A top Chinese official visiting Wuhan has been heckled by residents who yelled “fake, fake, everything is fake” as she inspected the work of a neighbourhood committee charged with taking care of quarantined residents.
Vice-premier Sun Chunlan, one of the most senior government officials to visit the centre of the coronavirus outbreak, toured a residential community in Wuhan’s Qingshan district on Thursday. According to state media, Sun was inspecting the operations of the neighbourhood committee, meant to make checks on residents each day and distribute necessities like medicine, food and fresh vegetables.
Videos posted online showed Sun and a delegation walking along the grounds while residents appeared to shout from their apartment windows, “fake, fake,” “it’s all fake,” as well as “we protest”. Some could be heard yelling, “formalism,” a term that has employed frequently recently to criticise ineffective measures taken by government representatives for the sake of appearances.
Since 12 February, all residential compounds in Wuhan have been put under lockdown, barring most residents from leaving their homes. Neighbourhood committees have been charged with handling everything from arranging hospital visits and quarantines of residents, as well as residents’ supplies of food and daily temperature checks.
But many residents have complained to the Guardian and other media that the community workers have not provided needed assistance. Community workers have complained that they have been overwhelmed.
In an unusual turn of events, on Friday various Chinese state media outlets reported the videos showing public discontent. Such videos are frequently censored from Chinese social media and government-run outlets have been focused on stories of “positive energy” to boost morale in the fight against the coronavirus.
Yet, the People’s Daily posted a video subtitled in English showing one person shouting “fake, fake,” which has since been removed. Other outlets like Beijing Youth Daily reported on the incident. A government-affiliated account on WeChat, Taoran Notes, said in an essay posted on Thursday that all the facts of the incident were “basically true”.
According to state broadcaster CCTV, Sun held a meeting immediately after the incident to deal with the complaints. Staff have been dispatched to visit the residents one by one, according to Taoran.
Observers say state media may be trying to co-opt discussion of the videos ,which circulated widely online, and provide their own narrative of events. The incident also provides the central government an opportunity to show it responding to public sentiment, after a wave of public anger over the suppression of early warnings of the virus.
“It is by not covering up problems that we can resolve them,” the article by Taoran Notes said. “We must face the problems in a realistic manner to gain the understanding and support of the masses.”
Versions of the video were still being posted on social media on Friday. “If they were not pushed to the edge, Chinese people would not shout,” one Weibo user wrote.
Another comment read: “What were they shouting? They were shouting the truth. For years, when these high-level meetings or inspections took place, those who would tell the truth would be sent away or shut up.” Another said: “Do you hear the people?”
Additional reporting by Lillian Yang