Last week, Li Wenliang, a doctor in Wuhan, died of complications from coronavirus, triggering an eruption of grief and anger on the Chinese Internet. Li had been among the first to spread word online about the emerging coronavirus, and was disciplined at work and by local police for promoting “untrue speech.” By the time of Li’s death, Wuhan had been on lockdown for two weeks, and the official count of confirmed cases of coronavirus there was more than eleven thousand. But residents of the city of eleven million found ways to mourn the loss of Li in solitude. Some cried out his name from high-rise apartments, creating a hymn of sorrow; some drove their sedans and S.U.V.s slowly through empty streets, with the hazard lights on.
In New York City, Mei Qiqi, a graduate student in international educational development at Columbia, cried for half an hour straight upon seeing the news on Thursday, and immediately changed her WeChat avatar to a black ribbon. Then she decided to hold a memorial service to honor Li in Central Park. “Mourning itself is an action,” she later said. “It lends people voices and unity. It makes us get out of the house and huddle together.” The invitation to the vigil, featuring a sketch of Li wearing glasses and a face mask, circulated in chat groups and social-media posts. It was the first of a series of such services outside China, and there were others in L.A., San Francisco, Boston, Toronto, Melbourne, and Berlin.
Around 12:30 P.M.欧洲杯投注 on Sunday, Mei and a few volunteers gathered on a barren, triangular ground in front of the closed Sheep Meadow, facing the midtown skyline. The sky was bleak and birds were crying in the distance. A man slashed open a few Amazon boxes, revealing two hundred and fifty individually packaged, multi-colored whistles. “It’s more hygienic this way,” Mei said.
欧洲杯投注The volunteers set up a white banner on a fence. “What does it say?” a passerby asked his companion. She whispered the answer to him, and he repeated it, as if reading an unfamiliar text out loud: “Deep mourning Dr. Li Wenliang?” On the ground, the mourners arranged white and yellow chrysanthemums and started to line up; on the fence, they taped messages submitted by people who couldn’t make it to the event. “Goodbye Dr. Li,” one read. “In the coming days, I will speak every bit of truth in respect of you.”
A data scientist, wearing a light-blue surgical mask, watched the scene. She grew up in Chongqing, where she still has family, and now lives in Westchester. When she first saw the invitation to the vigil on WeChat, she told me, she hesitated. Public assemblies are banned in China, and many overseas Chinese still fear ramifications from attending events like this. But she decided to come anyway. “I’m just an ordinary person sending off another ordinary person,” she said. She lamented how Chinese authorities had failed to take good care of Li. “Now he has died. One only wishes that things would change for the better.”
A young woman in a navy jacket, carrying a bouquet of white lilies, came by. She was a student at Princeton and had learned of the service in her class chat group. “Few people dared to comment, fearing a bad impact on their future,” she said. “After all, most of us plan to return to China.” She is from Zhejiang Province, where more than a thousand cases are confirmed. She was worried about her family’s restaurant: “Business wasn’t so good last year, and then we couldn’t open during Chinese New Year.” Princeton originally asked all returning students who had spent winter break in China to self-quarantine; those plans were scrapped, but a handful of students still chose to isolate themselves.
The Princeton student slipped a yellow whistle over her head. “Dr. Li was a brave man with a clear conscience,” she said. She asked if The New Yorker publishes on WeChat, and was glad that the answer was no, “so no one will see that I came here,” she said.
People kept streaming in, and by just after 1 P.M., a crowd of about two hundred had gathered. Most attendees were wearing black. Around half of them wore face masks, or pulled up their scarves above their noses; elsewhere in Manhattan, few people wore masks.
A man in a blue windbreaker jogged by and looked intrigued. Asked if he knew of Dr. Li, he said, “Of course. A hero, for all the wrong reasons.”
The crowd formed a half-moon, facing downtown, as Mei took the stage. “In the past two days, preparing for this event, I came to see the most skittish side of myself,” she told her audience. “I feared something bad would happen at this event, and it would be smeared; I feared all the media that will come, and that one comment from someone would overshadow our intention to mourn and to remember. What I feared the most was addressing people from all walks of life—what if I said something wrong?” To overcome her fears, she said, she thought of Li. “After being admonished by the police, Dr. Li shared the letter online and accepted interviews. He was not looking to say the most correct thing. He said what he wanted to say.”
The crowd started to blow their whistles, sounding like a group of wolves howling at the moon.
欧洲杯投注A few attendees shared songs and poems they composed for Li. A man in a blue bowler hat tirelessly wrapped the mike with fresh napkins, fastened by a rubber band between speakers. A slight woman took the stage. “It took me six hours to get here from out of state,” she said. “I’m excited and disoriented. 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 choked up. “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.”
欧洲杯投注“In America, freedom of speech is a very safe topic,” a tall, buff young man from Inner Mongolia, his hair in a bun, said. “But, as a student from China, to show my face here in front of cameras, I’m pretty scared. . . . We are mostly safe here, but when we return to China, please, think long and hard. We can’t let Dr. Li’s tragedy happen again.”
欧洲杯投注The crowd applauded. A man in a black baseball cap, wearing a gray mask and sunglasses, came up. “Dr. Li said that a healthy society shouldn’t have only one voice. I want to say, there shouldn’t be just one voice over here, either.” The crowd was quiet. “Does Dr. Li’s death have anything to do with his speaking the truth?”
“Go back to Weibo,” a man yelled. On Weibo, like other Chinese platforms, voices critical of the government are silenced, and pro-government commentators had tried to divorce Li’s death from his call for freedom of speech.
欧洲杯投注“Let him finish,” a woman chimed in.