Chinese dictator Xi Jinping finally visited Wuhan, epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, on Tuesday. Xi’s visit was meant to signal the virus is under control and Wuhan can get back to work, but residents of the city used social media to illuminate what Radio Free Asia (RFA) called the “massive security and propaganda operation surrounding Xi’s visit.”
Much of that operation reportedly involved armed security forces clad in hazmat suits making sure the unhappy people of Wuhan behaved themselves during Xi’s visit:
Some said the police were likely there to stop people heckling the president, as they did last week during a visit by vice premier Sun Chunlan.
“When #SunChunlan visited last time, #Wuhan citizens hailed “fake”,” wrote Twitter user @jerome_coo. “When #XiJinping visited this time, #CCP arranged #police to prevent such an incident.”
Others accused Xi of going to Wuhan when the greatest danger to his own health had passed, and “picking peaches,” a phrase suggesting he was taking the credit for others’ work.
Wuhan resident Liu Guoqiang said Xi had visited Leishenshan Hospital, before moving onto the Donghuyuan residential compound.
“General Secretary Xi Jinping flew into Wuhan to make an inspection today,” Liu said. “He went to Leishenshan and a few other places to visit frontline medical staff, grassroots officials and People’s Liberation Army soldiers and volunteers.”
“It was all a big show to let us know that the head of state had arrived.”
A resident surnamed Sun said local people were barred from leaving their homes during Xi’s visit.
“They wouldn’t let us go out, and there were sentry posts every few meters,” Sun said. “Local residents had to shut their windows, and there were armed police guarding each home wherever he went.”
“Initial success has been made in stabilizing the situation and turning the tide in Hubei and Wuhan,” Xi said during his visit. Hubei is the province where Wuhan is located.
China’s state-run media amplified Xi’s message by reporting his visit as a “strong signal to the entire country and the world that China is ascending out of the darkest moment amid the outbreak.”
A visit by Xi to Wuhan was inevitable at some point, and it will be taken as one of the clearest signals the Chinese government could send that the coronavirus crisis is beginning to subside, but it also served as an irksome reminder to Wuhan residents that Xi disappeared during the early stages of the crisis, prompting accusations of callous indifference at best and cowardice at worst.
Xi later created a new mythology of the coronavirus that claimed he was secretly managing the response behind the scenes the whole time and was let down by local officials who did not follow his perfect plans to the letter. China’s Central Propaganda Department actually put this story of how “the centralized and unified leadership of the Communist Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at the core” defeated the coronavirus into book form and published the book in six different languages.
Belief in this mythology is mandatory, of course, but a good number of people in Wuhan are not buying it.
“He’s here to pick peaches, because it looks good to say that China has things under control as other countries are getting overwhelmed. [But] many people have had their lives ruined, and hate him,” RFA quoted a Wuhan teacher sighing.
The “pick peaches” line spread around Wuhan as mockery of Xi, a sardonic reference to a treasured Chinese fable about the legendary Monkey King stealing peaches from Heaven that roughly corresponds to the classical Greek myth of Prometheus stealing fire from the gods – but with a happier ending for the Monkey King, who managed to plea-bargain his sentence for cosmic transgressions down to 500 years of solitary confinement and public service, whereas the suffering of Prometheus is still a subject of grim fascination for Western storytellers thousands of years later. It would not be surprising if Xi overcame his aversion to being compared with talking animals and embraced the Monkey King comparison as he works to repair his political standing.
Xi and his legion of censors are working hard to stamp out anything that contradicts his revised political mythology of the epidemic. RFA noted that a major article about an early coronavirus whistleblower named Dr. Ai Fen has been erased. Ai’s story is very similar to that of the late Dr. Li Wenliang, who was one of the colleagues she shared her suspicions about a burgeoning epidemic with.
Ai, who is the director of emergency management at Wuhan Central Hospital, spoke out about her mistreatment by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) until Xi announced he would visit Wuhan. Her comments were a blistering indictment of how political interference from the CCP ruined early opportunities to contain the virus before it spread through the rest of China and the world.
According to Ai, there were clear signs of human-to-human transmission weeks before the CCP admitted it was possible. She blames herself for not defying the humiliating warnings she was given by officials and raising the alarm before so many people, including colleagues like Li Wenliang, were killed.
“If I could have known [how the outbreak would turn out] I would have told everyone, even though I was warned. I have thought many times – if only time could be turned back,” she said, as reported by the South China Morning Post on Wednesday.
Chinese Internet users went to work as soon as Xi Jinping’s censors deleted the interview with Ai, finding a number of clever ways to spread it through social media, bypassing automated filters by inserting deliberate spelling errors and replacing crucial keywords with emojis. Some enterprising souls even translated the entire article into Morse code.