When my friend Chen recently called his parents in China, he was surprised to see how much they knew about the Grand Princess, a cruise ship that recently docked in California waters due to suspected cases of coronavirus on board. His parents had a great deal of information about the situation, including how many passengers and crew members were onboard, how many had been tested, and how many cases of COVID-19 were confirmed.
“Our neighbors are all talking about this—the coronavirus situation in the U.S. is really bad,” added his father.
Chen asked about the current situation in China. “Everything is under control—thanks to the government’s information transparency,” his father replied. “I know everything.” He said that credit should go to the Chinese Community Party (CCP) for its efforts to contain and control the virus.
Chen then told his father about a case he’d heard about from a former neighbor who lived in the residential compound of a Chinese university. “Someone in the university was infected with coronavirus and died before he was sent to the hospital.”
Chen asked his father if this case was included in the official tally.
“How would I know?” replied his father, adding that the government had issued a policy that people who gossiped about the coronavirus would face consequences.
When he heard this, Chen explained to his parents, two highly educated professionals, that “Information transparency is based on truthfulness and accuracy. If I want to verify virus information related to the cruise ship in California, I could call the cruise company or health agencies in California. Similarly, you should be able to reach out to the university or contact the local health department for more details about that particular case.”
“But we can’t do that,” his mother interrupted. “People would question why we’re asking about it—I wouldn’t want to get us in trouble.”
“If that’s the case,” answered Chen, “then the so-called information transparency you described is in reality being fed whatever propaganda the government wants people to know.” His parents became quiet.
“I Don’t Want to Get in Trouble”
Chen told me that he’d had similar conversations with his parents before. His father didn’t believe him at all when he said that innocent Falun Gong practitioners were being persecuted in China for their belief in Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance and some had even lost their lives because of torture.
A few days later, Chen came across a case reported on Minghui.org. It was about a young woman in his father’s neighborhood who died in custody less than 10 days of her arrest for practicing Falun Gong. The practitioner’s mother was threatened not to cry or tell others about it when she was ordered to pick up her daughter’s ashes.
Chen’s father denied that there was any persecution, much less deaths, of Falun Gong practitioners. Chen challenged him to verify the case since the young lady lived nearby. His father said that he’d look into it, but he didn’t do anything even after a month had passed. He eventually admitted that he did not have the courage to verify the case. “It is what it is. I’m just an ordinary person; I don’t want to get in trouble.”
Different Opinions Suppressed
According to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., Chinese officials arrested at least 325 residents between January 22 and 28 alone for spreading information about coronavirus in China. Most of them were charged with “spreading rumors,” “creating panic,” or “attempting to disrupt social order.” They were punished with detention, fines, or disciplinary education.
Fang Bin, a resident of Wuhan, took videos related to the coronavirus epidemic and posted them on YouTube on January 25, 2020, two days after the city’s lockdown. On February 1, he took video footage at five hospitals, including one that transferred out 8 corpses in 5 minutes, and again showed it on YouTube.
Fang was arrested at 7 p.m. that evening by police officers dressed as health professionals, reported the Los Angeles Times on February 3 in an article titled “He filmed corpses of coronavirus victims in China. Then the police broke into his home.” Fang was later released due to pressure from the public and overseas media reports, but he was again arrested on February 10 and his whereabouts remain unknown.
During a meeting in Minhang District, Shanghai on February 28, Party Secretary Ni Yaoming referred to the CCP’s information censorship as an “online war” that “promotes government policies,” “monitors public opinion online,” and “strictly controls online information.”
According to insiders, the CCP’s propaganda has shifted its strategy to the following as the coronavirus has spread to more than 100 countries: 1) diverting the Chinese citizens’ attention to the coronavirus spread outside of China; 2) bragging about the CCP’s capability in controlling the epidemic; and, 3) shifting the blame to the U.S. by spreading conspiracy theories that the virus actually originated in the U.S.
No wonder my friend Chen’s parents were led to believe that the CCP has done a great job controlling the epidemic.