BEIJING (REUTERS) – While President Xi Jinping visited the Wuhan, a city affected by coronaviruses this week, setting the tone for an official account that China will win a “people’s war”, many social media users have made extraordinary efforts to make an alternative voice heard.
the effort to bypass Chinese censors and publish the words of Wuhan Ai Fen’s doctor, the first to sound the alarm over the virus, was among the most elaborate in a wave of dissent against the government’s account as the epidemic demands a devastating human and economic toll .
In an attempt to deceive censors’ AI software, Internet users have translated an interview with Dr Ai, emergency chief at Wuhan Central Hospital, into at least five languages and reformatted it in at least 22 ways .
The text has been rendered backwards, in emojis, Braille, Oracle bone script, Morse code, song sheets and even the Elven language of the Lord of the Rings.
“The scale and intensity of the propaganda response during this virus epidemic is unprecedented,” said Professor Zhan Jiang of the University of Foreign Studies in Beijing.
“To some extent, the” 404 system “has temporarily collapsed,” he told Reuters, referring to the error message that appears when the content has been moved or deleted. “It will bounce in this seesaw game with Internet users.”
Under Mr. Xi, censorship has continued to tighten. Associate Professor Alfred Wu of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore predicts that this will continue after the virus epidemic.
“Aware that many are dissatisfied, it is in the nature of the party to adopt the strategy of the offense as a defense,” he said, referring to the ruling Communist party.
The Chinese cyberspace administration, the country’s Internet regulator, did not respond to a request for comment.
Xi acknowledged the suffering of those infected or forced to stay at home during his visit to Wuhan.
“People in prolonged quarantine have frustrations to dispose of,” which should be understood and tolerated, said state television.
In the article that was repeatedly deleted and republished, Dr. Ai described how, instead of taking precautionary measures after warning others of the virus, the hospital chastised her for spreading rumors and provoking panic – part of the suppression of early information that exacerbated the spread of Sars-CoV-2.
“If I had known how things would go, I wouldn’t care if I was criticized. I would have told the world,” said Dr. Ai, who has lost patients and colleagues to the coronavirus, in an interview with the Chinese magazine. People, giving a grim toll of deaths and pressure on medical personnel.
Neither Dr. Ai nor a hospital representative could be immediately contacted for comment.
Xi, who was clearly absent from state media coverage at the start of the epidemic, has become the face of the fight against the virus. After his visit to Wuhan, the official Xinhua news agency released a video, “The people’s leader commanding the decisive battle.”
There is no evidence that Xi was politically weakened by the epidemic. Indeed, the worsening of the global pandemic makes China’s response effective, reinforcing Beijing’s official discourse.
After Mr. Xi visited a Wuhan hospital and stood in front of a red banner that said, “Firmly win the people’s war,” Ms. Fang Fang, a Wuhan novelist, who won an audience by publishing diaries on life in a locked out city wrote: “Remember, there is no victory, only an end.”
Ms. Fang’s posts are often deleted from social media, but her blog is intact on Caixin, an independent media, where each entry receives tens of thousands of readings.
The death of the coronavirus last month from Dr. Li Wenliang, a doctor at the same hospital in Wuhan and one of the eight warned by the police for spreading Dr. Ai’s message about the disease, sparked rare outrage against authorities. The government ended up honoring Dr. Li among more than 500 “model health workers”.
“A healthy society should have more than one voice,” said Dr. Li in an interview with Caixin before his death from the virus, in what has become a rallying cry for free speech among Chinese Internet users.
Last week, a rare sight of public anger involving a senior central official went viral: a video clip showed residents of a Wuhan apartment complex accusing employees of arranging delivery of groceries for impress a high-level inspection visit, mocking: “That’s wrong!” “.
Wuhan party secretary Wang Zhonglin launched a “gratitude education” campaign on Friday asking residents to be grateful to Xi and the party sparked a violent reaction.
“Anyone with a conscience would not ask the people of Wuhan, still in shock, to be thankful,” said commentator Chu Zhaoxin in a WeChat article that went viral.
The official newspaper article announcing Mr. Wang’s campaign was later deleted.