China: internal resistance to bio-police state


“Citizen journalists” and “netizens” in China who are critical of the government’s handling of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak are apparently being “disappeared.” Winning most attention are two cases from Wuhan, infamously the epicenter of the¬†outbreak. Wuhan businessman¬†Fang Bin was posting videos to YouTube (presumably through a VPN) to “report on the actual situation here,” with one on Feb. 1 seeming to show eight corpses piled in a minibus outside a hospital, going viral. On Feb. 9, he posted a 13-second video with the words “All people revolt‚ÄĒhand the power of the government back to the people.” After that, the account went silent. The other is Chen¬†Qiushi, a human rights lawyer turned video journalist who built a reputation through his coverage of the Hong Kong protests last year and in late January¬†traveled to Wuhan to report on the situation. He visited hospitals in the stricken city, looking at the desperate conditions and speaking with patients.¬†Then, on Feb. 7, a video was shared on his Twitter account¬†(currently managed by a friend) featuring his mother, who said he had gone missing the day before. His friend, Xu Xiaodong, later claimed in a YouTube video that he had been forcibly quarantined. (BBC News, Feb. 14)

The New York-based¬†Committee to Protect Journalists¬†is calling on the Chinese government to “immediately account for the whereabouts of journalist Chen Qiushi, and ensure that the media can cover the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan without fear of retribution.”

Wuhan has been on lockdown since Jan. 23, and harsh restrictions on movement have now spread beyond Hubei province to¬†several provinces across central and eastern China. (Bloomberg, Feb. 11) The coastal province of Zhejiang, immediately south of Shanghai, has imposed a¬†“draconian quarantine,” according to the¬†South China Morning Post.¬†Some residents are being locked inside their homes. while others must present a “passport”¬†to go out every two days for supplies.

In the south, the cities of¬†Guangzhou and Shenzhen have imposed measures allowing the¬†governments to seize private property under emergency powers‚ÄĒmarking a first since the establishment of China’s property law in 2007. (HKFP, Feb. 12)

In at least one city‚ÄĒWenzhou in Zhejiang province‚ÄĒpublic anger over the government’s reaction to the crisis has actually spilled into street protest. A YouTube video dated Feb. 5 showed crowds gathering on a roadway, chanting and shouting angrily, as riot police close in. A scuffle breaks out as the video ends.

Most of the dissent has been online‚ÄĒand not only on VPN-accessed officially blocked sites like YouTube and Twitter, but China’s own Sina Weibo. Outcry has seemingly been so overwhelming that the government’s very industrious censors are having a hard time keeping up. It is especially taking the form of homages a young Wuhan doctor, Li Wenliang, who tried to raise the alarm about the virus back in December before it was out of control‚ÄĒonly to be silenced by police, who told him to stop “making false comments.” He continued working at the overwhelmed Wuhan Central Hospital, and last week succumbed to the virus. (BBC News, Feb. 7)

It is likely that many dissident netizens have been detained or “quarantined” apart from those cases that have reached the outside word.¬†Radio Free Asia¬†reports that seven have been detained in Tibet for spreading “rumors” online.

Among the items that have slipped through the censors is¬†horrific video footage¬†from Wuhan of men in hazmat suits¬†apparently dragging people from their homes to be forcibly quarantined.¬†(Daily Mail) One Wuhan resident with an ailing father in her home¬†was able to reach¬†BBC News.¬†“We’d rather die at home than go to quarantine,” she said. “My uncle actually died in one of the quarantine points because there are no medical facilities for people with severe symptoms. I really hope my father can get some proper treatment but no-one is in contact with us or helping us at the moment.”

States a commentary in¬†Japan Times: “For the first time since coming to power, Xi‚Äôs high-tech censorship machine is meeting with intense resistance from millions of Chinese internet users. The controlocracy is being put to the test. Most likely, though, the outbreak itself will be used to justify even more surveillance and control of the population.”

