Remembering Li Wenliang
From China Digital Space
Jìniàn Lǐ Wénliàng | 纪念李文亮
On February 7, 2020, Dr. Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist at the Central Hospital of Wuhan, passed away from a new disease he had warned his colleagues about in a WeChat group just six weeks earlier. His warning leaked to the internet, alerting the public for the first time to the novel coronavirus spreading in Wuhan. Authorities reacted quickly, branding Li a rumormonger. In an admonishment notice from the local police station, Li was told to “stop the illegal behavior. Can you do this?” He responded “Yes.” Then they warned him, “If you are stubborn, refuse to repent, and continue to carry out illegal activities, you will be punished by the law! Do you understand?” He wrote, “Understood.” Li returned to his medical practice until he too fell ill. From his sickbed, he told Caixin news, “There should be more than one voice in a healthy society.” His death sparked an outpouring of anger, grief, and demands for free speech from Chinese internet users. His final post to Weibo, revealing his positive antigen test, has transformed into a digital wailing wall, with netizens continuing to leave messages for Dr. Li every day, even a year after his passing.
In this CDS exhibit, you can explore the memes, tributes, and artwork inspired by the life and death of Dr. Li Wenliang.
Memes of Resistance
- Can you do it? Do you understand?
- I can't, I don't understand
- There should be more than one voice in a healthy society
- we want free speech
China's Wailing Wall
Li Wenliang wrote his final Weibo post on February 1, 2020. So many comments have been left on this post that Weibo is no longer tallying them--there are over 100,000, with dozens still being posted daily. For a few hours on June 19, 2020, the comments were disappeared, but they were later returned to their place in China's wailing wall. Netizens continue to check in on Dr. Li and tell him about their joys and sorrows. Some write every day, while others "visit" Dr. Li more occasionally. People come because Dr. Li "listens," and their strength in numbers has largely kept the censors at bay.
Read a selection of translated messages below, and browse even more in the CDT Chinese archive.
60 days after Dr. Li's death
@不开心的苏肥肥i: Another sleepless night. Been feeling a lot of pressure lately. The company has already laid off many of my co-workers, and I don’t know how much longer I can keep my job.
@刘北席yu: Remember to exercise, like you did in college. Take care of your health on the other side. Good night, my brother.
Translations by CDT staff.
|Mourning Li Wenliang||悼李文亮|
|There’s no virus worse than “punishment for speech”||没有比“以言获罪”更厉害的病毒|
|There’s no world uglier than one that mixes right with wrong||没有比黑白不分更丑陋的人间|
|The Yangtze River’s waters carry boats and capsize boats||长江之水载舟也覆舟|
|The Yellow River’s waves ferry people and ferry ghosts||黄河之浪渡人也渡鬼|
|Now let me live my shameful life||且允许我苟且偷生|
|And let me sing my angry dirge||还允许我长歌当哭|
|We are not afraid to die||我们不怕死|
|We are afraid to die before our time||我们怕死于非命|
|You died, and my time died before its time||你死了，我的命非命|
|If there are viruses in heaven||如果天堂还有病毒|
|If you speak up again||如果你再喊一声|
|Then where will you go?||你会去向何处？|
|I hope wherever they take you in||我希望收容你的地方|
|There are still people||还是有人|
|Who speak Chinese||说着汉语|
|(Translated by Anne Henochowicz)|
- More poetry (untranslated) at CDT Chinese
- On Clubhouse, users set up a silent room to commemorate Dr. Li Wenliang around the date of the first anniversary of his death.
- John Sudworth, 新冠肺炎：一場影響中國每個角落的疫情, BBC, Feb. 13, 2020
- John Chan, Translation: Clubhouse Blocked in China; Anticipation and Reactions, CDT, Feb. 8, 2021
- Li Wei'ao, 纪念李文亮医生去世一周年 (On the anniversary of Dr. Li Wenliang's death), Feb. 5, 2021