“A healthy society shouldn’t have only one voice.”
— Dr. Li Wenliang
February 7 marked the second anniversary of the death of Dr. Li Wenliang, the courageous young ophthalmologist at the Central Hospital of Wuhan who was one of eight individuals punished for warning people about a mysterious “SARS-like virus” before either the Wuhan or central governments had acknowledged the emerging coronavirus pandemic.
Dr. Li’s final Weibo post, from February 1, 2020, read: “Today, the nucleic acid test results came back positive. The dust has settled, there is finally a diagnosis.” Following the doctor’s death due to COVID-19 less than one week later, hundreds of thousands of Chinese netizens flocked to the comments section of that final post to offer tributes and condolences. Although censors attempted to halt the deluge, the comments did not stop: they multiplied and took on a life of their own, evolving into a living memorial that became known as “China’s Wailing Wall.”
Two years later, people continue to flock to the wall, not only to post memorials, but also to confide personal stories, share hopes and dreams, confess anxieties, or express opinions (and occasionally vent outrage) about current events. Two researchers from Shanghai’s Fudan University conducted an automated analysis of Wailing Wall content (see here for CDT’s full translation and coverage of the report), sifting through over 1.3 million comments to identify common threads and themes. This culture of online mourning, the researchers wrote, “has shaped new spaces for interaction and new forms of emotional expression.”
CDT editors regularly archive and translate Wailing Wall content, including the following selection of “second anniversary” Wailing Wall comments posted between January 27 and February 7, 2022. Several of these messages refer to two recent focal points of discussion on Chinese social media: the suicide of a teenager who had tracked down his biological parents after his adopted parents died, and the case of a mentally ill mother of eight found shackled in a shed in Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province.
@卓伦动保： Doctor Wenliang, it has been two years since you passed away, and every Chinese person of conscience will remember you. [Candle] 🙏
@WTFamIHuman0206: Today is the second anniversary of Dr. Li Wenliang’s death. May he rest in peace in heaven. No matter how much political propagandists try to turn the pandemic catastrophe into a great triumph of the system, no one with a memory will ever forget those eight whistleblower doctors punished [for telling the truth], or the initial cover-ups, or the subsequent “strike-hard” [policies] that brought even more suffering, or the fact that suffering is still suffering—no matter how “moving” it is, it’s never a fucking “win-win.”
@咽难·: It’s been almost two years. It [the disputed date of Li’s death] will always be February 6, not February 7, right? As long as I live, I will never forget you. I’m going to eat some fried chicken [in your honor] … Are you still here, among us? If it were me, I really wouldn’t want to come back to this world a second time. Emotions make me miserable, and all these human lusts and passions are exhausting. Today’s Winter Olympics make me feel like China is awesome, but that woman who was chained up makes me feel like it’s awful. I really want to become a reporter.
@粉碎诗篇：Dr. Li, I’m actually not that good at, or that keen to participate in, these ritualistic collective online remembrances. Everyone is very kind, and I always feel there’s no shortage of goodwill, but still, I came here today. These two years of the pandemic have been surreal. My days seem to pass in a haze of insomnia. I hope the pandemic situation improves soon, and that everyone can get out of this daze as soon as possible. Happy New Year, Dr. Li.
@没头小再： Dr. Li, two years have passed. I still remember this date last year, when my account had been bombed and I was feeling hopeless. I left a comment on your Weibo, and another commenter answered: “Keep on living: living well is the best revenge.” Those words gave me strength. I don’t know how much longer we can go on living like this before it gets better. Bless you, and I’ll never forget you.
@失眠的柯莱特： That incident in Xuzhou made me so furious I couldn’t calm down. I came to your Weibo looking for human warmth, and I feel much better now. [Heart]
@海盗bu乖：Today, Weibo limited reposts of my post in remembrance of you, but that doesn’t matter. WeChat also blocked me from sharing a remembrance of you with my friends, but that doesn’t matter, either—because you’re still here in the hearts of people who remember you.
@食苕的仲：Two years ago today, I had a sleepless night because of you, and my Weibo account once got shut down because I posted something about you. Over the past two years, I’ve often wondered: will this world become a better place? But between the Liu Xuezhou incident and the woman in Xuzhou with eight kids, I’ve been disappointed time and time again. If you happen to see Liu Xuezhou, please be good to him. Whenever I’m feeling hopeless, I visit your Weibo account, where I can always find living, breathing, kind people.
@彤彤要靠谱68： Sigh, the country owes Dr. Li a public apology. [tears]
@Panpan能明白：The Wailing Wall is still here, a perennial thorn in the heart of the enemy.
@GFCARL2019： Dr. Li, we can’t even mention you on Baidu Tieba anymore. They’re still only allowing one voice.
@红尘夜奔：In this comments section, I feel a vast connection that I haven’t felt for a very long time, the kind of friendship forged by simultaneous mourning. It turns out that there are many living people who remember how they laughed, or maybe cried, in the middle of the night, holding one another’s hands across the distance of the internet. [Chinese]
CDT’s Wailing Wall archive, and selections here, compiled by Tony Hu.