Dr. Li Wenliang, the ophthalmologist who warned his fellow citizens about the coronavirus, died from the disease on Feb. 7. When he spoke up in concern for public health and safety, China again demonstrated itself to be an oppressive regime as it sought to keep him silent.
In an online chat room, Li told medical school students about the coronavirus, saying that it was similar to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome disease which hit China in 2002 and 2003. At this point, the coronavirus had not yet been identified, but he took measures to warn others about its potential danger.
The Chinese government should have applauded his heroic efforts. Instead, officials summoned him in early January and accused him of “making false statements” that “disturbed the social order.”
China demonstrated to the world in this situation that it doesn’t care about the safety of its people or the freedom of speech and information. Officials care more about maintaining an image of a perfect society, an image they can use to fuel propaganda and support their authoritarian regime.
And the Chinese people recognize their government’s thinly veiled attempts to impose its will on the citizens. People took to Weibo, a social media website, with rage after the news of Li’s death, calling on officials to apologize for their treatment of him. According to the BBC, hashtags demanding government accountability and freedom of speech were trending, but by Friday morning, hundreds of thousands of comments had been removed.
A nation’s public servants have a responsibility to protect their constituents, not just in war but also during major threats to public health. China would rather pretend that nothing’s rotten in the state of Denmark.
But no one buys it.