Four Years On, Tributes to Covid Whistleblower Dr. Li Wenliang

Four years after the death from COVID of Dr. Li Wenliang, the young Wuhan ophthalmologist who alerted colleagues to the emerging novel coronavirus, tributes to the widely admired doctor continue to pour in, despite some online censorship of such memorials. 

As on the three previous anniversaries marking his passing, many Chinese netizens left messages in the comments section under Dr. Li’s final Weibo post, a venue that has become known as China’s “Wailing Wall.” (CDT has published extensive translations of these comments from the Chinese public, including this deep-dive from 2021. Our editors also periodically archive new Wailing Wall content in Chinese and English, and produce a Chinese-language post and video feature monthly.)

This week, CDT editors have archived a number of essays and social media posts paying tribute to Dr. Li and focusing on different aspects of his legacy. One early tribute, posted by WeChat account 导筒directube (dǎotǒng directube) last week under the title “Four Years,” included a few simple screenshots from Dr. Li’s Weibo account, including his January 31, 2020 post from the ICU, after he had been diagnosed with COVID. Many commenters thanked 导筒directube for posting the reminder. “He is the only stranger I will miss for the rest of my life,” wrote Weibo user 郎®もも. Other commenters marveled at the passage of the intervening years. “Four years just flew by,” wrote one Weibo user. “It seems like a lifetime ago,” said another.

CDT also republished We Are Not Fit to Tell Him to Rest in Peace,” a long-deleted classic WeChat post from Liao Baoping that was first censored in February of 2020. It is a moving poetic tribute to the courage of Dr. Li, and includes a pen-and-ink drawing of him wearing a doctor’s coat, glasses, a Wuhan Central Hospital name tag, and an N95 face mask.

A pen and ink drawing of the young Dr. Li Wenliang, wearing a doctor’s coat, glasses, an N95 face mask, and a name tag identifying him as a doctor at Wuhan Central Hospital.

Text at right: “Li Wenliang, anti-pandemic hero” (image source: WeChat account 廖保平de思想国)

In the short tribute “Four Years On,” WeChat blogger “Princess Minmin” recalled Dr. Li’s integrity and willingness to speak the truth

Telling the truth is a very valuable quality. We cherish the memory of Dr. Li Wenliang because he told the truth.

[…] Perhaps, in a few years or a few decades, not many people will remember what happened in the spring of 2020. But those words left behind by Dr. Li Wenliang—”There should be more than one voice in a healthy society“—will not be forgotten.

The ancients said that there are three things in life that are immortal: one’s words, achievements, and personal virtue. In uttering that one phrase that will remain forever engraved in the world’s memory, Dr. Li Wenliang has already become immortal. [Chinese]

In “It’s Been Four Years—Do You Still Remember Dr. Li Wenliang?” WeChat blogger Er Xiang mused about the role of Dr. Li in individual and collective memory:

Dr. Li’s death was more than the loss of an individual, it was a collective memory, a collective event. Such collective events should not be forgotten, but unless there is a written record, our individual memories of them will surely vanish—and therein lies the true significance of these words and images.

Fortunately, Dr. Li’s Weibo continues to exist, so a written record remains. It has become a “Wailing Wall” where every day, ordinary people come from all over to share their thoughts, their daily lives, and even their pain. I have seen messages from people saying they feel they can no longer go on, and seen complete strangers respond to them with words of comfort. People come to wish Dr. Li a good morning or a good evening, to chat about daily trifles, to share deep confidences, or to pour out their troubles.

[…] Fortunately, four years later, people still haven’t forgotten him. Today, many of my friends are sharing Dr. Li’s photos and posts in their WeChat Moments, and many people are leaving messages under his last Weibo post. One person wrote, “Dr. Li, they still haven’t aired season two of ‘Joy of Life’ (庆余年2, Qìng Yúnián 2). The pandemic is long over. The last four years feel like a dream.” Someone else wrote, “Dr. Li, it’s been four years and everyone still remembers you. I hope your family is safe and sound.” [Chinese]

A WeChat article by Zhang Sanfeng (also known as Zhang Feng), “Li Wenliang and a New Sort of Faith,” explores the quasi-religious stature that Dr. Li has attained in the public mind:

Not only do people commemorate him, but they also regard him as a sort of confessor, a source of spiritual sustenance. Never has such a thing existed in Chinese culture, but it does now.

[…] In this sense, Li Wenliang has become a saint: an utterly innocent individual who suffered on our behalf, who bore the collective grievances and sorrows of an entire society.

He has become the crux of China’s “new culture” that has emerged over the past few years. For both recollection and regret are fundamental acts of creation: even as people weep with sorrow, they must find the courage to embrace hope.

And so he will remain, until the genuine rebirth is at hand. [Chinese]

In 2024, as in previous years, there were also many social-media tributes to Dr. Li from around the world, including these posted to X (formerly Twitter):

 

CDT’s Wailing Wall archive is compiled by Tony Hu.

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