When the coronavirus began to spread in Wuhan, a doctor named Li Wenliang issued the first warning about an outbreak. Chinese authorities responded by showing up at his house in the middle of the night and forcing him to sign a document stating that he had broken the law by spreading rumors online. Dr. Li later died from the virus he had warned about. But Dr. Li isn’t the only voice China has attempted to silence as it tries to maintain control over information about the virus.
When the outbreak began, a video blogger named Chen Qiushi went to the epicenter and began filming scenes of the empty streets and overcrowded hospitals. He posted nearly 100 short clips on Chinese social media and gave many Chinese people a close up view of what was happening inside the quarantine zone. As you can probably guess, that didn’t go over well with Chinese authorities.
In a video posted on January 30, Chen said that after six days covering the outbreak as a citizen journalist his name and face had been flagged by authorities. As a result, his video clip were no longer viewable on Chinese social media. He also said authorities had been talking to his parents, trying to get his location.
“I am scared,” Chen said. He continued, “I have the virus in front of me. Behind me is China’s law enforcement.” But he vowed that so long as he was alive he would continue to report what he had seen first hand. Then he broke into tears. “F**k you, I’m not even scared of death, you think I’m scared of the Chinese Communist Party?”
A few days later, Chen disappeared:
Last week, Chen’s posts dried up. His mother broke the silence with a video post in the small hours of Friday. She said Chen was unreachable and appealed for help in finding him.
Later that evening, his friend and well-known mixed martial artist Xu Xiaodong said in a live broadcast on YouTube that Chen had been forcibly quarantined for 14 days, considered the maximum incubation period for the virus. He said Chen had been healthy and showed no signs of infection.
On Sunday, Xu tweeted that despite pleading with authorities for a call with Chen, he and others haven’t been able to get in touch.
While no one saw what happened to Chen, another man named Fang Bin who had published video showing piles of bodies awaiting cremation, also filmed the arrival of authorities at his home late at night. He posted that video as well:
The footage posted on YouTube offered a glimpse into how the security apparatus is working overtime to keep a lid on public anger about the spread of the virus.
“Why are there so many of you?” Fang asked. “If I open the door, you’ll take me away!”
Chen re-posted that video on his Twitter feed — one of his last tweets before his disappearance.
Today, China announced a new standard for estimating the number of people infected with the coronavirus (now called COVID-19). Under the news standard, the number of people infected jumped to nearly 60,000 and the number of deaths jumped to just under 1,400.
Here’s a video describing some of Chen’s reporting and subsequent disappearance. Below that is Chen’s video in which he claims not to be afraid of the virus or the Communist Party.