Chinese whistleblower doctor honoured on anniversary of his death

A year ago on Sunday, Dr Li Wenliang died from the virus first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Chinese whistleblower doctor honoured on anniversary of his death

Flowers have been left at the back of Wuhan Central Hospital to honour a Chinese whistleblower doctor who died from the coronavirus a year ago.

One message among the flowers was simply the number of a Bible verse – Matthew 5:10. “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” the verse reads.

A year ago on Sunday, Dr Li Wenliang died from the virus first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

China whistleblower
A worker in protective overalls and disinfecting equipment outside Wuhan Central Hospital (Ng Han Guan/AP)

The 34-year-old ophthalmologist was one of eight whistleblowers who local authorities punished early on for “spreading rumours” about a Sars-like virus in a social media group.

His situation, eventually made public in media reports, made him a potent symbol for the perils of going against official messaging in China.

The Chinese public embraced Dr Li, whose presence online had painted a picture of an ordinary person.

His wife was pregnant and he was soon to be a father. He sent the “rumour” because he wanted to warn others.

The public also watched as he fell ill with the disease he was warning them about, eventually worsened, and died.

Coronavirus graphic
(PA Graphics)

Some hours later, in the early morning of February 7, Wuhan Central Hospital announced his death.

Chinese people grieved his death, online and offline. Mourners took flowers to the hospital, while online some people were furious and demanded freedom of speech – posts that were quickly censored.

Dr Li’s death seemed to raise a challenge to the central government, as public anger swelled.

Central government authorities conducted an investigation in Dr Li’s death, concluding that the officer who punished the doctor should be reprimanded.

One police officer was given a demerit, while another was given an official warning, state media later reported.

China Whistleblower
Security guards watch over the entrance of the Wuhan Central Hospital (Ng Han Guan/AP)

China has just released a film, Days and Nights in Wuhan, that celebrates China’s official line that the measures it took, including the unprecedented lockdown it imposed on the city, bought precious time for the world to prepare for the pandemic.

It was not until last month that China finally allowed a World Health Organisation team into the country to investigate the pandemic.

Wuhan for the most part has returned to normal, with shopping centres and streets crowded, and there is little visible evidence of the suffering the city went through. Still, a few of its residents mourn quietly.

Dr Li’s death is still a sensitive topic, and his family has refrained from giving media interviews. While his Weibo profile has been left up, there has been no largescale public memorial.

The person who left the flowers and Bible verse on Saturday declined to be interviewed, saying it was inconvenient.

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