Beginning on January 25, writer and Wuhan local Fang Fang chronicled life from inside what has been called “the largest quarantine in human history.” As public anger was heating up over official opacity and inaction in the early days of the novel coronavirus outbreak, the city of Wuhan and many other cities in central China were sealed as part of China’s coronavirus response, effectively locking down over 50 million people. With dozens of entries in her “Wuhan Diary” circulated–and often censored for contradicting official information–on WeChat and other platforms, Fang Fang told of everyday life under strange circumstances.
Her posts attracted millions of domestic readers and were frequently covered by the foreign media. They also attracted the author nationalistic criticism from those who felt she was damaging China’s image at a time of increasing international scrutiny. When it was announced this month that an American publisher would publish translations of the diary in English and German, the backlash against Fang Fang intensified. At The Diplomat, Joanna M. Costigan and Xu Xin situated the increasingly abundant online criticism of Fang Fang to “an environment of selective censorship, [where] nationalist mobs are gaining traction,” comparing the milieu of rapid critique to the Cultural Revolution era:
This practice empowers the most nationalist and conservative voices, making them disproportionately represented in Chinese digital discourse, in order to facilitate the CCP’s attempts to curate public opinion. It also brings to mind the “struggle culture” of the 1960s; the state encourages people to report and attack each other on the grounds that their views are anti-Party, and as a result, anti-China.
[…] Their dominance contributes to the CCP’s narrative that state policies are backed by the people and implemented on their behalf. Selective censorship is a win-win for both the party-state and members of online mobs, whether they are genuinely nationalist warriors or simply trolls. Most importantly, this practice would leave a casual observer thinking that almost all Chinese online discourse is hyper-nationalist.
[…] The attack on her calls to mind the struggle sessions that took place during the Cultural Revolution. A number of intellectuals, including professors from top universities in China, were involved in her admonition. She was accused of being anti-people, anti-Party, and anti-socialism; one netizen threatened to attack her “with pen and gun” (文攻武伐), and she was attacked in a real-life big-character poster that was put up in Wuhan. She has been criticized in popular media, including a song that calls her a hypocrite and a traitor. Her Weibo posts from years ago were dug out and criticized, her home address was exposed, and some questioned whether her properties were attained through bribery. […] [Source]
CDT has translated an April 15 WeChat post from @直 on the “big-character poster” denunciation in Wuhan and Fang Fang’s reaction to it:
A ‘Suppress Fang Fang’ Big-Character Poster Just Appeared on the Wuhan Streets!
Today, a netizen broke news on social media that a big-character poster has appeared on the streets of Wuhan campaigning against Fang Fang.
Letter Denouncing Fang Fang
Fang Fang, who takes advantage of others’ misfortune, was born in New China and grew up under the Red Flag. She has enjoyed all kinds of excellent treatment and benefits from within the system. Yet, she is doing things that are seriously harming the well-being of the country. Fang Fang, you don’t need to ask who I am. I know who I am. I am just a farmer who was still in the field planting peanuts yesterday. Even so, this does not stop me from coming to Wuhan, where I drift about just to express my hatred and anger towards you in my campaign against you.
I strongly urge Fang Fang to return all personal property to the state without reservation, and then either shave her head and become a nun or use her death to offer an apology to the country for her wrongdoing. Otherwise, I will personally use the chivalrous ways of the Chinese people to come and attack and cut you down, Fang Fang.
A netizen in Jiaolong, Wuhan provided analysis: From looking at the bus routes [in the background], the “big-character poster” was probably placed near Dadongmen, about two kilometers away from the Wuchang Court.
This netizen left the following message to the individual who posted the letter: “If you think there is a problem, you can file a formal complaint with the Wuchang District Court to obtain justice, instead of engaging in this illegal conduct.
Well-known media commentator @老萧杂说打理人呼吁 said: Wuhan is aware of this. We must not open this Pandora’s box …!
At 18:00, Fang Fang forwarded this message and confirmed that the big-character poster appeared yesterday.
Fang Fang said: “If he wrote ‘democracy and freedom’ or ‘asset declaration for government officials,’ he would probably already be at the police station. But I am the one he is targeting and threatening. Just like those netizens who write mean comments about me, they don’t have to pay a price for their actions. The police also won’t care whether he poses a threat to another citizen. This is another reason why, while I have great hope for this world, I also feel much more sorrow.” [Chinese]
As Fang Fang was dealing with widespread criticism and harassment this month, state media also ran a campaign against her, and Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin chimed in accusing her of opportunism. In an interview with Caijing’s The Caijing Eleven, Fang Fang responded: “If I don’t explain, the rumors will never end.” An excerpt is translated below:
Caijing Eleven: Mr. Hu Xijin believes that the international edition of the Wuhan Diary “will not be a normal exchange of documentary literature. It will be captured by international politics. It is quite possible that in the coming storm, the Chinese people, including those who have supported Fang Fang, will pay for her fame in the West.” What are your thoughts on this?
Fang: By saying these things, Editor Hu has incited countless people to hate me by telling the public I am sacrificing their interests for my own fame in the west. This is a sinister and vicious accusation, that I’ve betrayed China and the Chinese people! The consequences of his comments can be seen by everyone. […] [Chinese]
Many others have defended Fang Fang, and some of those have found themselves in trouble for expressing their support. Hubei University announced this week that literature professor Liang Yanping was under investigation for “inappropriate speech” online. Last month, she praised Fang Fang on WeChat, writing “it’s terrible if a normal society doesn’t have criticism.” Professor and translator Michael Berry, who is translating the Wuhan Diary, has also received attacks online:
The assaults have been nasty, but I want to express sincere thanks to those who have posted, written, and spoken out in my defense. Let’s let the book speak for itself. https://t.co/3WjXKVieeA
— Michael Berry (@Bairuiwen) April 23, 2020