Li Wenliang’s Wailing Wall, April-May 2023: “That Period of Insanity Has Been Erased”

Three years and three months after whistleblower Dr. Li Wenliang’s death from COVID-19, the “Wailing Wall” that emerged in the comments section under his last Weibo post continues to serve as a repository for the hopes, dreams, worries, and opinions of countless Chinese citizens. CDT editors regularly collect and archive Wailing Wall content, including the selection of comments translated below.

In April and early May of 2023, Wailing Wall comments ran the gamut from holiday commemorations to personal updates to commentary on current events and the state of the Chinese economy. As always, the Qingming Festival (Tomb-Sweeping Day, marked this year on April 5) attracted many visitors who expressed well-wishes to Dr. Li in the afterlife. There were also memorials to the 29 people who perished in a fire at Beijing’s Changfeng Hospital on April 18. Despite the fact that it was the capital’s deadliest fire in two decades, news about the blaze was subject to extraordinary censorship, resulting in a nearly eight-hour news blackout. Other Wailing Wall visitors bemoaned the inadequate nine-year prison sentence given to a Jiangsu man named Dong Zhimin for the abuse and shackling of Xiaohuamei, a trafficked woman who bore him eight children.

In April, many Wailing Wall comments touched on the lagging economy, youth unemployment (and the censorship of related “Kong Yiji literature” songs and memes), egregious overtime policies, and lack of labor law protections. Quite a few commenters mentioned a series of viral screenshots in which Chen Zhilong, ostensibly an employee of the Chengdu branch of state-owned China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC), berated his supervisor for violating labor laws by making employees work excessive overtime hours in the evenings and during the Qingming holiday. This became the top search topic on Weibo, with over 140 million views, as netizens lauded Chen for taking a stand against a “toxic work environment.” (CETC later claimed that the screenshots were falsified, and that Chen had resigned, but many observers found Chen’s story credible.)

Lastly, many comments in early May focused on the May 1 Labor Day holiday and the World Health Organization declaring an end to COVID-19 as a global health emergency. 

The following Wailing Wall comments, selected and translated by CDT editors, were originally posted between March 25-April 6, 2023:

werewulf_: I came to visit you for the Qingming Festival, Dr. Li. I hope you’re doing well over there. The world seems to be getting worse—I hope I can stay strong.

暴躁的马步鱼: Sometimes I feel like the pandemic happened in a previous life, but then when I think about you, my heart grows heavy again, and I have to force myself not to forget these last three years. Dr. Li, are you happy? I’ve been very happy recently. I can see the people I want to see anytime I like. I don’t have to worry about being locked in the dormitory anymore, or having to eat outside all the time because of the ban on indoor dining. I don’t want to forget you—I can’t forget you. I feel relieved to see that everyone here still remembers you.

夜巷孤人:  Dr. Li, I feel like our country is sick, but I’m powerless to do anything about it.

MaggieYeoh: Dr. Li, I’ve been reading “Diary of the Wuhan Pandemic.” When I turned to the few pages about you, I discovered that your diary entry was the only one in gray text, and I was hit by a wave of sadness. 

你的瑶瑶小姐姐: It’s been three years and no one has forgotten you. There are always new comments in the comment section below [your last Weibo post]. I think that must count for something, right?

天之骄子718: Dr. Li, today I listened to “Sunny Side Kong Yiji.”

地上湿光: History can be manipulated, but a kind heart is eternal.

ii文刀亦:  Why is the economy so awful? Loads of people can’t find a job, or are unemployed, or are about to lose their jobs—including me.

人类自愿灭绝运动VHEMT: He spoke for the common people. [Chinese]

Comments from April 7-22, 2023:

平气象爱好者: Why is stealing birds punishable by ten years in prison, but they only got nine years?

时尚的小白菜芯儿: Stealing birds’ eggs gets you twelve years in prison, but human traffickers are only sentenced to _____.

说啥不敏感呢: Chen Zhilong has followed in your footsteps. How can this place be healthy, when only one type of voice, and no others, is allowed?

此情赋与东风: A fire at a hospital in Beijing has killed 29 people so far. They were hospitalized patients with serious illnesses. Why did this have to happen to them?

二哈的拆家梦i: Brother Liang, I went back to Wuhan last year. Pandemic controls were lifted in early 2023, but Wuhan is still fucked up, with low wages, and all sorts of hassles to deal with. What about you? How’re you doing over there? Are you happy? I want you to be happy.

拖你手遊盡太虛: Everyone tacitly agrees not to mention it, as if nothing at all happened. That period of insanity has been erased.

不想凋谢: The victory [over COVID] belongs to you, too.

A crowd of people, including Dr. Li Wenliang, stand outside a hospital in this illustration of a resurgent Wuhan.

CodyChao-CC: I feel like Kong Yiji, even though I’m only a sophomore in high school.  

是李白羊呀: To Dr. Li Wenliang: In politics class this afternoon, our teacher taught us not to forget the truth-tellers who kept the public safe, and to pay tribute to them. I salute you, Dr. Li Wenliang!

回到过去找回童真: Dr. Li, they say those text messages of Chen Zhilong venting at his boss are just rumors, but they said the same thing about you, back then. [Chinese]

Comments from April 23-May 6, 2023:

活宝贝飞翔西红柿: Dr. Li, the WHO finally lifted the pandemic “label.” We will remember you as the first person to sound the alarm.

大帅呢吃肉不长肉: Reading Dr. Zhang Wenhong’s words, “As far as the pandemic is concerned, the whole world has been through the same hardships,” I suddenly wanted to cry. After this long road of life and death, confusion and resentment, tears and curses, and pandemic controls on this and that, the upshot is that we’re on the same page as the rest of the world. We worked so hard and so long to beat the virus, but we ended up coexisting with it, the same as the rest of the world.

抽刀断水水漫刀: This May 1st, Shandong Zibo barbecue is the hot new thing. I want to tell you about a comment that’s been circulating on the Internet: “The battle started in Wuhan, ended with a proclamation in Shijiazhuang, and the victory celebration was held in Zibo!” Happy May Day, Doctor Li!

顺风撒尿尿湿鞋: Dr. Li, the coronavirus is over, and all that’s left of you are these million messages on your comment wall. They don’t dare shut down the blog or the comments section of a People’s Hero [like you]. Your admonishment notice was a wake-up call for all of us.

秋天的战火燃烧吧: Dr. Li, our book club is reading the “Decameron” and discussing the Black Death. When the children started talking about these past three years, the teacher leading the book club mentioned what had happened to you in Wuhan, and all the children felt very sorry for you. I really wish you could be with us to see Wuhan as of April 29, 2023. I wish you and your family a happy May Day!

清风吹杨柳1221: Dr. Li, did you know that now there are “rural management officials?” It’s ridiculous—as a peon, I’m so happy that there’s someone in charge of “managing” me!!!

祢再來時人已去: When I saw the news that “COVID-19 is no longer considered a global health emergency,” my first thought was to come here to visit your Weibo page. Dr. Li, the long nightmare is over.

Nopeic: Wishing you well on your journey. When freedom comes to our homeland, history will judge you fairly.

Bellona环月飞行轨迹: Some people were awakened by the tolling bell, but others will never wake again.

绣甲谢小楼: I saw a monument to you on the blockchain today. It can never be deleted or revoked. You will always be remembered. [Chinese]

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


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