Connect with us

Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Dr Li Wenliang, the face of the Wuhan Coronavirus, and failed censorship




In a country where media, especially social media, is tightly controlled, the events surrounding the death of young doctor Li Wenliang have been particularly surprising. An outpouring of frustration, grief and anger, directed at the Chinese government, made its way onto the Chinese social media platforms and was shared by millions before, as expected, finally being taken down.

Such is the Great Firewall of China, that any critical social media is usually removed in quick time by an ‘army’ of censors said to be even larger than the physical Chinese Army – you know, the ones with guns and things that go BANG.

As the young doctor, whose early pleas were caught up amongst the early media flurry and other random videos coming out of Wuhan, was ailing in a hospital, a victim of the coronavirus, Chinese censors tried to actively diffuse his message, punish and discredit him. Until he actually died.

But let’s back up a month or so…

A young ophthalmologist in one of Wuhan’s hospitals alerted his peers and sent online messages about a mysterious new virus afflicting residents and starting to fill up hospital beds. He was subsequently arrested and punished for spreading “rumours” as the city’s government continued to downplay the dangers of the virus. His messages spoke of “the spread of a SARS-like virus”.

“I only wanted to remind my university classmates to be careful.”

Li was speaking from his hospital bed, having succumbed to coronavirus himself. On Friday morning, his condition worsened, and the 34 year old died, just another statistic out of the hundreds of fatalities from an outbreak that has spread well beyond Wuhan.

  Japan government says masks not needed outside if you don't talk too much

We now know the Wuhan government tried to actively stifle information in the early weeks of the outbreak, including the news that Li and other whistleblowers were being silenced. There have been countless medical staff, and even officials (including the Wuhan Mayor) who have since apologised for not reacting quickly enough and trying to control the flow of information.

It led to considerable anger amongst the Chinese citizenry and plenty of tut-tutting from western media. But central authorities were able to wrest back control of the narrative by allowing a rare transparency and access to information on what was going on, and giving Chinese media a free hand in covering the outbreak, a rare courtesy.

Dr Li Wenliang, the face of the Wuhan Coronavirus, and failed censorship | News by Thaiger

Certainly over the past week the central authorities have re-tightened their grip on information, as they’ve also introduced unprecedented steps to control the virus, including complete lockdowns of entire cities. Much of the country remains on voluntary or mandatory quarantine. The fallout from the outbreak – the way it was handled medically and as news – will resonated in the Chinese psyche, and the economy, long after the spread of the virus is brought under control.

Speaking about the early whistle blowers who who trying to raise the alarm, before the virus had a name or had started to kill people, Dr Li’s peers and some officials are now acknowledging that their early warnings probably saved thousands of lives.

Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist at the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention says… “In retrospect, we should highly praise them. They were wise before the outbreak.”

  Proposal for new “green zone” provinces goes before CCSA today

The reaction to Li’s death spread quickly across the Chinese internet. The comments came fast and furious, it was immediate and almost unprecedented.

“Are you angry? If any of us here is fortunate enough to speak up for the public in the future, please make sure you remember tonight’s anger.”

“Countless young people will mature overnight after today… the world is not as beautiful as we imagined.”

For a much longer time than usual, the people pulling levers that control the Great Firewall either didn’t know what to do, or simply couldn’t control the wave of frustration being tapped out on millions of Chinese smartphones.

Usually, anything vaguely controversial, or critical of the Chinese Government, communism, or even discussion about censorship, is quickly removed. This time the messages were circulating for many hours and were seen and shared by, probably, tens of millions.

Two hashtags were trending on the Weibo platform (Weibo is a Chinese-made combo of Twitter, Facebook and Line, all in one mega-platform).

“The Wuhan government owes Dr. Li Wenliang an apology”

“We want freedom of speech”

Another hashtag, “I want freedom of speech,” had around 2 million views in the early hours of Friday, before it eventually vanished from Chinese screens as well.

The controlling of the narrative following his death was as clumsy as the earlier attempts to stifle Dr Li’s efforts of whistle-blowing.

Online state media outlets reported the doctor’s death late on Thursday night, quoting friends and peers at Wuhan Central Hospital. Then all references to the reports vanished without explanation. The hospital then claimed efforts were underway to resuscitate Li, but later issued a statement that he had died. The eventual confirmation came late at night, a PR tactic used by governments everywhere to announce things they don’t want noticed. But plenty of people were still awake.

  BREAKING: Bars reopening in Thailand’s “Green” and “Blue” Zones, changes to Thailand Pass

“I knew you would post this in the middle of the night.”

“You think we’ve all gone to sleep? No. We haven’t.”

