Beijing has increased its censorship over investigative reports that exposed missteps by officials who underestimated and played down the threat from the coronavirus. China’s top leaders have stepped up efforts to make the news coverage focus more on positive developments in the battle against the epidemic.
The hashtag #wewantfreedomofspeech#, created on the Twitter-like service Weibo at 2 a.m. on Friday, had over two million views and over 5,500 posts by 7 a.m., amid the online outcry over Dr. Li’s death. It was deleted by censors, along with related topics, such as ones saying that the Wuhan government owed Dr. Li an apology.
“I love my country deeply,” read one post under that topic. “But I don’t like the current system and the ruling style of my country. It covered my eyes, my ears and my mouth.”
The writer of the post complained about not being able to gain access to the internet beyond China’s so-called Great Firewall: “I’ve been holding back for a long time. I feel we’ve all been holding back for a long time. It erupted today.”
Talking about freedom of speech on the Chinese internet is taboo, even though it’s written into the Constitution. So it’s a small miracle that the freedom of speech hashtag survived for over five hours.
High-powered executives in China echoed the same sentiments online, if less bluntly.
“It’s time to reflect on the deeply rooted stability-trumps-everything thinking that’s hurt everyone,” Wang Ran, chairman of the investment bank CEC Capital, wrote on Weibo. “We all want stability,” he said. “Will you be more stable if you cover the others’ mouths while walking on a tightrope?
Gao Xiaosong, an Alibaba executive, posted on his Weibo account that he hoped China would enact a whistle-blower protection act, seemingly in reference to the American law, so that more people could speak out like Dr. Li did. “RIP. Our hero. Thank you,” he wrote of Dr. Li.