The Fable of the Chinese Whistleblower
The more the United States struggles with the ravages of COVID-19, the more President Donald Trump and his Republican Party will blame China. The facts hardly matter, as their exploitation of the tragic case of Wuhan doctor Li Wenliang shows: If Trump and the GOP think a conspiracy theory will win votes, they will run with it.
NEW HAVEN/HONG KONG – Public opinion in the United States pins the blame for the COVID-19 pandemic squarely on China. After all, that’s where the virus started. And President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have fanned the flames by accusing China of covering up the outbreak and knowingly allowing the novel coronavirus to spread. But their supposed smoking gun, the tragic fate of the heroic whistleblower, Li Wenliang, fires only blanks.
Li, a doctor, was purportedly silenced and chastised by Chinese officials for warning on December 30, 2019, about a new virus in the Wuhan hospital where he worked. When it became evident that he was on to something serious – so serious, in fact, that it ultimately killed him – the Chinese government changed its tune and celebrated Li’s bravery. If only that had happened sooner, the argument goes, the world would have avoided this horrific pandemic.
But that’s not what happened. Li was a courageous young man. His actions, however, were relatively unremarkable. Indeed, his role has been distorted without regard for fact.