably be demonstrations at this time. The officials are absolutely worried, ”he added.

Since then, those voices have multiplied in different formats. Nor has the dance of figures offered by the authorities in recent days helped. If this Thursday the way of counting the cases was modified, which meant an increase of 13,500 cases of contagion in 24 hours; yesterday the Chinese authorities had to rectify the number of deaths caused by the coronavirus. The confusion came as a result of the fact that on Thursday they put the number of fined in 1,367 people, which yesterday added 121 more deaths, leaving the number at 1,488. However, the National Health Commission, without giving too many details, subtracted 108 dead yesterday to that total by discovering “duplicate statistics” in the province of Hubei and leaving the final figure in 1,380 fined.

All these comings and goings have generated greater discomfort among citizens who do not usually doubt the capacity of their authorities, since they still trust at the cost of seeing their restricted freedoms in which the party, which chooses the best among the best for govern, ensure your prosperity and security. In the country there is not much room for criticism and, therefore, the question veiled after what happened with Dr. Li is why Beijing gave the court to those angry citizens. While some believe that it was a failure of the system used to show the tiredness about the lack of freedom of expression, others consider that it was a studied movement of the central government to separate the role in handling the situation of the CCP mandamases and that of Wuhan local authorities, whom they accuse of not having reacted on time.

In one way or another, Pandora’s box opened and voices began to arrive – most from the West – venturing that China could be at the doorstep of a new Tiananmen or a “Chernobyl moment.” Especially now, when the country keeps several fronts open. To the commercial war with the United States, other matters are added in Hong Kong, Taiwan or Xinjiang. Precisely, an online petition of hundreds of Chinese citizens led by academics was made public this week asking the national legislature to protect the right of citizens to freedom of expression, a challenge for the almighty Beijing, whom Washington yesterday accused of “lack of transparency” after the confusion of figures. The petition, addressed to the National People’s Congress, seeks, among other objectives, to protect people’s right to freedom of expression, to make February 6 – the day in which Li- died a national day for freedom of expression and ensure that no one is punished, threatened, interrogated, censored or locked up for his speech, civil meeting, correspondence or communication.

“The social contract between the party and the people, guaranteeing people’s well-being and providing growing economic prosperity, is suffering tensions at the national level in a way that I do not remember in the last decades,” said Sinologist Bill Bishop, However To stop them, Beijing has already put its machinery to work. In order to show society that the one who is now in charge of the management of the outbreak is the central government and to show its citizens that the matter of Dr. Li did not reach his ears, he chose to send Wuhan a delegation of the National Supervisory Commission to clarify the situation for which this doctor was reprimanded after alerting of the new coronavirus and studying the failed initial response to the crisis.

As a result of that investigation, on Monday they began to roll heads and two senior officials from the Hubei province were dismissed. Specifically, Zhang Jin and Liu Yingzi, head and director of the health commission in Hubei, respectively, who have been replaced by Wang Hesheng, deputy director of the National Health Commission of China. They were followed by two other heavyweights in the province, the general secretary of the CCP in Hubei, Jiang Chaoliang; and Wuhan’s, Ma Guoqiang.

The Propaganda Department has also sent 300 journalists to Hubei to ensure a more positive narrative of a situation that has already left more than 1,300 dead and 64,000 infected in almost thirty countries. And in another attempt to calm the spirits, yesterday they revealed for the first time that the number of health workers infected by COVID-19 amounted to 1,716 workers, of which six had died, while insisting on the harsh conditions to which they Faculty members face due to the shortage of protective equipment and masks and long working hours.

Meanwhile, censorship has already made sensitive news about the issue disappear and even people like Chen Qiushi, a lawyer and journalist who had published videos from inside the saturated hospitals that try to fight the disease. Although Chen still knows nothing, keeping so many millions of people silenced at a time as critical as the current one does not seem easy task.


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