The fury came thick and fast as Chinese recognised the ham-fisted attempts at twisting the narrative and then misreporting and mishandling the doctor’s death.

“A doctor had to die twice,” wrote a user on WeChat.

“That is national humiliation.”

For a fleeting moment in China’s recent history the Great Firewall failed and the plight of of a plucky young doctor became the talk of China, spread quickly through social media, before it was stifled. But the discussions about his death, and what it means, continue around the water coolers of Chinese offices and the corridors of hospitals.

Li’s death and the authorities’ clumsy handling of the news, and the news about the Coronavirus generally, continues to exacerbate a crisis that is already rattling the stern communist foundations of the Chinese state. Beijing’s efforts to manage both the coronavirus, and the news about the virus, have laid bare the worst aspects of China’s governance under President Xi Jinping.

Dr Li Wenliang may well end up the face of the Wuhan or Chinese Coronavirus, a story of courage and pluck, and how his message pierced through the Great Firewall of China.


Get more from The Thaiger

Looking for your next home in Thailand? Let us match you with a local expert in minutes!

Thank you for your interest!

One of our agents will
reach out to you soon.

I want to:
  • Thailand (ไทย)+66
  • United States+1
  • United Kingdom+44
  • Australia+61
  • Afghanistan (‫افغانستان‬‎)+93
  • Albania (Shqipëri)+355
  • Algeria (‫الجزائر‬‎)+213
  • American Samoa+1684
  • Andorra+376
  • Angola+244
  • Anguilla+1264
  • Antigua and Barbuda+1268
  • Argentina+54
  • Armenia (Հայաստան)+374
  • Aruba+297
  • Australia+61
  • Austria (Österreich)+43
  • Azerbaijan (Azərbaycan)+994
  • Bahamas+1242
  • Bahrain (‫البحرين‬‎)+973
  • Bangladesh (বাংলাদেশ)+880
  • Barbados+1246
  • Belarus (Беларусь)+375
  • Belgium (België)+32
  • Belize+501
  • Benin (Bénin)+229
  • Bermuda+1441
  • Bhutan (འབྲུག)+975
  • Bolivia+591
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina (Босна и Херцеговина)+387
  • Botswana+267
  • Brazil (Brasil)+55
  • British Indian Ocean Territory+246
  • British Virgin Islands+1284
  • Brunei+673
  • Bulgaria (България)+359
  • Burkina Faso+226
  • Burundi (Uburundi)+257
  • Cambodia (កម្ពុជា)+855
  • Cameroon (Cameroun)+237
  • Canada+1
  • Cape Verde (Kabu Verdi)+238
  • Caribbean Netherlands+599
  • Cayman Islands+1345
  • Central African Republic (République centrafricaine)+236
  • Chad (Tchad)+235
  • Chile+56
  • China (中国)+86
  • Christmas Island+61
  • Cocos (Keeling) Islands+61
  • Colombia+57
  • Comoros (‫جزر القمر‬‎)+269
  • Congo (DRC) (Jamhuri ya Kidemokrasia ya Kongo)+243
  • Congo (Republic) (Congo-Brazzaville)+242
  • Cook Islands+682
  • Costa Rica+506
  • Côte d’Ivoire+225
  • Croatia (Hrvatska)+385
  • Cuba+53
  • Curaçao+599
  • Cyprus (Κύπρος)+357
  • Czech Republic (Česká republika)+420
  • Denmark (Danmark)+45
  • Djibouti+253
  • Dominica+1767
  • Dominican Republic (República Dominicana)+1
  • Ecuador+593
  • Egypt (‫مصر‬‎)+20
  • El Salvador+503
  • Equatorial Guinea (Guinea Ecuatorial)+240
  • Eritrea+291
  • Estonia (Eesti)+372
  • Ethiopia+251
  • Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas)+500
  • Faroe Islands (Føroyar)+298
  • Fiji+679
  • Finland (Suomi)+358
  • France+33
  • French Guiana (Guyane française)+594
  • French Polynesia (Polynésie française)+689
  • Gabon+241
  • Gambia+220
  • Georgia (საქართველო)+995
  • Germany (Deutschland)+49
  • Ghana (Gaana)+233
  • Gibraltar+350
  • Greece (Ελλάδα)+30
  • Greenland (Kalaallit Nunaat)+299
  • Grenada+1473
  • Guadeloupe+590
  • Guam+1671
  • Guatemala+502
  • Guernsey+44
  • Guinea (Guinée)+224
  • Guinea-Bissau (Guiné Bissau)+245
