‘Truth is the Only Comfort’: Chinese Citizens Fed Up With Beijing’s Coronavirus Propaganda

March 14, 2020 Updated: March 15, 2020

The Chinese regime has deployed its gargantuan propaganda machine to boost its leadership in its “all-out war” against the coronavirus outbreak. But its efforts do not appear to be winning the hearts and minds of its citizens.

Campaigns by Chinese state-run media to promote ‘positive’ propaganda on its outbreak containment efforts have spurred fiery backlash online, while those living under lockdown in regions hit hard by the virus have consistently vented their frustrations online—in posts which are often later scrubbed by China’s internet censors.

In a February video propagated by Chinese state media, 14 nurses from China’s northwestern Gansu Province get their heads shaved as a precautionary measure before being dispatched to the frontlines in coronavirus epicenter Wuhan. Several wept during the ordeal, while others looked visibly upset.

The nurses who purportedly volunteered to undergo the procedure were lauded as heroes by state media. Yet many Chinese netizens who saw the video, which has millions of views, thought differently.

“To shave off their hair as a group … use their sacrifice to put out this performance, then create publicity hype—such an act is far too cruel,” a Chinese commentator wrote on Shanghai-based media Eastday. State-run media Gansu Daily, which first published the video, later deleted the post from Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform.

But the outrage has not been limited to online—in the country’s worst-hit virus zone Wuhan, locals, in a rare show of defiance, took to voicing their displeasure with authorities’ handling of the outbreak in unconventional ways.

On March 5, when Sun Chunlan, the country’s Vice Premier, visited a residential compound in Wuhan along with a group of officials, locals who were sealed inside their apartments greeted them by yelling out complaints from their windows.

“It’s fake, everything’s fake!” One woman shouted. Their shouts continued until the officials exited the compound.

However, authorities made sure this episode wouldn’t be repeated when Chinese leader Xi Jinping visited Wuhan five days later. Footage circulating online show police wearing hazmat suits standing guard inside people’s apartments and on their balcony. In a notice on Chinese super-app WeChat, a local residential committee officer at a building complex in Wuhan said the officers would stay in residents’ homes for around an hour for “security clearance.”

“Anybody with a clear mind will not fail to see that this is purely an inspection show,” Chinese political commentator Yuan Bin wrote in a column for the Chinese-language edition of The Epoch Times.

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A Chinese man wears a protective mask as he sits outside Beijing station in Beijing, China, on March 13, 2020. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Beijing’s Propaganda Playbook

A recently leaked document from Hubei Province, whose capital is Wuhan, revealed that authorities have deployed huge efforts at tightening the flow of information and shaping the official narrative amid the outbreak.

Officials have engaged at least 1,600 trolls in the province alone to aggressively monitor online speech and scrub any information critical of the regime.

The main goal is to enhance the “promotion of the positive side,” the document said, in part by having a “wartime” propaganda mechanism in place to control public opinion online and offline, “big and small,” with “minute precision.”

The propaganda efforts, according to the document, should focus on illuminating the effective containment measures, and “vividly retelling” the “moving deeds” of medical staff, officials, police officers, and volunteers.

Further, it asked all media to step up their promotion of “exemplary figures” and heroes from the outbreak frontlines, with the goal of having each state and provincial outlet feature two to three such models in their daily reporting.

In line with such directives, the province’s major media have published over 50,000 outbreak-related reports by mid-February, the document said, with some articles garnering hundreds of millions of views.

Hyping the regime’s capability to handle the virus, the central government also declared 113 medical teams and 506 medical workers as “model citizens.”

Concern In China As Mystery Virus Spreads
A Chinese man takes a gate ticket from a woman on the other side of a makeshift barricade wall intended to control the entry and exit of outsiders in Beijing, China, on Feb. 25, 2020. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

‘Truth Is the Only Comfort’

Wang Zhonglin, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Secretary of Wuhan, triggered an outpouring of rage after he recently called for a thorough “appreciation education” to teach the public to be grateful to the Party for its outbreak response.

“Wuhan people are heroic people who also know how to be grateful,” Wang said on March 6, according to state-affiliated Changjiang Daily.

The remark did not sit well with local residents. “Gratitude should be self-initiated, right?” Gao, a Wuhan local, told The Epoch Times. “Saving Chinese people is its obligation, the basic responsibility of a government … what is there to be grateful about?”

Hu, who lives in the Jianghan District of Wuhan, said the official has “reversed the proper order.” “He should thank the people of Wuhan,” Hu told The Epoch Times.

More people, locked in their homes, lamented the struggle in obtaining fresh food supplies and sustaining their lives. One resident, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he had been skipping meals every day to cut down expenses.

“They have buried us alive,” Wuhan resident Xin told The Epoch Times, adding that certain food prices have surged by up to ten-fold. Officials, however, are able to abuse their privileges and obtain the products at cost, Xin said.

Xin had recently filmed a video to protest their lack of supplies, for which he was reprimanded by local police officers. “They don’t solve the problems, but only go after people who raise the problems.”

“We commoners can only pray for heaven’s blessings, we live one day at a time.”

Jiang, who lives in Wuhan’s Qingshan District, the same area where locals heckled officials from their windows, labeled the CCP as the “most shameless” regime in the world.

“Nobody believes in the CCP anymore,” he said.

Zhang, also from Wuhan, believes that locals’ experiences of this crisis have made people less willing to cooperate with the regime.

“When locals circulate the images of police in hazmat suits in their homes, there’s a message they are trying to convey: we can’t talk, and dare not talk,” she said, referring to the measures adopted during Xi’s visit to the city.

“Truth is the only comfort.”

Follow Eva on Twitter: @EvaSailEast