Chna’s leaders seem to be aware of the potential threat to the legitimacy of their rule. Xi Jinping¬†presided¬†over a meeting of the party’s¬†Politburo Standing Committee to discuss the crisis last week. An official statement released by state news agency¬†Xinhua said the leaders acknowledged the epidemic poses “a major test of China’s system and capacity for governance…” (SCMP, Feb. 8)

Dissident legal scholar¬†Xu Zhangrun¬†has written an essay entitled “Viral Alarm:¬†When Fury Overcomes Fear,” which is online in translation at¬†the website ChinaFile.¬†Xu blames the current national crisis on “systemic impotence”¬†that Xi has fostered through an atmosphere of intimidation. “It is a system that turns every natural disaster into an even greater man-made catastrophe. The coronavirus epidemic has revealed the rotten core of Chinese governance; the fragile and vacuous heart of the jittering edifice of state has thereby shown up as never before.” He implies that the regime¬†may be facing the biggest challenge to its legitimacy since the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. (The Guardian. Feb. 11)

Hong Kong-based¬†ChinaWorker website sees the crisis of legitimacy as a dual one, with the coronavirus outbreak and draconian response closely following the protests in the semi-autonomous city: “Coming in rapid succession, and further accentuated by an unprecedented superpower struggle with US imperialism (with the epidemic destined to become an additional battleground in this conflict), these crises have begun to sap the confidence of China’s ruling elite and its previously rock solid belief in the CCP’s authoritarian capitalist model. Xi, the ‘strongman’¬†who was charged with rescuing CCP rule, looks more likely to trigger its downfall.”

Ironically and tellingly, the current panic has put a media spotlight back on¬†Jiang Yanyong,¬†the military surgeon who exposed the government’s cover-up of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2003. It now emerges that he has been under house arrest since last year, after he wrote to the top leadership asking for a reassessment of the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy movement and its repression. (The Guardian, Feb. 9)

We will close by recalling that two of the cities most impacted in the current crisis have been the scene of protests over the past years. Wuhan was shaken by demonstrations over placement of a waste incinerator last June. Wenzhou saw two eruptions of protest in 2012: First, in May, a migrant worker was killed in a clash with factory security guards over a wage dispute, leading to riots and street-fighting. (BBC News, May 30, 2012) Then, in November, residents in Liuliang and Fangbei villages, within Wenzhou prefecture, clashed with police in a protest against the construction of power pylons over their homes. (SCMP, Nov. 22, 2012)

And we can be sure that China’s rulers are now recalling the long revolutionary legacy in Wuhan. In July 1967, it was the scene of the notorious Wuhan Incident in the Cultural Revolution, in which workers and local military commanders in the city rose up against Mao Zedong. In 1927, after the Chiang Kai-shek regime in Nanjing unleashed its brutal repression of Chiang’s erstwhile allies the Communists, a rival left-wing Kuomintang-Communist government was established in Wuhan, claiming to be the legitimate capital of all China. And the historic October 10, 1911 uprising that ultimately turned into the revolution that brought down the Qing Dynasty began in Wuchang, a district of Wuhan prefecture.

1911, 1949, 2020? You can bet that there is fear in the¬†Zhongnanhai today….

Image via YouTube

  1. Conspiranoid, Trumpist and pseudo-left responses to coronavirus

    A few final things to note about the¬†coronavirus crisis…

    First, we are not sure how much to make of it, but the¬†Daily Mail¬†reports that Wuhan is the site of the high-level¬†Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory, established to study SARS and Ebola. After it opened in 2017,¬†Tim Trevan, a Maryland biosafety consultant, told¬†Nature¬†he worried that China’s culture of secrecy¬†could make the facility unsafe. The¬†conspiracy theorists¬†have of course been having a field day with this.

    The World Health Organization¬†declared¬†the coronoavirus a “public health emergency of international concern” on Jan. 30. And despite the low risk in the US, the Trump administration¬†declared¬†a public health emergency the next day.¬†US citizens who have been to Hubei Provence in the past 14 days are being quarantined for an additional 14 days upon returning to the US. Further, the US is temporarily prohibiting most travelers arriving from China, or who have recently traveled to China, unless they are US citizens. (Jurist)

    Given Trump’s own fetish for mass detention, this is not exactly comforting news.

    Finally, we note with deep chagrin that the freedom-hating propaganist John Pilger (one of several pseudo-left voices in the West that are openly shilling for the Beijing regime) tweeted Feb. 2:

    Under cover of coronavirus, the US and its ‘allies’ are waging war against China. The racist travel bans and media hysteria are not approved by WHO. China’s response to the emergency has been a model – unlike the US whose current flu epidemic has killed 10,000 and isn’t news.

    It’s appalling enough to be upholding the massive lockdown in China‚ÄĒand, seemingly, the conversion of Wuhan into a virtual death-camp‚ÄĒas a positive “model.” But, beyond that, Pilger is simply spreading disinformation. According to the¬†Centers for Disease Control, the current flu outbreak in the US is “below the epidemic threshold.”

