Chinese citizens are outraged over the death of Li Wenliang, a 33-year-old doctor that was amongst a group of whistleblowers censured by authorities for trying to warn their colleagues about the potential spread of what would later be identified as a new coronavirus that was spreading throughout Wuhan, in central China’s Hubei province. Li, having contracted the 2019-nCoV coronavirus during his efforts to treat others that had been infected with the disease, died on February 7 at the Wuhan Central Hospital where he worked.

“During the fight against the novel coronavirus outbreak, Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist at our hospital, was infected. Efforts to save him were ineffective. He died at 2:58 a.m. on Feb. 7. We deeply regret and mourn his death,” according to a statement posted by the hospital on the Chinese social media site Weibo.

On January 3, Li was amongst numerous individuals accused of “rumormongering” by police in Wuhan; summoned by the police over a December 30 post he made on Weibo warning his colleagues about a number of cases of what appeared to be SARS-coronavirus infections that originated at the Hunan Seafood Market, Li was forced to sign a letter that admonished him over discussing the issue, and that he would promise not to do so again.

Li contracted the coronavirus himself while treating a patient on January 8; two days later he developed severe symptoms—a high fever and a cough—and was admitted to intensive care on January 12, but due to a shortage of test kits he wasn’t positively diagnosed with 2019-nCoV until February 1. Li succumbed to the infection six days later, on the morning of February 7.

Social media in China erupted in grief and anger over Li’s death, with many posts using the situation as an example for the need for freedom of speech in a country where communication is tightly controlled by the government. In the five hours before government censors deleted the hashtag on Weibo, #wewantfreedomofspeech# had garnered over two million views and more than 5,500 posts.

One Weibo post read “I love my country deeply, but I don’t like the current system and the ruling style of my country. It covered my eyes, my ears and my mouth.” Many posts described the outbreak as a man-made disaster that could have been avoided, along with calls for the government to issue an official apology for their treatment of Dr. Li.

“I’ve been holding back for a long time,” the same Weibo poster continued. “I feel we’ve all been holding back for a long time. It erupted today.”

The coronavirus outbreak—and by extension, Dr. Li’s death— is the latest in a long series of incidents that have been the focus of coverups by government officials. Chinese citizens live under an implied social contract with their government: they agree to give up personal freedoms in exchange for personal safety and economic prosperity. The outbreak in Whuan and the subsequent quarantine has jeopardized these guarantees, as the outbreak itself threatens the population’s safety, and the future of China’s economy is now uncertain, due to much of the country’s economy having ground to a halt because of the quarantine and strict travel restrictions imposed across China.

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10 Comments

  1. In the above attached Business Insider news article, Dr. Li’s mother is quoted as describing his age as 34, not 33 as stated at the top of this page. Anyway, when I first read of his death, I was saddened at the death of any surgeon at such an early age. But the more I read of the circumstances around his death, the angrier I became. The delay in verifying his illness is a worldwide problem due to the lack of test kits. (There is now a lot of work being done to produce many more of those test kits.) It was early this morning that I learned that President Xi has fired two Communist Party high officials who directed the early ineffective Party attempts to stop the local and country-wide sharing of news about the early days of this disease outbreak.

    My family and I decided what we *can* do about this disease outbreak is to eat a few meals this month and next month at restaurants in the Los Angeles Chinatown district, in solidarity with U.S. Chinese people now facing shunning by members of the public who fear catching the disease by being in Chinatown. What a world.

    1. She meant that he was turning 34 this year; his 34th birthday isn’t until Oct 12 (Wikipedia). Whenever there’s an apparent discrepancy in the numbers, I do the math myself before posting.

      President Xi has fired two Communist Party high officials who directed the early ineffective Party attempts to stop the local and country-wide sharing of news about the early days of this disease outbreak.

      Pretty pathetic, considering they were following Party rules. But, gotta save face above all, right?

