The most famous Chinese Covid hero doctor “falls” after agreeing with Western’s Covid co-existence strategy in Weibo

- An ex Chinese citizen’s observation and thoughts

Photo by Jida Li on Unsplash

Long title, I know.

The context you will need to know:

The hero doctor: Zhang Wen Hong.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhang_Wenhong. A chief doctor of Communicable Disease Center, professor, (and many more…), in one of the best Shanghai hospitals (affiliate of a university). Famous for educating and informing common Chinese people with rather transparent pandemic prevention and control knowledge, events and policies. Well, the kind of things you can’t get from any Communist controlled news media ( that means absolutely -making no mistake- all news agencies in china), we-media, gagged Chinese internet ( yes, a silo, censored internet disconnected from rest of the world), or all the other channels. By the way, he is the Head of Shanghai COVID medical expert group who are advising the shanghai municipal government and local Ministry of Health on medical treatment solution and pandemic prevention. No one should object that he is one of the most qualified persons who can comment on COVID.

Shanghai city:

lets paint a little bit more on the city where our protagonist lives and works. if we have to compare Shanghai with the political epicenter of china — Beijing: Beijing is more like Washington DC; and Shanghai — one of the most popular destinations for foreign and domestic investors, travelers, the international business, finance and commerce center of china, is more like New York. Despite its busy traffic and high population density, Shanghai’s efficient and effective pandemic prevention in terms of confirmed cases, critical, deaths and cured cases, outperformed all the other cities in China. Shanghai municipal government is known in China for less corrupt and more open-minded.

Weibo:

Twitter Chinese version. But with very strict government censorship and 24–7 internet police monitoring and moderating. Internet police — they are the de facto administrators and moderators of any website in china, especially a netizen gathering place like Chinese twitter; most of them — Some say a million, are in fact auxiliary police sub-contracted by government IT contractors. Yep, it’s a lucrative business. Local officials can easily use the ties with those companies and use their authority to instruct net police to delete posts that may pose damage and threat to their political image, with or without central government’s knowledge. Unlike the US, the large number of these damaging posts are not from their political opponents as there are no opponents under extreme party unity and after so many rounds of political cleansing inside the party under president Xi’s ruling. Those posts are the cries, tears and blood from the common people, who suffered systematic injustice and are the victims of the government corruption, covering up or inaction. Even if the local highest official may have not done anything wrong (more often than not), he or she would still use their powers to hide the facts and gag the victims as the negative exposure will attract central government’s attention and affect their political careers.

It’s not new though; there is an ancient Chinese saying circulating among people for hundreds of years describing this government tradition: “officials protect officials”. The price is so little — no one will find out, even they do, it just means another round of post deleting; the tool is so convenient — Xi made the internet censoring “just”, efficient, official and accessible. You almost feel sorry not to use them. One thing lead to another, it shouldn’t surprise you if I say, with a little bride, personal “relationship” or “common interests” with the officials, the internet police service can be extended to those wealthy few that need the certain noise to go away. For example the construction company that defaults massive peasant workers’ payment; But, my apologies, this censorship is irrelevant with today’s story..

Here is what happened:
The hero doctor — Zhang Wen Hong wrote a very long post in Weibo on July 29th. The main points are:

“After vaccination, people still contract virus but without vaccination the situation could be worse. Plus, the mortality rate has reduced from peak 18% last year to 0.1% this recent week. It is close to the rate of a common flu.”
“Is Chinese Inactivated vaccine effective? Chile published its data in New England Journal of Medicine, with a cohort of 10 million Chileans, showing that Sinovac’s effectiveness is 65.9%. Its protection against hospitalisation, ICU and death are 87.5%, 90.3% and 86.3%. It is effective. But current vaccines could not eliminate and zero COVID. “

And,

“most epidemic pathologists in the world have reached a common understanding that COVID is probably becoming a resident virus and the world needs to learn to co-exist with it. “

At the end of his article, Dr. Zhang encouraged: “China (Chinese government) should have the wisdom to re-connect with the world, get people’s lives back to normal and free people of fears. We have won it once, and we will find a more permanent solution.”

It has then caused an unexpected uproar in the Chinese internet.

Soon, the ex Minister of Health of China, Mr Gao Qiang has published his article in a more official, serious and orthodox state media, expressing his completely opposite sets of opinions:

“Countries like the US, is pushing the blame to “Delta” for the failure of the pandemic prevention in an attempt to cover up the government’s incompetence.”

He refuted:

“ It’s appalling that some of our experts even suggest the country to consider a long term strategy of co-existence with the virus. But there is never a case that humans can co-exist with virus; It’s either us, or the virus. Humanity’s target is to wipe out all the viruses, not to co-exist!”

He also argued:

“The connection with the world must be healthy, safe, to the best interests of our country and our people, not be a reckless one. We must apply strict monitoring and quarantine measures on the inbound personnels; it is not cutting out with the world, instead it displays we are taking our national safety and people’s health as top priority. “

He then concluded:

“It is impossible to co-exist with the virus and we must not repeat the West’s mistakes. But we may adjust according to the situations, adjust the prevention measures at a right timing, resume the economic activities at a right timing. “

Compared with rigorous scientific reasoning, logically convincing statements and actionable proposals from Dr Zhang, Mr Gao’s article appears to be nothing more than a hollow slogan with no actions, and an empty argument with no facts.

But just like how Mr Gao described the virus that he hates so much — I find Mr Gao’s speech likewise insignificant, but dangerous, because it is a public incitement of nationalism, and further fuelled hatred of the public towards the “West”. It is the most common and most effective method used by Chinese government in recent years to get public support and empathy, especially when facing criticism from the world/west/inside of China. Government simply needs a diversion & distraction. Chinese’s patriotism since then has a whole new level of meaning, that is, instead of asking how much you love your country, how much do you hate the “West”?

Not long after, many people have turned 180 degrees and started calling Dr Zhang a “traitor” and “the undercover dog and mouth of the West” (compared with a “hero” previously) — in his Weibo post’s comments. This assertion is also related to his visiting doctor experience with Harvard BI medical center in early years.

Dr. Zhang didn’t reply any of these comments. But it’s not the end. After 2 weeks’ brewing, in mid August, someone reported to Dr. Zhang’s university that his PhD thesis paper (written 21 years ago) has plagiarised another author’s article published in medical issues prior to his thesis paper. It turned out that the alleged plagiarism did happen, in the Appendix Overview section at the end of the paper, for about 3 thousand words that deem to be “blatant plagiarism”. There may be no clear rules about plagiarism in China at that time as Chinese university eduction merely resumed after 1977, after china cultural revolution. But I don’t argue that. My point is simple, what is really fearsome here is the fact that Dr Zhang was dissected and inspected under microscope after he disagrees with the government’s policy.

Clearly the agenda is not to discourage bad academics behaviours but to gag people who oppose. It is as simple as that.

It is just a daily norm in Chinese’ society. And the tip of an iceberg. People already stop making a fuss about it. But I don’t want to. There are a few things about this story that deeply worries me.

  1. Ex-Minister of Health official who has 0 medical related background, or credentials to be anywhere near that position, was deemed qualified in making national health policies. (He was retired at 65)
  2. Government’s 0 tolerance policy on disagreement or opposing opinions.
  3. The extreme nationalism and patriotism expressed from the common people are impeding this nation to become better (not wealthier but better and more civilised) which in turn hurts their own interests and freedom that obviously they are not aware of or don’t care about. This is just sad.

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Megan M Yang

Megan M Yang

Full-stack programmer, product manager, politics enthusiast and won't shut up about it.