  • Guyana+592
  • Haiti+509
  • Honduras+504
  • Hong Kong (香港)+852
  • Hungary (Magyarország)+36
  • Iceland (Ísland)+354
  • India (भारत)+91
  • Indonesia+62
  • Iran (‫ایران‬‎)+98
  • Iraq (‫العراق‬‎)+964
  • Ireland+353
  • Isle of Man+44
  • Israel (‫ישראל‬‎)+972
  • Italy (Italia)+39
  • Jamaica+1
  • Japan (日本)+81
  • Jersey+44
  • Jordan (‫الأردن‬‎)+962
  • Kazakhstan (Казахстан)+7
  • Kenya+254
  • Kiribati+686
  • Kosovo+383
  • Kuwait (‫الكويت‬‎)+965
  • Kyrgyzstan (Кыргызстан)+996
  • Laos (ລາວ)+856
  • Latvia (Latvija)+371
  • Lebanon (‫لبنان‬‎)+961
  • Lesotho+266
  • Liberia+231
  • Libya (‫ليبيا‬‎)+218
  • Liechtenstein+423
  • Lithuania (Lietuva)+370
  • Luxembourg+352
  • Macau (澳門)+853
  • Macedonia (FYROM) (Македонија)+389
  • Madagascar (Madagasikara)+261
  • Malawi+265
  • Malaysia+60
  • Maldives+960
  • Mali+223
  • Malta+356
  • Marshall Islands+692
  • Martinique+596
  • Mauritania (‫موريتانيا‬‎)+222
  • Mauritius (Moris)+230
  • Mayotte+262
  • Mexico (México)+52
  • Micronesia+691
  • Moldova (Republica Moldova)+373
  • Monaco+377
  • Mongolia (Монгол)+976
  • Montenegro (Crna Gora)+382
  • Montserrat+1664
  • Morocco (‫المغرب‬‎)+212
  • Mozambique (Moçambique)+258
  • Myanmar (Burma) (မြန်မာ)+95
  • Namibia (Namibië)+264
  • Nauru+674
  • Nepal (नेपाल)+977
  • Netherlands (Nederland)+31
  • New Caledonia (Nouvelle-Calédonie)+687
  • New Zealand+64
  • Nicaragua+505
  • Niger (Nijar)+227
  • Nigeria+234
  • Niue+683
  • Norfolk Island+672
  • North Korea (조선 민주주의 인민 공화국)+850
  • Northern Mariana Islands+1670
  • Norway (Norge)+47
  • Oman (‫عُمان‬‎)+968
  • Pakistan (‫پاکستان‬‎)+92
  • Palau+680
  • Palestine (‫فلسطين‬‎)+970
  • Panama (Panamá)+507
  • Papua New Guinea+675
  • Paraguay+595
  • Peru (Perú)+51
  • Philippines+63
  • Poland (Polska)+48
  • Portugal+351
  • Puerto Rico+1
  • Qatar (‫قطر‬‎)+974
  • Réunion (La Réunion)+262
  • Romania (România)+40
  • Russia (Россия)+7
  • Rwanda+250
  • Saint Barthélemy+590
  • Saint Helena+290
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis+1869
  • Saint Lucia+1758
  • Saint Martin (Saint-Martin (partie française))+590
  • Saint Pierre and Miquelon (Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon)+508
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines+1784
  • Samoa+685
  • San Marino+378
  • São Tomé and Príncipe (São Tomé e Príncipe)+239
  • Saudi Arabia (‫المملكة العربية السعودية‬‎)+966
  • Senegal (Sénégal)+221
  • Serbia (Србија)+381
  • Seychelles+248
  • Sierra Leone+232
  • Singapore+65
  • Sint Maarten+1721
  • Slovakia (Slovensko)+421
  • Slovenia (Slovenija)+386
  • Solomon Islands+677
  • Somalia (Soomaaliya)+252
  • South Africa+27
  • South Korea (대한민국)+82
  • South Sudan (‫جنوب السودان‬‎)+211
  • Spain (España)+34
  • Sri Lanka (ශ්‍රී ලංකාව)+94
  • Sudan (‫السودان‬‎)+249
  • Suriname+597
  • Svalbard and Jan Mayen+47
  • Swaziland+268
  • Sweden (Sverige)+46
  • Switzerland (Schweiz)+41
  • Syria (‫سوريا‬‎)+963
  • Taiwan (台灣)+886
  • Tajikistan+992
  • Tanzania+255
  • Thailand (ไทย)+66
  • Timor-Leste+670
  • Togo+228
  • Tokelau+690
  • Tonga+676
  • Trinidad and Tobago+1868
  • Tunisia (‫تونس‬‎)+216
  • Turkey (Türkiye)+90
  • Turkmenistan+993
  • Turks and Caicos Islands+1649
  • Tuvalu+688
  • U.S. Virgin Islands+1340
  • Uganda+256
  • Ukraine (Україна)+380
  • United Arab Emirates (‫الإمارات العربية المتحدة‬‎)+971
  • United Kingdom+44
  • United States+1
  • Uruguay+598
  • Uzbekistan (Oʻzbekiston)+998
  • Vanuatu+678
  • Vatican City (Città del Vaticano)+39
  • Venezuela+58
  • Vietnam (Việt Nam)+84
  • Wallis and Futuna (Wallis-et-Futuna)+681
  • Western Sahara (‫الصحراء الغربية‬‎)+212
  • Yemen (‫اليمن‬‎)+967
  • Zambia+260
  • Zimbabwe+263
  • Åland Islands+358