      Kim Jong Un went a step further and executed an official for visiting a public bath while he was under quarantine.

      That’s an excellent attitude to maintain, Indy. There’s more than enough racism running rampant nowadays without folks piling on the unfounded notion that all Chinese are infected, or somehow responsible for this mess.

  2. Thanks, Matthew, for explaining about the doctor’s true age. In earlier smartphone news reports I saw in the last week (Reuters, CNN, The NYTimes), that doctor’s age was given as 37. Reporters at such leading press outlets know how to check the facts before they print their stories, but in the chaos of the initial weeks of this outbreak in China, the reporters’ sources were evidently too overwhelmed to check their employee rosters carefully before answering that question.

    In Los Angeles, there is a fake flyer being circulated by hand that suggests it’s safer for now to avoid Asian-American restaurants like Panda Express. Give me a break. So we’ll be eating at Panda Express, too.

    BBC News reported 3 hours ago today (9:30 am PST) in a coronavirus update story that a total of six of what it describes as “health care workers” and “medical care workers” have died in China so far from coronavirus. For now, it’s not clear whether those were all medical doctors, doctors and nurses, or what.

    I have a family member working with patients at Cedars Sinai hospital, which is on the edge of Beverly Hills in West Los Angeles. I just told that person about the stethoscope-wielding robot that was used to help care for the recent Seattle coronavirus patient … that patient is better now, and none of the staff got sick. Here’s a photo of that robot: https://ktla.com/2020/01/24/man-diagnosed-with-wuhan-coronavirus-near-seattle-being-treated-largely-by-robot/

    1. Boycotting an American company that was founded by Americans a third of a century ago in California, over an outbreak that affects less than one-20,000ths of the population of China… yup, some folk are pretty slow on the uptake.

      Health care workers, regardless of their individual roles, are especially at risk because of their repeated exposure to the pathogen: it’s not as if they contract the virus once and can’t accumulate any more of it, but rather that over the course of their work they’re infected repeatedly before the symptoms prevent themselves. Sadly, China is going to lose a lot more heroes before this is over.

  3. The current issue (Feb. 15-21) of The Economist magazine has several small articles on different aspects of the coronavirus outbreak to date. The following article (which you can read for free if you have a US library card and log in to your library account, or access the library magazine database from within the physical library) notes importantly that Foxconn, a leading Chinese manufacturer for components of the iPhone, is one of a number of Chinese firms that “have started making their own masks.” (The US 3M corporation has almost a US stranglehold on the manufacturing of NIOSH-certified N95 face masks.) Link to that article: https://www.economist.com/china/2020/02/13/chinas-official-holiday-ends-but-not-the-woes-of-its-firms

    In that same issue of The Economist, the inside back page contains an obituary: “Dr. Li Wenliang, one of the first to raise the alarm about a new coronavirus, died of it on February 7th, aged 33.” Link: https://www.economist.com/obituary/2020/02/13/li-wenliang-died-on-february-7th

  4. Correction? 10 minutes ago, the Chinese authorities came online to claim that this medical director with coronavirus is still being rescusciated. (Isn’t that what they claimed for days about Dr. Li Wenliang as well?)

  5. Absolutely. In the last 8 hours, leading US news websites like the NYTimes and Bloomberg News have begun to report his death. He was Liu Ziming, MD, a neurosurgeon and director of the Wuchang hospital in Wuhan. He was the most senior medical person in China so far to die from the coronavirus. Here is one such news article: https://abc17news.com/news/national-world/2020/02/18/coronavirus-death-toll-tops-1800-as-780-million-remain-on-lockdown-in-china/

  6. The deaths of multiple health care workers in China in the early days of a viral disease outbreak shows that China is still apparently challenged by the last vestiges of its “third world country” approach to public health and primary health care. In particular, the multiple deaths of doctors is a call in any such countries for immediate goals to be set in higher standards for health care delivery.

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