Science

China threatened historians, telling them to ignore sources that highlight its botched early COVID-19 response

Summary List PlacementA senior Chinese official made a threat to historians aiming to study the country's early COVID-19 response, advising them not to take "the wrong side," the Financial Times reported.  According to the paper, the comments came at a closed-door event at which education official Wang Binglin went through topics that were likely to be marked classified and banned from study. More than 100 government figures and scholars were there, the FT said.  Wang firstly warned historians against "playing up" the country's historical Land Reform Movement, during which millions of landlords were killed and property redistributed under Mao Zedong's rule, the...

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Summary List Placement

A senior Chinese official made a threat to historians aiming to study the country’s early COVID-19 response, advising them not to take “the wrong side,” the Financial Times reported

According to the paper, the comments came at a closed-door event at which education official Wang Binglin went through topics that were likely to be marked classified and banned from study.

More than 100 government figures and scholars were there, the FT said. 

Wang firstly warned historians against “playing up” the country’s historical Land Reform Movement, during which millions of landlords were killed and property redistributed under Mao Zedong’s rule, the FT reported.

“Making such information public is of little help for you historians and will also be bad for the party,” the FT reported him as saying. “By studying or writing about this [period], you will be taking the wrong side. That’s why we ban the study and publication of such material.”

He then said the same applies to “Wuhan Diary,” an online diary from the city when it was ground zero for the emerging coronavirus between January and March 2020, the FT reported.

Its author Wang Fang, who uses the pen name Fang Fang, drew a huge audience in the early stages of the pandemic despite intermittent censorship.

As well as writing about daily life under lockdown, she chronicled the catastrophic strain the virus was placing on the medical system, and the death of whistleblower doctor Li Wengliang

The diary attracted international attention and was published in English translation by HarperCollins, but caused an intense nationalist backlash against Fang lasting months, as the South China Morning Post reported

Wuhan Institute of Virology

The warning from Wang, the education official, came during a discussion of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s centenary on July 1. The occasion is being intensely managed to project Chinese strength and avoid any sore spots.

China has been reluctant to accept scrutiny of the emergence of the virus and its own response. Although the World Health Organization initially praised the country’s response, it later became clear that it was an intentional strategy of flattery to coax crucial data that China was withholding.

A year and a half on from the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, the country is facing a new reckoning on its response, as Insider’s Alexandra Ma reported, with the EU and the US in talks to call for a re-opening of the question of the origins of the virus.

An earlier WHO investigation had concluded that it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

In May however, following reports that three scientists there got sick a month before the first COVID-19 cases were reported, President Joe Biden authorized a new investigation into the origins of the virus.

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