- Wuhan party secretary Wang Zhonglin called for “gratitude education” so that citizens could properly thank the Chinese communist party for its efforts to combat the coronavirus.
- Wang’s statements drew swift backlash from Chinese citizens, some of whom previously criticized the government for the lack of freedom of speech in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.
- Wang’s remarks inspired so much anger that Chinese state media have been instructed not to publish the original articles, its comments, or mention the incident at all.
- The incident is just one of many incidents in which the Chinese government’s efforts to control the narrative around the coronavirus have backfired.
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A top party official in Wuhan is experiencing a backlash after calling for “gratitude education” so that Chinese citizens could properly thank the Communist party for its efforts battling the coronavirus.
Wuhan party secretary Wang Zhonglin made remarks in a state media newspaper saying that Wuhan – where the international outbreak originated – should lead the country in showing gratitude for the Chinese government’s response to the virus, the Guardian reported.
“The people of Wuhan are heroic people who understand gratitude,” Wang was quoted in an article for the Changjiang Daily.
“[We] must through various channels carry out gratitude education among the citizens of the whole city as well as cadres so that they thank the general secretary [Xi Jinping], thank the communist party, listen to the party’s words, follow the party’s way, and create strong positive energy.”
Wang was sent to Wuhan in February to replace the former press secretary amid rising public anger about the local government’s mishandling of the outbreak. However, instead of inspiring praise for the Chinese government, Wang ignited swift public outrage online. Angry citizens took to the Chinese social media platform Weibo to protest Wang’s calls for citizens to thank the party.
“The people should be grateful to medical workers, donors, and other citizens. If it weren’t for [the government], the situation would not be as bad as it is,” one user commented, according to the Guardian.
China appears to have censored criticism of the Communist party
In a WeChat post that has since been deleted, a Chinese journalist named Chu Zhaoxin wrote, “You are a public servant, and your job is to serve the people. Now the people you serve are broken, the dead are still cold, and the tears of the living have not yet dried.”
Chu instead called on Wang to “educate himself,” adding that instead of blaming the people in Wuhan for not being grateful, he should “reflect and be ashamed because you and your team are not working properly.” Business Insider searched for comments related to Wang’s comments on Weibo, but it appeared that any negative posts may have already been censored.
- cnsphoto via REUTERS
In response to the overwhelming backlash, Changjiang Daily later removed the article from its platform. Wang’s remarks have become such a large public opinion crisis for the party that press control officials have instructed other party affiliated media not to publish the article, write follow-up commentary, or even mention the incident at all.
According to an internal memo to state media outlets translated by the China Media Project, officials stated that Wang’s “gratitude education” suggestion drew intense “raging public opinion,” similar to that inspired by the death of a “certain doctor,” referencing whistleblower Li Wenliang, a physician who tried to raise alarms about COVID-19 in the early days of the outbreak.
Wuhan remains under lockdown
Top party official Huang Kunming, who serves as the head of the publicity department of the Communist Party of China, even weighed in. He reminded state media outlets that they must “consider the feelings of the people of Wuhan,” who have been put under increasingly strict lockdown measures to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.
“This matter fully shows that with Wuhan now having been shut down for more than 40 days, the lives of the ordinary people have been affected to such an extent that there is resentment and anger, and all reports must consider the feelings of the people of Wuhan,” reads a statement from Huang in the internal memo.
Party-affiliated outlets were also instructed to run a special editorial series called “Entering Communities, Listening to People’s Voices, Alleviating People’s Concerns,” to help mitigate the intense outrage ignited by the Wuhan press secretary’s comments.
Since the novel coronavirus has swept mainland China, killing at least 3,000 of its citizens, the Chinese government has taken drastic measures to control public opinion and quell public dissent, particularly after the death of doctor Li Wenliang. The inconsistent news reports about doctor Li Wenliang’s death inspired clamorous calls for more transparency and freedom of speech from Chinese citizens – however those calls, too, were quickly silenced.
Since then, the Chinese government has censored keywords and messages on the messaging platform WeChat and passed sweeping laws that would bar netizens from posting negative content online. However, some of the Chinese government’s efforts to control the narrative around the coronavirus outbreak, including Wang’s calls for “gratitude education,” have backfired. Chinese citizens have continued to be critical of the government’s lack of transparency and its mishandling of the outbreak online.
In an essay that has since been removed, a Chinese writer named Fang Fang wrote that “government should be grateful to the families of thousands of dead people in Wuhan,” the Guardian reported.
Fang continued, “What the government should be most grateful for is the nine million people of Wuhan who are stuck at home and stay indoors. Without them, it would be impossible to contain this epidemic.”
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