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  • - [Narrator] This video was filmed at a hospital in Wuhan,

  • the center of the coronavirus epidemic.

  • (speaking in foreign language)

  • And this is footage of a hospital under construction.

  • (speaking in foreign language)

  • Behind the camera are two vloggers,

  • who have become sensations in China.

  • Fang Bin is a resident of Wuhan

  • and Chen Qiushi, a human rights lawyer.

  • The two vloggers who were known in China

  • as citizen journalists published unfiltered video reports

  • as the crisis unfolded in late January and early February,

  • scenes that haven't appeared

  • in China's tightly controlled state media.

  • (speaking in foreign language)

  • But they stopped posting videos in early February.

  • (scuffling)

  • Fellow activists and relatives said they have disappeared.

  • (speaking in foreign language)

  • Chen's mother posted a video

  • saying she wasn't able to contact her son,

  • according to a friend, the police told Chen's father,

  • that his son was held in quarantine.

  • Activists say neighbors of Fang

  • saw a uniformed and plain clothes police officers

  • take him away, the activists haven't seen him since.

  • Even if their images were only available online

  • for days or even hours, China experts say it is unusual

  • for Beijing authorities to let this form of open criticism

  • appear before censoring content

  • or clamping down on its creators.

  • Many citizens have spoken up from doctors and nurses

  • to people stuck at home and patients,

  • (speaking in foreign language)

  • challenging the official narrative

  • of hospitals being speedily built from scratch

  • and armies of volunteers

  • orderly working to contain the epidemic.

  • So how are these videos critical of authorities

  • getting out into the public?

  • Beijing officials have said there is a genuine desire

  • to promote accurate information about the epidemic

  • and block false reports that could increase panic.

  • Nonetheless the anger in China came to a tipping point

  • late January after people accused local authorities

  • of trying to cover up what was happening.

  • - [Bao] People was not informed in the three to four weeks.

  • What we have witnessed is the revolt of the Chinese people.

  • - [Narrator] Bao Pu publishes books from Hong Kong

  • on topics that are censored by Beijing.

  • He says people grew frustrated when they saw

  • the healthcare system was overwhelmed by the coronavirus,

  • especially after the SARS epidemic,

  • that took nearly 800 lives in 2002 and 2003.

  • - [Bao] People generally expect the government

  • have learned the lessons of the SARS epidemic,

  • so they should have developed various mechanisms

  • to prevent that from ever happening.

  • - [Narrator] Pu says the speed

  • at which the criticism piled up online might be too hard

  • for China's censorship apparatus to manage

  • and that is one reason Chinese citizens

  • have managed to share content online.

  • Tens of millions have been stuck at home

  • leading to a surge in the number of people

  • reading and using social media.

  • Another explanation according to researchers

  • might be that in this situation,

  • Beijing needs information to keep flowing.

  • - Because this is a health crisis,

  • people also need to talk about supplies and access

  • and they need to be able to discuss this,

  • otherwise they're kind of stuck at home in quarantine zones

  • and it becomes really insufferable,

  • so they can't completely censor all discussions.

  • - [Narrator] Maria Repnikova analyzes

  • how Beijing censors its citizens

  • and says she believes the government

  • intentionally opened the doors to criticism.

  • - It's useful in some ways to learn about what's happening,

  • while it's only the early stages of the crisis,

  • the state officials at the local central level

  • still don't quite know what are the bigger issues,

  • what are the big frustrations,

  • it's kind of a way to get public opinion on this,

  • try to understand the grievances and then respond to that.

  • - [Narrator] Repnikova has interviewed

  • over 100 Chinese journalists and officials about big crises

  • like mining disasters or the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

  • She noticed there's a limited window of opportunity

  • for journalists to cover these events

  • and citizens to complain.

  • Repnikova says during the Sichuan earthquake,

  • the government started to tape mouths shut,

  • when journalists reported that poorly built schools

  • had contributed to the deaths of hundreds of children.

  • In Wuhan, Fang Bin was able to publish

  • 33 videos in 16 days on YouTube.

  • One video he posted online shows that he had run ins

  • with people who identified themselves

  • as local health officials,

  • who wanted to check Fang's health,

  • because he had visited a hospital.

  • (speaking in foreign language)

  • (scuffling)

  • Fang said the men confiscated his computer and phone,

  • then drove him to the outskirts of the city

  • to continue questioning him,

  • activists say he disappeared a week later.

  • (sobbing)

  • A Chinese diplomat was asked about Fang

  • during a TV interview.

  • - So I believe the relevant authorities

  • and departments in China, the legal departments

  • are dealing with the case in accordance with law.

  • (speaking in foreign language)

  • - [Narrator] Authorities have made no public statement

  • about Chen's disappearance or Fang's whereabouts.

  • The disappearance of both men in early February

  • happened around the time when the death toll in China

  • came closer to surpassing the one from SARS.

  • This is also approximately when Beijing

  • began ramping up efforts to create a new narrative

  • that things were under control.

  • Even though Chinese officials have continually offered

  • assurances that the epidemic is being successful managed,

  • (speaking in foreign language)

  • state controlled media have now put the blame

  • on local authorities for a slow response

  • to contain the outbreak in Wuhan,

  • while praising central authorities

  • for quickly pouring resources into the center of the crisis.

  • - Many of these crises are also opportunities

  • for political systems to come out as the winners or victors

  • or kind of as being in charge of this state of affairs.

  • - [Narrator] About a month

  • after the disappearance of Chen and Fang,

  • health officials said the number of new infections

  • had fallen dramatically in China,

  • authorities reported new infections in double digits,

  • down from hundreds of cases a day.

  • The outcry on Chinese social media, even if short lived

  • shows that many people in the country don't buy

  • the government's message that the crisis is under control.

  • (somber string music)

- [Narrator] This video was filmed at a hospital in Wuhan,

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Coronavirus Critics Disappear in China | WSJ

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    Mackenzie posted on 2020/03/16
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