After the death of the Chinese doctor, who was the first to draw attention to the danger of the new virus, the party now praised its “professionalism”. At first, she had branded him a liar.
“Yes.” “I understand it.” These are probably Li Wenliang’s last written statements. Li was summoned on January 3, 2020, by the Zhongnanlu Police Station in Wuhan under the file number WuGong 2020103. The accusation against the doctor: spreading falsehoods in social networks. “On December 30, 2019, in the WeChat group ‘Medical Faculty of Wuhan University born in 2004’, you truthfully disseminated the discovery of seven alleged SARS cases,” says the interrogation record.
Li Wenliang was born in 1986 in the northeastern province of Liaoning. After a seven-year medical degree in Wuhan and subsequent training as a specialist in Xiamen, he started in 2014 in the Wuhan Central Hospital. The red pin on his doctor’s coat identifies him as a member of the Communist Party.
“Seven SARS Cases” in Wuhan
On December 30, 2019, Li published this post in the WeChat group of 150-year-old medical graduates: “Seven SARS cases in the Huanan seafood and fruit market. All patients are isolated in the intensive care unit.”
Someone from the group continued to distribute this post as a screenshot on the Chinese Internet, including the name and function of Li. According to the police, he fulfilled the criminal offense “disturbing social peace”. The police asked him whether he would stop doing this in the future. He answered “yes”. The officials also made it clear that he could face criminal prosecution. Li replied, “I got it!”
Denounced as a liar
He and another seven medical professionals were portrayed as “liars” by the state-controlled press in early January. All of them would have spread false reports about cases of lung diseases with the aim of causing unrest and panic among the population. This news also appeared on the main news broadcast of the state television CCTV.
A week later, Li was hospitalized because of the then mysterious lung disease. The virus was also found in his parents and some doctor colleagues. In his last interview with Chinese magazine “Caixin” (financial news) on January 30, when he was already sick, Li withdrew his confession. “I didn’t spread any falsehood,” he says, “I wanted to make my fellow doctors aware, but I didn’t want to cause panic.” In his post, he also added a laboratory report that the cases from the Huanan market were a SARS-like virus. “In a healthy society, there cannot be only one voice,” Li told Caixin.
The party’s posthumous praise for Li’s “attention”
Li died on Friday night. He was 34 years old. The World Health Organization (WHO) tweeted: “We are infinitely sad about the death of Dr. Li Wenliang. His performance in the fight against the virus must be recognized.”
After Li was initially portrayed as a liar and troublemaker, now the 180-degree turn after his death. The nationalist daily “Global Times” praises Li’s “professionalism and attention to an impending epidemic”. And the National Monitoring Commission, a new anti-corruption agency founded under Xi Jinping, has ordered “an independent investigation into all issues related to Dr. Li that come from the population.”
The netizens see him as a brave national hero who was not intimidated by the leadership and told the truth. Some started the hashtag “We want the freedom of expression” on Weibo. Such forums were quickly closed.