Chinese web users mourn Dr Li Wenliang as 2020 comes to end, rebutting Western sensationalization
Published: Dec 31, 2020 03:05 AM

A photo of Li Wenliang is among the flowers people sent to the Central Hospital of Wuhan in February, 2020. Photo: Cui Meng/GT

Chinese internet users flooded to Dr Li Wenliang's social media account on Sina Weibo on Wednesday to mourn and wish him a happy new year knowing full well he will never reply. 

"Doctor Li, 2020 is going to end. We are very safe now. Thank you!" 

Such messages abounded on Weibo this week as Chinese experts noted such comments drew a sharp contrast with Western media and politicians who, after nearly a year, were sensationalizing the death of Dr Li to attack China's initial handling of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

They noted that as the Chinese people prepared to say goodbye to 2020, hoping to see the end to such a difficult year of fighting the virus, those who picked the date of Dr Li sounding the alarm in 2019 were using it to launch an online campaign against China. 

It is said that such an intentional distortion of Dr Li's story reflects a complete ignorance of some Western forces about what the Chinese people have been going through this year.

In late December 2019, Dr Li, an eye doctor working in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei Province, shared his concerns about an unknown, SARS-like disease with colleagues in a WeChat social media chat group. 

On Wednesday, about 320 days after Dr Li died from contracting the coronavirus, thousands of messages flooded the official account of Dr Li on Weibo.

Observers said that for Chinese mainland people, Dr Li was not a figure representing an opposition or confrontational force with Chinese authorities as some international politicians and media have reported. Rather, Dr Li was an ordinary hero with the courage to speak out the truth, Chinese observers said. 

Such an outpouring of gratitude for Dr Li should be interpreted as a comprehensive collective emotion of the Chinese people in 2020, many said, as today there is much praise online for all Chinese medical staff including Dr Li for successfully containing the outbreak. 

The top post of his Weibo account Dr Li on February 1 said his COVID-19 test finally confirmed he was infected. It had attracted more than 1 million comments as of Thursday night. 

"2020 is going to end, but you are not going to see the new year... maybe I will not remember you for a long time, but at least I still remember you now, superhero!" posted one internet user. 

"My wish for 2021 is the epidemic could come to a closure!" said another. 

As an ophthalmologist and member of the Communist Party of China at Wuhan Central Hospital where he was also treated for the coronavirus infection, Dr Li obtained a patient report suggesting positive SARS-like coronavirus signs on December 30. 

He shared the information in a group chat, saying there had been seven confirmed cases of a SARS-like disease, according to one of his Weibo posts. 

On January 3 Wuhan police reprimanded Dr Li for spreading "online rumors" and required him to sign a letter of reprimand. 

Following Dr Li's death, an investigation team sent by the central authorities on February 7 asked the local supervisory body to supervise the rectification of the matter, hold relevant personnel accountable and announce the results in a timely fashion. 

On March 19, Wuhan police revoked the reprimand order against Dr Li.

Chinese authorities awarded the doctor and 32 other people May 4 Medals to commemorate their sacrifices in the fight against COVID-19. 

Dr Li's official commendation reads: "As an ophthalmologist, he was not afraid of danger and was not afraid to come into close contact with patients… He stuck to his frontline post and took care of patients in eight beds. 

"When he became infected with COVID-19 at work, he was always concerned about the frontline and said many times that he would go back to work after recovering."

Observers said that while some Western media hyped again the death of Dr Li on Wednesday, Chinese internet users protested against their speculation and sensationalization.

It is said the Western media exploited the anniversary of Dr Li's post to attack China's governance flaws and curse the country's efforts to combat the epidemic.

Hyping Dr Li's death were media including Agence France-Presse and Newsweek. 

Joining them were British politicians like Richard Graham, a UK member of parliament, and Benedict Rogers, a member of a vocal China hawk organization the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China.

To attack Chinese authorities on the one-year anniversary of Dr Li sounding the alarm, they portrayed the Dr Li incident as a geyser for public anger toward the government and tried to link it with an alleged government cover-up of the early stage outbreak. 

"We don't forget. We never forget," posted one Chinese internet user in response, who opposed the "ill-intentioned tactics of Western media and figures in sensationalizing the story of Li." 

Many say Chinese people commemorate Dr Li like they commemorate all the medical staff who made sacrifices and devoted themselves to the hard-won national battle against the epidemic.