By William J. Furney
The Chinese regime has lied and suppressed information about the new coronavirus on such a scale that the mandarins in the halls of power in Beijing must surely wonder where they stand. And at a time when many parts of the powerhouse nation are in effective lockdown, and the capital and other major cities, including Shanghai, all but deserted as millions remain in self-imposed quarantine, the Communist government is in danger of losing control of even their own warped narrative.
At the end of this week, after more than 1,500 deaths, most of them in Hubei province, of which the outbreak epicentre, Wuhan, is its capital, China said the situation was “overall, under control”. “We have taken the most correct, the most rigorous and decisive measures,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in an interview with the Reuters news agency. Few were believing him, including the World Health Organisation, which has since said it doesn’t know when the crisis will end.
This, as it emerged that China’s leader, Xi Jinping, knew about the deadly viral outbreak weeks in advance of speaking publicly about it and at a time — at the start of the year — when China was downplaying any new health crisis in its country.
One of the medics who tried to alert the world, Li Wenliang, is now dead, having succumbed to the contagion said to have originated from bats in a wet market in Wuhan (bird flu, swine flu, SARS, all from animals, and yet another reason to leave these creatures alone and go vegan). The 34-year-old was forced by police to sign a letter of confession following his WeChat messages that saw him admit to “spreading false rumours” that had “seriously disrupted social order”.
Even when the doctor had passed away, the Chinese authorities — desperate to save face all over again — couldn’t get their story straight and tried to spin it. No, he wasn’t dead, but on life support. And, hours later, yes, OK, he has died.
Li’s death prompted an outpouring of grief on an enormous scale across China, evidenced on its Weibo social media platform that’s the country’s equivalent of Twitter, but not really, because it, along with everything else to do with the internet in China, is heavily censored and part of the Great Firewall of China. Posts about Li that contained criticism of the Chinese authorities, including with relevant hashtags, were swiftly removed by China’s army of censors.
I noted one that asked: “Is this the kind of country we’ve become?”
Because the Communist Party and its Politburo were supposed to be the saviours of all the billion-plus people of China. Now, increasingly, they’ve betrayed their people, and the wider world, in trying to keep everyone blind to any kind of truth.
It’s not that the new virus may have a particularly high mortality rate — so far, it doesn’t, as “ordinary flu” kills well in excess of half a million people around the world each year (over 650,000). The problem is the lies and deception on just about every level from the Chinese government, and it has to stop.
Years ago, I interviewed Jung Chang, author of bestsellers Wild Swans and Mau: The Untold Story — the latter with her Irish husband and historian, Jon Halliday, who joined the interview, at a luxury villa in Bali — and she could not have made her disdain any clearer.
At some point China will have its real awakening, a time when the people will no longer endure or accept one-party totalitarianism, a time when when they will rise up and say they will no longer put up with being cut off from the digital world and denied critical, or any, information — a time when the public, wholesale, reject censorship, suppression and oppression and when the Chinese can truly join the rest of the world as a free people who make their own choices and live as they want.
That day may not be all that far away. Because the Great Leap Forward is resulting in a Big Step Backwards.
- Title photograph of China’s president, Xi Jinping (centre-right, with hand outstretched), by state news agency Xinhua, in what it said was a visit to a health centre in Beijing this week.