Chinese internet users have marked the anniversary of the “wrong” done to Li Wenliang, the Chinese doctor who was reprimanded for warning colleagues about the coronavirus outbreak, with a fresh round of tributes.
The Wuhan doctor died of the disease in February, causing a national outcry and transforming Li into a symbol of China’s initial missteps in handling the outbreak.
On January 3, 2020, Li was summoned to a police station to receive an official reprimand for sharing a warning message about an unknown type of viral pneumonia that was circulating in the city.
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“Your behaviour has seriously disrupted social order,” read the reprimand record, which Li shared on his Weibo account. “The police hope that you can cooperate and cease your illegal behaviour, can you do that?”
“Yes, I can,” Li responded, according to the notice.
Coronavirus: tributes pour in for Li Wenliang, the Chinese doctor who first warned of a deadly disease
The notice specifies that Li was summoned because he sent messages to a WeChat group of his university classmates to warn them about seven cases at a seafood market, which were later linked to the first confirmed cases of Covid-19.
“If you continue with your illegal behaviour you will be punished by the law,” a police officer told him. “Do you understand?”
“I understand,” Li responded.
On Sunday, hundreds of web users took time out from their new year celebrations to leave a message on Li’s Weibo page.
“Brother, you were reprimanded the same day last year,” wrote one user on Sunday morning. “You were wronged and people remember.”
Li’s Weibo page was referred to by some as “China’s wailing wall”, as many shared their frustrations with the pandemic or simply personal hardships after his death. One post had received more than one million comments as of Sunday.
“Dr Li, it’s been a year since the reprimand,” wrote another user on Sunday. “Hope there won’t be any reprimand in heaven.”
China has struggled to explain away and contain the damage done by Li’s reprimand as it faced a domestic and international backlash over its initial handling of the outbreak.
Hours after his death, Beijing said it had dispatched a group of investigators with the party’s top anti-corruption watchdog to Wuhan to look into the case.
In March, almost two months after his death, police in Wuhan revoked the reprimand and apologised to Li’s family folowing the conclusion of the investigation.
The police also promised to learn the lessons from the case and said the deputy head of the police station where Li had been reprimanded had been given a demerit and another officer involved in the case had been given a warning.
In April, Li was declared a martyr by the provincial Hubei government as the authorities sought to manage his image as both hero and victim.
Official sources, including diplomats and the foreign ministry, have stressed his membership of the Chinese Communist Party to dispel suggestions that he was challenging the system.
In July the foreign ministry issued a lengthy statement about the case that said: “Li Wenliang was an eye doctor, not a whistle-blower and he was not detained.” The statement also highlighted the role of another doctor, Zhang Jixian, who was rewarded for being the first to raise the alarm to her superiors.
But many still remember the story on their own terms: “You did not see your reprimand revoked before you died,” one Weibo user wrote on Li’s page. “But you let us remember your words: a healthy society should have more than one voice.”