How Thousands in China Gently Mourn a Coronavirus Whistle-Blower - The New York Times
They come to say “good morning” and “good night.” They tell him that spring has arrived and that the cherry blossoms are blooming. They share that they are falling in love, falling out of love or getting divorced. They send him photos of fried chicken drumsticks, his favorite snack.
They whisper that they miss him.
Li Wenliang, a doctor in the Chinese city of Wuhan, died of the coronavirus on Feb. 6 at the age of 34. More than a month before that, he went online to warn friends of the strange and deadly virus rampaging through his hospital, only to be threatened by government authorities. He became a hero in China when his warnings proved true, then a martyr when he died.
After his passing, people began to gather, virtually, at his last post on Weibo, the Chinese social media platform. In the comments section, they grieve and seek solace. Some call it China’s Wailing Wall, a reference to the Western Wall in Jerusalem where people leave written prayers in the cracks.
As the deadly virus killed tens of thousands around the world, each society will have its unique way of coping with the loss and grief. In a largely atheist yet spiritual nation with little tradition of praying, the digital Wailing Wall allows the Chinese people to share their sadness, frustration and aspirations with someone they trusted and loved.
It may be the gentlest place on the often polarizing and combative Chinese internet. People write down their thoughts and leave. They don’t argue or make accusations. When they do respond to each other, they leave digital hugs and encouragement. I cried as I read through the comments. I found the experience cathartic.
It’s a refuge for a traumatized people. Many people, I believe, feel the same way.
Moi aussi j’ai pleuré en lisant les commentaires (mon chinois n’y est pour rien, merci à DeepL translator).
Dr. Li had been an avid user of Weibo, China’s rough equivalent of Twitter, since 2011. He posted his last message on Feb. 1. “Today the nucleic acid test result is positive,” he wrote of the test that confirmed he had been infected by the coronavirus. “The dust has settled, and the diagnosis is finally confirmed.” He died five days later.
Under that post, Weibo users have left more than 870,000 comments. Some people post a few times a day, telling him how their mornings, afternoons and evenings went. Only posts by China’s biggest actors and pop stars can match those numbers, but even those lack the visceral response that Dr. Li’s last post has drawn.
Users feel comfortable talking to Dr. Li. They know he will never scold them or judge them for what they say. They know, after reading his more than 2,000 posts, that he was a gentle and kind soul. He was an ordinary person just like them who enjoyed food and fun and sometimes got tired of working such a demanding job. He would understand.
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