HomeChinese AmericanCoronavirus Sparks Deeper Discussions on Freedom of Speech

Coronavirus Sparks Deeper Discussions on Freedom of Speech

Dr. Li Wenliang became the first to warn about the coronavirus, but was met with dismay by the Chinese government

Apart from rising xenophobia and discrimination directed against Asian and Asian Americans, the coronavirus has also sparked heated discussion among local communities about Chinese authorities’ management of the outbreak.

After warning about the virus outbreak in December, Dr. Li Wenliang from Wuhan was detained and silenced by Chinese authorities, forced to sign a statement claiming that his warning was an unfounded and illegal rumor. His death– from the very illness he tried to warn against– has sent shock waves throughout communities and led to an online outpouring of grief and anger directed toward the Chinese government. 

On February 9th, hundreds of people in New York paid tribute to Dr. Li during a memorial at Central Park, calling for freedom of speech.

Given China’s extensive censorship apparatus, public outcry has been met with immediate crackdown, many reporting that their critical posts have been taken down and their WeChat accounts disbanded. Academics in China have even begun to spearhead a petition campaign for citizens’ protection of freedom of speech, including a demand that would require Feb. 6th, the date of Dr. Li’s death, to be made a national day of free speech. 

While many overseas still fear the ramifications that can come with political dissent against the Chinese government, crowds of people attended the rally commemorating Dr. Li, an estimated 200.

Rally attendees joined in collectively chanting, “A healthy society should not only have once voice” and “I demand free speech. I demand the truth.”

According to a report in the New Yorker, a woman took the stage at the rally, saying, “Since the outbreak, I’ve been missing and worried for my family and friends in China, because I have no reliable source of information to decide what’s going on there, and how bad it is” she said. “From Dr. Li’s experience, we saw that individuals could be criminalized for sharing real news. This frightens us, and makes all of us worry about access to the truth.”

Attendees later began to blow their whistles, symbolically remembering the efforts of Dr. Li to warn about the outbreak. 

The tribute in New York was the first to take place outside China, and there have been others in L.A., San Francisco, Boston, Toronto, Melbourne, and Berlin, reports the New Yorker.

Amid the public health crisis and a plethora of misinformation surrounding the coronavirus, university student organizations in the United States have also begun to organize fundraisers to spread awareness of the virus and send necessary supplies to locations affected by the virus.

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