  2. China: dissident detained after criticism of virus response

    Chinese authorities have detained a prominent activist and legal scholar who issued a harsh attack on president Xi Jinping for mishandling the coronavirus crisis. Xu Zhiyong was taken away by police Feb. 15 while he was seeking refuge at the home of a lawyer in the southern city of Guangzhou. 

    Xu had managed to evade authorities for 50 days as police began rounding up fellow activists the day after Christmas.¬†But while in hiding he released his essay on Xi’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. “You didn‚Äôt authorise the truth to be released, and the outbreak turned into a national disaster,”¬†Xu wrote. “Whenever you face looming crisis, you’re clueless.”

    Xu, co-founder of the New Citizens’ Movement, was released in 2017 after serving a four-year prison sentence for his legal activism. (NPR,¬†NYT,¬†The Guardian)

    Media accounts were unclear on where the essay appeared.

  3. NY Post: COVID-19 (may have) escaped from lab

    Steven W. Mosher wrote for the¬†New York Post¬†on Feb. 22, in a piece entitled “Don‚Äôt buy China‚Äôs story: The coronavirus may have leaked from a lab”…

    …the People‚Äôs Liberation Army‚Äôs top expert in biological warfare, a Maj. Gen. Chen Wei, was dispatched to Wuhan at the end of January to help with the effort to contain the outbreak.

    According to the PLA Daily, Chen has been researching coronaviruses since the SARS outbreak of 2003, as well as Ebola and anthrax. This would not be her first trip to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, either, since it is one of only two bioweapons research labs in all of China.

    Does that suggest to you that the novel coronavirus, now known as SARS-CoV-2, may have escaped from that very lab, and that Chen’s job is to try to put the genie back in the bottle, as it were? It does to me.

    The Wuhan Institute of Virology is the parent organization of the National Biosafety Laboratory, which is perhaps ironically named.

  4. Coronavirus outbreak impacts cannabis industry

    With half a billion people under lockdown, the coronavirus outbreak in China is virtually certain to take a grave impact on the Asian superpower’s economy‚ÄĒwith ripples across the planet. And the cannabis industry is, like so many global concerns, dependent on labor in China’s factory zones. Canna-businesses as far away as Canada’s prairies are fearing an imminent pinch. Read more at¬†Global Ganja Report

  5. China: another coronavirus dissident disappears

    Reuters¬†reports that an influential former Chinese property executive who called Xi Jinping a “clown”¬†following a speech the president made last month about the government’s efforts to battle the coronavirus has gone missing.¬†Ren Zhiqiang, a member of the ruling Communist party and a former top executive of state-controlled property developer Huayuan Real Estate Group, has not been heard from since March¬†12.

  6. COVID-19 conspiranoia weaponized

    The resident anti-China hack at the NY Post is floating the conspiracy theory that China created the virus. Meanwhile, the resident anti-America hack at Beijing's Foreign Ministry, Lijian Zhao, is citing the sinister-wacky conspiranoid website Global Research to back up his claim that the US created the virus. (Forbes, AFP, SCMP) The US has summoned the Chinese ambassador over Zhao's comments. (Reuters) If you have been trading in such conspranoia, just stop. The stakes are way too high.

  7. State Department cables warned of safety issues at Wuhan lab

    From WaPo:

    Two years before the novel coronavirus pandemic upended the world, U.S. Embassy officials visited a Chinese research facility in the city of Wuhan several times and sent two official warnings back to Washington about inadequate safety at the lab, which was conducting risky studies on coronaviruses from bats. The cables have fueled discussions inside the U.S. government about whether this or another Wuhan lab was the source of the virus ‚ÄĒ even though conclusive proof has yet to emerge.

  8. Wuhan lab leak thesis revisited

    From AFP, March 29:

    Previous US diplomatic cables reported by the¬†Washington Post¬†had revealed concern in Washington about safety standards in the Wuhan facility. Dr Shi Zhengli, one of China’s leading experts on bat coronaviruses and deputy director of the P4 lab, further raised eyebrows in a June 2020 interview with Scientific American magazine in which she said she was initially anxious over whether the virus had leaked from her lab.

    Subsequent checks revealed that its gene sequence differed from viruses held at the lab, and Dr Shi said she would “bet her life” that there was no leak, according to Chinese state media. But the theory was kept alive by the likes of Mr Trump and his former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

    Mr Pompeo insisted last year that there was “significant evidence” that the virus came from the lab, while offering no such proof. Prominent global publications including Le Monde and the Wall Street Journal, as well as scientists at Harvard and Stanford, also kept the theory alive by publishing articles or reports saying it was a possibility.