Wailing Wall Special Edition: The Third Anniversary of Whistleblower Dr. Li Wenliang’s Death

February 6 marked the three-year anniversary of the death of Dr. Li Wenliang, a young ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital whose attempts to warn colleagues and the public of an emerging coronavirus made him an heroic symbol of free speech and principled resistance. Punished by his employer, forced to sign a letter of admonishment, and chastised by Chinese state media for being a “rumormonger,” Dr. Li later contracted COVID-19 in the course of his work at the hospital and died. 

Since then, the comments section under Li Wenliang’s final Weibo post has become known as China’s “Wailing Wall,” a place netizens come to mourn and to celebrate, to mark personal milestones or comment on current events, and to thank Dr. Li for being a whistleblower and assure him that his sacrifice will not be forgotten. (CDT editors regularly collect and archive Wailing Wall content, including the selection of comments translated below.)

Many of the commenters who visited the Wailing Wall in early February to mark the third anniversary of Dr. Li’s death mentioned the Chinese Lunar New Year, the resurgence of fireworks, the recent wave of COVID deaths and infections, and the hoped-for end of the pandemic. Some assured Dr. Li that they wouldn’t forget how the government had treated him, how he was forced to sign a humiliating “admonishment” letter, and how he turned out to be right about the threat of COVID-19. One visitor even posted a circa-January-2020 montage of CCTV anchorpersons criticizing “rumormongers” and a copy of the actual letter Dr. Li was forced to write. Others repeated the doctor’s own words: “There should be more than one voice in a healthy society.” 

More than a few Wailing Wall visitors were careful to note that the correct date of Dr. Li’s death is February 6, 2020—for although his death was officially announced on February 7, 2020, it seems clear that by the previous evening, he had suffered organ failure and already passed away. The delayed time of death was likely an attempt by the hospital and local government to prove that they did everything possible to save Dr. Li, who had by then become a nationwide celebrity. This was further substantiated by a New York Times investigation in October of 2022.

In addition to the online commemorations of Dr. Li, there were also remembrances and rallies held in various cities across the globe. Writing for ChinaFile, Yangyang Cheng, Fellow and Research Scholar at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center, described speaking at a February 5 rally in Boston to commemorate the third anniversary of Dr. Li’s death, to advocate for the release of the detained “White Paper” protesters, and to voice support for free expression against tyranny. The following is a brief passage from her stirring speech

If there’s any lesson from a global pandemic, three years and counting, it is that there’s no return to the normalcy of yesterday or escape to the comfort of elsewhere. Each of us with a stake in the future will be faced with some very difficult choices. When that moment comes—and make no mistake, it is already here—I hope memories from this gathering can be a source of strength and affirmation. I hope we can keep the names of the forcibly silenced close to our hearts. Let them hold us accountable. Let them make us bolder and more honest and more loving. [Source]

The Wailing Wall comments below, collected and translated by CDT editors, were posted during the week of January 29-February 6, 2023:

北小野的荒原:It’s been three years. The pandemic is over, and fireworks have returned. But we all remember the things that happened.

梦见摸月亮:After three years, I’ve learned not to see, not to hear, not to speak, and not to believe anything they say.

稻草人2010:Three years later, the pandemic is apparently over. Many people died this winter, and it seems that everyone has experienced estrangement and loss. I can’t imagine what you must have thought of us these past three years, just like I can’t imagine what people in the future will think of us.

Sebastian Hee : [蜡烛][蜡烛][蜡烛][蜡烛][蜡烛][蜡烛]

A series of screenshots from January 2020 shows news anchors from channels CCTV 13 and CCTV 2 reporting on “eight people punished for spreading rumors” about a new respiratory virus. The last image is the letter of admonishment that Dr. Li Wenliang was forced to sign.

梦寐以求之不得丶:During three years of the pandemic, we’ve been through far too much … From Lunar New Year’s Eve to today’s Lantern Festival, I noticed that every house was brightly lit, everyone was enjoying long-awaited reunions, the streets were thronged with people, and fireworks lit up the sky. It was a wonderful feeling, and such a relief! It’s been a long time coming. Happy Lantern Festival, Dr. Li. [心]

曾永祺Xian:Dr. Li, lately I’ve been following “The Knockout,” and I always think of you when I see the character An Xin. Every year on this day, I come here to talk to you. I pray that I will never forget you, and also that I can hold fast to those feelings of grief and indignation. I will strive to follow your example in my professional career, and always adhere to the belief that “There should be more than one voice in a healthy society.

兔兔兔兔兔兔兔Za:It’s been three years, and we’re finally right back to where we started. They want to take everything that’s happened in the last three years and delete it with one keystroke.

Nihility_zy:Nothing has changed. This society still only has one voice.

服务大管家12138:I pray that your three-year-old self will have been reincarnated in a society where multiple voices coexist harmoniously and are respected. [可爱]

是咩是咩:I saw a lot of fresh flowers in front of the grave today. No one has forgotten you. On the way back, there was an orange cat stealthily watching the pigeons.

Among the graves, an orange cat keeps an eye on a gray pigeon on the grass. 

wiwiggcc:@评估师崔太平: Just an ordinary hard-working doctor, a person with basic professional integrity, he was admonished for his well-intentioned warning and thus transformed into a hero. There is something tragic in this, for it shows that our society is sick, and that the sickness is serious.

椰子无限假设:Dr. Li, I brought a bouquet of flowers to Central Park in New York last year, and sat on the bench with your name on it for a long time. I’ve never forgotten you, and I hope that is of some comfort to you. We’re still just trying to live our lives, and things finally seem to be taking a turn for the better. But we still miss you.

当温柔已沉默:It has been three years—how have you been doing lately? Rest assured, Dr. Li, there will always be people who remember that it was February 6th, not February 7th.

想飞的医学僧:Rest in peace, Dr. Li. There are still many young people here who dare to speak out against tyranny and oppression. The people will remember you, and the people will continue to battle evil.

TinaWangYF:Doctor Li, it’s been three years. The pandemic is over, but people and things can never go back to the way they were. So many people lost their lives, their health, their sense of trust, their jobs, their hopes, or even their souls.

方仁红泳:It’s been three years. I have not often thought of you, but neither can I forget. [The last sentence is a reference to Song Dynasty poet Su Shi’s famed eulogy for his late wife.] [Chinese]

CDT’s Wailing Wall archive, and selections here, compiled by Tony Hu.


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