A new martyr throws a face at China's worsening coronavirus crisis

Li Wenliang at Wuhan Central Hospital last month.

WUHAN, China – More than 600 people have died. Tens of thousands are infected. Millions are under arrest and the government has tried to silence complaints.

However, what triggered an online revolt in China on Friday, the most violent attack on censorship in almost a decade, began with the death of a man: the doctor who was trying to raise an alarm about the corona virus.

The flood of sadness and rage over the death of the doctor, Li Wenliang – from the same virus that he had denounced – temporarily overwhelmed China's sophisticated censorship and propaganda system. Many on social media called the doctor a martyr and a hero, and government officials, celebrities, and business leaders risked a Communist Party reprimand for joining ordinary people to express frustration and grief.

"Li Wenliang's death has become an emotional focus," said Wang Yu, a Wuhan man in his twenties, and showed the flood of comments about Dr. Li on his cell phone.

After his death on Friday, many Chinese said he was a vivid reminder of the first steps taken to cover up the outbreak.

  • Updated February 5, 2020

    • Where did the virus spread?
      You can follow his movement with this card.
    • How are the United States affected?
      There were at least a dozen cases. American citizens and permanent residents flying from China to the United States are now quarantined for two weeks.
    • What if I'm on the go?
      Some countries, including the United States, have advised against traveling to China and some airlines have canceled flights. Many travelers have stayed in the balance trying to change or cancel bookings.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands is the most important thing you can do.

Many people are connected to the Internet and have plenty of time to deal with the doctor's death. Chinese social media, which was often restless and volatile, agreed, as Dr. Li was in mourning, and eulogies came from all corners of the country. A trend hashtag called for freedom of speech for a few hours.

Beijing was unable to completely end the discussions and turned to the state media to inform Dr. Turn Li into a loyal soldier who adapts to the government's cause. The dispute over the doctor's memory and political implications are reminiscent of what happened after the SARS outbreak, as some said in posts that were quickly erased.

In Wuhan, a steel-gray sky hung over the sad day of Mr. Li's death. At the entrance to the hospital where he died, a spontaneous monument of flowers, a black and white photo, and sung cigarettes formed – a substitute for incense sticks. There were few mourners during the day, perhaps because many people in Wuhan are afraid to move too far from home.

Part of Dr. Li's appeal was his sensitivity to everyone. He loved fried chicken thighs, was annoyed when cherry prices rose too high, and was often stuck when he worked an extra shift in the hospital. Like many others in China, he wrote everything about it online.

Users came up with their old thoughts on the microblogging site Weibo.

"A life that has not been studied is not worth living," he wrote in a characteristic post after considering the origins of the pancakes. "I hope everyone can fulfill their values."

The country's state media released their own memories, and in some cases worked to uncover the story of Dr. Li subtly coopt.

China's National Health Commission did not remind him as Kassandra, who warned of the virus, but as a doctor at the forefront of the response. Although Dr. Li's wish to help his colleagues, he was an ophthalmologist who became ill from a patient he was treating for glaucoma.

"Since the epidemic began, many health professionals have disregarded their own safety, abandoned their small family, faced the difficulties of the larger family, and fought bravely on the front line of the epidemic," the health commission said in a statement. These workers have "made a huge contribution to the protection of people's lives and health, and we strongly respect them."

China's state television station tried to Link Li directly to Mr. Xi's own words about fighting the epidemic. "Defeating this devil virus is the best consolation for the deceased," said the broadcaster in a comment, repeating Mr. Xi's characterization of the disease.

On Friday, Communist Party officials said they would send a team from the powerful anti-corruption committee to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr. To examine Li.

The State Supervisory Committee has "decided to send an investigation team to Wuhan, Hubei Province to conduct a comprehensive investigation of related issues reported by the masses through Dr. Li Wenliang" website.

It is rare for the Communist Party to respond to public outrage so quickly. Several high-ranking officials and state media had joined the choir, which was led by Dr. Li's death mourned. In online statements, the National Health Commission and the Wuhan government said they had expressed their condolences.