They Documented the Coronavirus Crisis in Wuhan. Then They Vanished.

[ad_1]

HONG KONG — The beige van squatted outside of a Wuhan hospital, its side and back doors ajar. Fang Bin, a local clothing salesman, peered inside as he walked past. He groaned: “So many dead.” He counted five, six, seven, eight body bags. “This is too many.”

That moment, in a 40-minute video about the coronavirus outbreak that has devastated China, propelled Mr. Fang to internet fame. Then, less than two weeks later, he disappeared.

Days earlier, another prominent video blogger in Wuhan, Chen Qiushi, had also gone missing. Mr. Chen’s friends and family said they believed he had been forcibly quarantined.

Before their disappearances, Mr. Fang and Mr. Chen had recorded dozens of videos from Wuhan, streaming unfiltered and often heartbreaking images from the center of the outbreak. Long lines outside hospitals. Feeble patients. Agonized relatives.

Mr. Fang’s and Mr. Chen’s videos were another manifestation of the dissatisfaction that the government’s handling of the outbreak has unleashed among ordinary Chinese citizens.

  • Updated Feb. 10, 2020

    • What is a Coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is possibly transmitted through the air. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • How worried should I be?
      While the virus is a serious public health concern, the risk to most people outside China remains very low, and seasonal flu is a more immediate threat.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      World Health Organization officials have praised China’s aggressive response to the virus by closing transportation, schools and markets. This week, a team of experts from the W.H.O. arrived in Beijing to offer assistance.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The United States and Australia are temporarily denying entry to noncitizens who recently traveled to China and several airlines have canceled flights.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.

“When suddenly there’s a crisis, they want to have access to a wider array of content and reporting,” said Sarah Cook, who studies Chinese media at Freedom House, a pro-democracy research group based in the United States.

The disappearance of the two men also underscores that the ruling Communist Party has no intention of loosening its grip on free speech.

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, said last month that officials needed to “strengthen the guidance of public opinion.” While Chinese social media has overflowed with fear and grief, state propaganda outlets have emphasized Mr. Xi’s steady hand, framed the fight against the outbreak as a form of patriotism and shared upbeat videos of medical workers dancing.

More than 350 people across China have been punished for “spreading rumors” about the outbreak, according to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, an advocacy group.

Mr. Chen, a fast-talking, fresh-faced lawyer from eastern China, was already well-known online before the outbreak. He traveled to Hong Kong during the pro-democracy protests last year and disputed the Chinese authorities’ depiction of the demonstrators as a riotous mob.

The Beijing authorities summoned him back to the mainland and deleted his social media accounts, Mr. Chen told his followers later.

Unlike Mr. Chen, Mr. Fang, the clothing salesman, was fairly anonymous before the coronavirus outbreak. Much of his YouTube activity had involved producing enthusiastic videos about traditional Chinese clothing.

But as the outbreak escalated, he began sharing videos of Wuhan’s empty streets and crowded hospitals. They lacked the slickness of Mr. Chen’s dispatches, which were often subtitled and tightly edited. But, as with Mr. Chen’s videos, they showed a man growing increasingly desperate — and defiant.

On Feb. 2, Mr. Fang described how officials had confiscated his laptop and interrogated him about his footage of the body bags. On Feb. 4, he filmed a group of people outside his home, who said they were there to ask him questions. He turned them away, daring them to break down his door.

In his final videos, Mr. Fang turned explicitly political in a way rarely heard inside China, at least in public. Filming from inside his home — he said he was surrounded by plainclothes policemen — he railed against “greed for power” and “tyranny.”

Elaine Yu contributed reporting.

[ad_2]

Sahred From Source link Business