    Join the conversation and have your say on Thailand news published on The Thaiger.

    Thaiger Talk is our new Thaiger Community where you can join the discussion on everything happening in Thailand right now.

    Please note that articles are not posted to the forum instantly and can take up to 20 min before being visible. Click for more information and the Thaiger Talk Guidelines.

    Click to comment

    You must be logged in to post a comment Login

    Leave a Reply

    If you have story ideas, a restaurant to review, an event to cover or an issue to discuss, contact The Thaiger editorial staff.


    Follow Thaiger by email:

    World13 hours ago

    Australian voters sweep conservative government out of power

    Chon Buri14 hours ago

    Alleged motorbike cart thieves arrested in Chon Buri

    Phuket14 hours ago

    Phuket authorities launch campaign against dengue fever in schools

    Tourism15 hours ago

    Thailand tourism authorities expect 1 million arrivals per month starting June

    Thailand15 hours ago

    5 Underrated Apps to Download when in Thailand | This is Thailand

    Krabi16 hours ago

    Krabi yacht capsizes in storm

    Join the conversation on the Thaiger Talk forums today!
    Thailand17 hours ago

    Happy Coup Day Thailand – 8 year anniversary of the 2014 military coup – OPINION

    Central Thailand17 hours ago

    Police under investigation in central Thailand after viral video

    Chon Buri20 hours ago

    2 Chon Buri factory workers suffer burns after fire

    World20 hours ago

    Japan government says masks not needed outside if you don’t talk too much

    Pattaya21 hours ago

    Alcohol ban in Pattaya and Bangkok today until 6pm

    Bangkok21 hours ago

    Bangkok virologist says Thais should stay calm over monkeypox

    Bangkok21 hours ago

    Bangkok is off to the polls today to elect a new Governor

    Phuket2 days ago

    Phuket Food Festival 2022 will feature hemp recipies

    Chon Buri2 days ago

    UPDATE: Suspect in assault case with Russian woman in Chon Buri released

    Thailand8 months ago

    Morning Top Stories Thailand | Police to end protests, Human Trafficking | September 14

    Thailand1 year ago

    Thailand News Today | Thai Airways in rehab, All go for Songkran | March 4

    Tourism1 year ago

    Phuket’s nightlife. Yes, bars and clubs are still open | VIDEO

    Phuket1 year ago

    Thailand News Today | Covid passport talks, Thai Airways heads to court | March 2

    Tourism1 year ago

    Phuket Thai food treats you need to try | VIDEO

    Thailand1 year ago

    Thailand News Today | Bars, pubs and restaurants ‘sort of’ back to normal | Feb 23

    Tourism1 year ago

    In search of Cat & Dog Cafés in Phuket Town | VIDEO

    Thailand1 year ago

    Thailand News Today | Gambling crackdown, Seafood market to reopen, Vlogger challenge | Jan 21

    Thailand1 year ago

    Thailand News Today | Covid testing for visas, Business impact, Vaccine approval | January 19

    Thailand1 year ago

    Thailand News Today | Weekend Bangkok bombs, Thailand fires, Covid update | January 18

    Thailand1 year ago

    Thailand News Today | Stray car on runway, Indonesian quake, 300 baht tourist fee | January 15

    Thailand1 year ago

    Thailand News Today | Governor off respirator, sex-trafficking arrest, condo prices falling | January 14

    Thailand1 year ago

    Thailand News Today | Chinese vaccine, Thailand ‘drug hub’, Covid update | January 13

    Thailand1 year ago

    Thailand News Today | Bangkok may ease restrictions, Phuket bar curfew, Vaccine roll out | January 12

    Thailand1 year ago

    Thailand News Today | Covid latest, Cockfights closed down, Bryde’s Whale beached | January 11