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A photo of Chinese doctor Li Wenliang seen in Hong Kong as people attend a vigil on February 7. (Picture: AP)

Coronavirus doctor’s last social media post draws commemorations of Tiananmen crackdown

As June 4 discussions continue to disappear online, some people are hinting about it in comments under a Weibo post from Dr. Li Wenliang, known as an early Covid-19 whistleblower

This article originally appeared on ABACUS

Every day since early February, many Weibo users have continued to visit the profile page for Chinese doctor Li Wenliang. His death from Covid-19 saw widespread condemnation of the government’s handling of the pandemic on social media.

In remembrance of Li, users routinely show up in the comment section of his last Weibo post to greet him good morning and good night and even tell him about the day’s weather. But on June 4, some users showed up to commemorate more than just Li.
“Dr. Li, it’s the fourth day of Children’s Day, a day worth remembering,” one user commented, according to China Digital Times. “I hope I’ll see a free China in my lifetime.”

The day marks 31 years since Beijing’s brutal military crackdown on student-led protests in Tiananmen Square, leading to hundreds of deaths -- and possibly many more. Since then, June 4 has been a taboo subject in mainland China, with almost all online discussions of it being wiped out by the government’s complex censorship apparatus known as the Great Firewall. And every year, authorities tighten that censorship ahead of the anniversary, erasing any posts with even a vague suggestion of being about that date.

The story of China’s Great Firewall, the world’s most sophisticated censorship system

To keep the memory of the crackdown alive, creative internet users have used everything from rubber duck memes to mahjong tiles, but meticulous censors have still found a way to mute them. In an extreme example from 2018, WeChat users reportedly couldn’t even send 89.64 yuan through WeChat Pay.

The situation remains the same this year, but some conversations still manage to slip through the cracks. And Li’s Weibo page has offered a rare lodestone for people wishing to commemorate the date.

A photo of Chinese doctor Li Wenliang seen in Hong Kong as people attend a vigil on February 7. (Picture: AP)

Li Wenliang was a doctor in Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, and was among the first to share information about a new Sars-like virus in late December. But when he did, he wound up being reprimanded by police and silenced. When he eventually contracted the virus and died from the disease on February 7, it triggered nationwide grief and anger.

Li’s Weibo page then became what’s been called an “online wailing wall,” where many people show up every day to leave messages expressing their anger over what happened to him or just to tell him about their days and express their thoughts. Li’s old posts remain available on his page, where he posted about his interests and experiences with the virus.

As people continued the routine of showing up to Li’s page today, some people couldn’t help but hint about the anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown.

“Wenliang, today the internet is quiet,” one Weibo user commented under Li’s last post.

“Dr. Li, it’s June 5 today. A kid was invited by the Education Bureau for a chat, but wasn’t reprimanded,” another person wrote, hinting that June 4 doesn’t exist.

The user was referring to a 13-year-old high school student using the online handle Zhong Meimei, whose short videos of him doing impressions of his teachers went viral in China. The videos were later found to have been deleted for no apparent reason. The local education bureau later reportedly confirmed that they asked the boy to do more “positive energy” videos instead.
Li’s last Weibo post on February 1 is a sombre one: It’s when he publicly confirmed that he tested positive for the coronavirus. That post now has more than 1 million comments -- with the true number unknown, since Weibo caps comment counts at 1 million.

“It’s June 5 Dr. Li! Yesterday was June 3, and I didn’t feel well,” another commenter posted, again joking about the absence of June 4 on China’s internet.

But even though Li’s posts themselves haven’t been subject to censorship, comments are another story. In some conversations among commenters, people said that their comments were deleted.

Noting this, another user wrote, “You can delete the comments, but you can’t change what happened.”