How China silenced voices and rewrote COVID history



At the start of the year the Chinese government faced two major challenges; an unknown disease which threatened to tear through its population and a wave of voices online telling the world what was happening.
By the end of 2020, a glance at Chinese state-controlled media shows that both appear to be under control.

The BBC’s Kerry Allen and Zhaoyin Feng take a look back at the country’s online government censors who worked harder than ever to supress negative information, the citizens that managed to break through the Great Firewall, and how the propaganda machine re-wrote the narrative.
Early attempts to shift blame amid unprecedented online anger
At the beginning of the year, it was clear something unprecedented was happening. Thousands of messages of public outrage appeared on Chinese social media, asking whether local governments were covering up another Sars-like virus.

While government censors routinely mute anti-government messaging on platforms like Sina Weibo, they were of such a large volume that many remained visible.

This is because when facing major disasters, the Chinese government often scrambles to react, and censors are slow to act. In January and February, multiple media outlets took the opportunity to publish hard-hitting investigations, which were widely shared on social media.

Later, as Beijing came up with a propaganda strategy, these reports were stifled.

Blame was being pointed in all directions. In mid-January, Chinese President Xi Jinping suddenly became an absent figure in China’s media. He was not seen in public, and pictures vanished of him from the front pages of traditional government outlets like People’s Daily. There was some speculation that he was, quite physically, avoiding blame.

Within a week, however, things changed considerably. Top officials began warning local governments they would “forever be nailed to the pillar of historical shame” if they withheld information about cases in their regions.

Blame shifted in Chinese media and social media towards Wuhan’s leadership, with papers like Beijing News writing unusually critical commentaries, asking: “Why didn’t Wuhan let the public know sooner?”

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