In a lavish ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, recognised a select group of citizens for their contributions to the country’s fight against Covid-19 and praised his party’s resilience when faced with such “an extraordinary and historic test”.
In front of hundreds of party officials, cadres and health workers, Xi carefully draped a heavy gold medal over the head of the senior epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan. He awarded medals to a traditional Chinese medicine expert, the head of a Wuhan hospital at the forefront of the outbreak, and a military biomedical expert. More than 40 medical workers, local officials and police who died during the outbreak were also commended.
But missing from the list of national heroes was one individual that comes to mind for many Chinese citizens: the doctor Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist at a hospital in Wuhan who was “disciplined” by local authorities for trying to warn colleagues of the virus. His death aged 34 after contracting the virus in January turned into a rallying call for free speech and demands for government accountability.
Angry at his omission, citizens have flooded Li’s last post on Weibo with tributes. “The one who deserves the most recognition is you,” one of the most recent comments on Wednesday read. “Dr Li is the real people’s hero,” another posted a few seconds earlier said. “They win medals on stage. You win medals in our hearts.”