Anger simmered on social media in China today as state media reported remarks made by Wang Zhonglin (王忠林), Wuhan’s new top official, during a video conference on the city’s response to the coronavirus epidemic. Wang, who was appointed in February to replace Ma Guoqiang (马国强) as Wuhan’s Party secretary, reportedly said that it was necessary to “carry out gratitude education among the citizens of the whole city, so that they thank the General Secretary [Xi Jinping], thank the Chinese Communist Party, heed the Party, walk with the Party, and create strong positive energy.”
A release reporting Wang’s speech reiterated Xi Jinping’s words earlier this month,
in which he said, “Wuhan is a heroic city, and the people of Hubei, the people
of Wuhan, are heroic people.” Xi referred to Wuhan as a key “battleground” in
the “war” against the coronavirus, in keeping with the central propaganda
themes the Chinese Communist Party has emphasized since February – of fierce
struggle, personal sacrifice and unity, all under the stolid leadership of the
Wang Zhonglin said in his speech that the Party must employ various forms of propaganda and education campaigns to carry out “gratitude education” among the population of Wuhan. Echoing Xi, he said: “The people of Wuhan are heroic people, and they are also thankful people.” The story was reported in Changjiang Daily, the official newspaper under Wuhan’s Party committee, but was shared widely across social media.
The remarks, coming at a time when there is widespread concern about the real implications of the coronavirus epidemic and lingering anger over the government response, generated fury online, and were viewed by many Chinese as tasteless and disgusting. News of the remarks cameless than a day after video emerged online from Wuhan in which residents in a cluster of high-rise apartment buildings can be heard shouting, “Fake! Fake! Everything is fake!” as China’s vice-premier Sun Chunlan (孙春兰) makes a tour of the area.
In a post to WeChat called “Have a Bit of Conscience: It’s Not Time to Ask the People of Wuhan for their Thanks,” journalist Chu Zhaoxin (褚朝新) remarked on the release yesterday of the video taken during Sun Chunlan’s neighborhood tour, and suggested Wang Zhonglin’s timing was insensitive. “This is public opinion, this is reality,” Chu wrote of the video. “People who are not blind or deaf can see and hear, and those who are not blind can feel it.”
Chu did not know, he said, whether Wang Zhonglin’s words were a direct response to yesterday’s heckling of the inspection group led by the vice-premier, but in any case the suggestion that the Wuhan people required “gratitude education” was misplaced. “If this is Wang Zhonglin’s idea, I think he needs to educate himself. 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. The sick have not yet recovered, and much of their dissatisfaction is completely reasonable. Rather than blaming the people in Wuhan you serve for not being grateful, you should reflect and be ashamed because you and your team are not working properly.”
Chu’s post was deleted by late morning on Saturday. But we have archived a version below.
[UPDATE: 8PM Hong Kong time]
A WeChat post on Wang Zhonglin’s remarks from the official account of the city of Wuhan, “Wuhan China” (武汉发布), has now been deleted. Clearly, there has been huge blowback on this, and the government fears a creating wave of negative opinion.