Videos showing residents at the centre of China’s coronavirus epidemic haranguing a top Chinese official have highlighted persistent anger at how authorities have handled the crisis.
The clips, which have been circulating online since Thursday, show occupants of an apartment block in the city of Wuhan yelling “it’s all fake” from windows during an official neighbourhood inspection by Vice Premier Sun Chunlan.
According to Chinese media, the complaints were an outcry against the community’s property management, who were allegedly only pretending to have volunteers deliver vegetables and meat to inhabitants of the towers in the lockdowned city.
Surprisingly, China’s censors, usually quick to scrub any criticism of government officials, have allowed the homemade videos to remain on Weibo, the country’s Twitter-like social media platform.
But the central government appears to be seizing on the videos to craft a narrative that Beijing is listening to the demands of its people and that local authorities are to blame for the mistakes.
State news agency Xinhua reported late Thursday that Sun has asked for “in-depth investigations” to address problems raised by Wuhan residents, although there is no mention of the video.
The People’s Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, shared an edited version of one clip on Twitter, though it deleted the post on its English account while the Chinese version was still online.
With no end in sight to the quarantine, which began in the city of 11 million people on January 23, many residents are depending on online group-buying services to get food.
Supermarkets and neighbourhood committees have scrambled to fill orders as demand rocketed, but some residents have told AFP that not everyone has been happy with the price and quality of mass-purchased food.
Families have had to depend on themselves for resources, despite official reassurances that supplies were being channeled to the struggling city.
The nationalistic Global Times said Friday that the local government in Wuhan has been ordered to “investigate and solve the problem immediately”.
It added that a central government guiding group for the epidemic urged local authorities to ensure there are supplies for residents soon after the incident.
Meanwhile, Wuhan has launched an investigation in the community of over 3,000 to understand their concerns, added the Global Times.
– Officials ‘sufficiently worried’ –
Observers said the edited video tweeted by People’s Daily seemed to be downplaying discontent.
Carl Minzner, an expert on Chinese law at Fordham Law School, tweeted Friday that the clip suggested only one resident was shouting, instead of more heard in a longer version of the video circulating online.
He added that this suggests Party authorities were “sufficiently worried” about the original clip and suggestions of mass discontent in Wuhan that they came up with an alternative narrative.
China has been making rare exceptions to allow for criticism online in the epidemic, but mostly when directed at local officials, as the Communist Party attempts to shield itself from public rage.
In February, the death of whistleblowing doctor Li Wenliang, who had contracted the virus, had unleashed a wave of anger at how officials handled the crisis.
People on Weibo voiced support for Wuhan residents, with one saying “I hope this has an effect”.
Another questioned why she could not find more information about the incident on social media despite official media reporting about it, wondering if it would make Weibo’s “hot search” list.