Obituary: Li Wenliang, 1986 – 2020

One would like to deny it, but even the crudest of propaganda will leave tireless traces on the hard disks of generations. This defines the way Li Wenliang (李文亮), an eye doctor at Wuhan Central Hospital at his lifetime, will be collectively remembered – as a hero who served the people, not as a serious professional.

His death is a calamity, and so is the way he is going to live on in the people’s memory. The authorities didn’t see him in a position to do his job, unhampered by politics. The CCP can’t deal with professional attitudes – to the leadership and its fat cats at the grassroots, ordinary Chinese people are always children, and daddy (or stepdaddy) always knows better. And of course, only daddy must ever excel at his job – be it running the economy, be it running “vocational schools” for alleged “extremists” in Xinjiang, or be it handing down “instructions on how to handle the epidemic”.

Now, Li’s death is becoming a didactic play that flies into the face of the geniuses in Zhongnanhai. Not everything was wrong with the system. A month after Li had been reprimanded for going public (i. e. on the internet) with his medical findings, the Supreme People’s Court reportedly said that “[i]t might have been a fortunate thing if the public had believed the ‘rumors’ then and started to wear masks and carry out sanitization measures, and avoid the wild animal market.”

The unfortunate thing is that the People’s Court’s utterances come across as a try to defuse a dangerous idol – some kind of uncontrollable modernized Lei Feng, conceived and created outside the CPC’s laboratories. He isn’t a marginal idol – even CCTV is sobbing (supposedly, not only outside the Great Firewall of China).

Still, Zhongnanhai may continue to sleep well behind its firewalls. Not even “Sound of Hope”, a Falun-Gong affiliated radio station, appears to find much criticism of the central leadership online, be it because the usual screenplay – idiots at the grassroots, wise leaders at the top – is still effective, be it because the censors are doing a great job.

Li is reportedly survived by his pregnant wife and one child.

Li Wenliang, born in Liaoning Province on October 12, 1986, died in Hubei Province on February 6 or 7, 2020.

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