Lǐ Wénliàng 李文亮, one of the doctors censured by Wuhan police after he posted messages about the then-unknown coronavirus, died on February 7. Forty-two days after promising an investigation into the circumstances relating to Li’s admonishment over “rumor mongering,” his infection with COVID-19, and subsequent death due to the virus, the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection has released its investigative team’s report (in Chinese).
Titled “Report reflecting public reaction on circumstances surrounding Doctor Li Wenliang situation,” the document is an exhaustive yet not particularly enlightening review of Li’s initial WeChat posts, his admonishment, how he contracted the disease, his treatment regimen, restitution payments to his family, and questions of ultimate responsibility for censuring him.
This is what the report concludes:
Li’s saga began on December 30, when he began warning coworkers about possible cases of SARS originating from Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan. The report detailed that his original punishment for “illegal rumor mongering” was in regards to messages he sent to a WeChat group of doctors. “There are seven confirmed cases of SARS from Huanan Seafood Market,” he wrote. Li also shared a video of a CT scan, and then told doctors to keep the news quiet while encouraging their families to take precautions.
On January 3, he was called into the Zhongnan Police Station and met with Policeman Hu (民警胡某 mínjǐng hú mǒu), where he was required to sign an admonishment statement, affirming that his WeChat messages relating to the virus were incorrect, and that he not make the same mistake again.
Although not outlined in the report, his statement went viral online. It is translated below by China Digital Times:
“The public security bureau hopes that you will actively cooperate with our work, follow the advice of the police, and stop the illegal behavior. Can you do this?
We hope that you can calm down and earnestly reflect, and solemnly warn you: If you are stubborn, refuse to repent, and continue to carry out illegal activities, you will be punished by the law! Do you understand?
Internet users, furious over Li’s forced admission of guilt, quickly took to posting “can’t” (不能 bù néng) and “don’t understand” (不明白 bù míngbái), inverting Li’s forced assertion that he “can” (能 néng) follow the law and “understands” (明白 míngbái) that he will be punished if he continues his illegal activities.
After reviewing Li’s already well-publicized WeChat messages, the investigators’ report then details how he was infected. This is the story they tell:
Dr. Li, an ophthalmologist, saw an elderly patient on January 6. On January 7, his patient began to demonstrate symptoms including fever. Said patient eventually passed away on the 23rd. Shortly after seeing the patient, Li himself fell ill. On the 12th he was admitted to Wuhan Central Hospital and moved to a respiratory and critical medicine ward. However, he was not diagnosed with COVID-19 until January 31. His condition worsened throughout February.
At approximately 9:30 in the evening of February 6th, Life Times, a subsidiary of nationalist newspaper Global Times, published a notice that Li had passed away. The report does not mention that large numbers of social media users immediately posted notes of mourning and anger. Nor does the report touch on controversy started by conflicting news reports that Li was still alive and that attempts were underway to save his life.
The investigation team holds that he was still alive and at 10:40 p.m. hooked up to Wuhan Central Hospital’s only Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine, which oxygenates a patient’s blood outside of the body, allowing the patient’s heart and lungs to rest. Intensive attempts to save him, including intubation and the aforementioned ECMO, failed, and Li passed away at 2:58 a.m., February 7.
The report claims that the extreme attempts to save Li Wenliang were entirely directed by his colleagues, who went to such great lengths due to his young age and their belief that “even if there was just a little bit of hope, then we couldn’t give up. We hadn’t considered any other factors.” The structured question-and-answer session (in Chinese) that accompanies the report reiterates that the unusual length of life-saving maneuvers was due to Li’s co-workers’ ardent desire to save his life. (This is an obvious attempt at disproving internet commentary that claimed attempts to save Li had been improper and excessive, and dictated by political, not medical, considerations.)
The report says that his family has been compensated a total of 821,800 yuan ($115,606). The restitution came from both a one-time payment for death in the line of duty, and a second payment to cover his funeral expenses.
Finally, the report concludes that his admonishment letter was the result of inappropriate action and non-orderly administration of the law by the local Zhongnan Police Station. Which specific laws were inappropriately applied and which particular actions were inappropriately taken are not mentioned. However, the report does recommend that the Wuhan local public security bureau rescind the letter of admonishment and pursue questions of responsibility within their own department.
All responsibility for the treatment of Li and the other “Eight Men of Virtue” (八君子 bā jūnzǐ), the online name for the eight doctors reprimanded for whistleblowing about the coronavirus crisis, is placed on local officials.
Several hours after the release of the report, the Wuhan police official Weibo account posted (in Chinese) that it had revoked their previous letter of admission and given the two policemen responsible demerits. The post also includes a “solemn” apology to Li and his family members.
The report’s attached question-and-answer session ends with a warning:
A thing worth noticing is, there are hostile forces who, in order to attack the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese Government, have given Li Wenliang the label of anti-system “hero” or “awakener.” This does not at all correspond with reality. Li Wenliang was a Communist Party member; he was not a so-called “anti-system person.” Those with ulterior motives attempting to agitate through demagogy, poison the minds of the people, and provoke societal unrest will surely not succeed.
Fāng Fāng 方方, the famous Wuhan novelist whose posts on life during the pandemic have captivated audiences around the globe, wrote upon Li ’s death: “People like to say that ‘silence is golden’ as a way to express their profundity. But what is this silence? Will we be confronted with the same silence again?”
It seems that her question has been answered.
See also Reclaiming Doctor Li, from the China Media project.