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Doctor’s death from coronavirus sparks a digital uprising, rattling China’s leaders


HANGZHOU, China — Streets across China were quiet and neighborhoods sealed, but grief and rage against the government poured onto social media Friday as the country confronted the death of the “whistleblower doctor” whose story was seen as a parable for the Communist Party’s failings.

Within hours of Li Wenliang’s death, millions of Chinese, homebound in the coronavirus crisis, tried to bypass censors to post the hashtag #WeWantFreedomOfSpeech in a remarkable but short-lived digital uprising. The users were memorializing Li, who is considered the first to sound the alarm about the deadly new virus when he leaked a Dec. 30 document from his hospital confirming a diagnosis. On Jan. 1, he was detained and silenced by Wuhan police, who accused him of spreading false rumors.

As the torrent of outrage built up overnight, the government in Beijing turned to a familiar tool — censorship — as it sought to prevent the already staggering public health crisis from taking a volatile turn.

“He was an ordinary figure, but a symbol,” said Zhang Lifan, an independent historian in Beijing. “If it weren’t for the epidemic and nobody could leave their home, there would likely be demonstrations right now. Officials are absolutely concerned.”

Li’s fame skyrocketed in recent days after he disclosed that after police released him in January, he immediately returned to work at Wuhan Central Hospital and contracted the virus from patients. He fell ill Jan. 10 and three weeks later, at age 34, became one of the 710-plus Chinese to succumb to the disease.

Read more at Washington Post 

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