China: Citizens ‘Slut-Shame’ Coronavirus Patient over Chengdu Outbreak

This photo taken on December 8, 2020 shows a health worker conducting a nucleic acid test on a resident in Chengdu, in western China's Sichuan province, after new Covid-19 coronavirus cases were detected in the city. (Photo by STR / AFP) / China OUT (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
STR/AFP via Getty Images

A woman identified in reports only as “Zhao” became the target of a mass persecution campaign online this week after the Chinese Communist Party announced that Chengdu, a city of 16 million people, would be going into “wartime mode” due to a Chinese coronavirus outbreak.

Users on the Chinese social media outlet Weibo, which the Communist Party strictly controls, were allowed to identify the woman, distribute photos of her, share personal information like her address and contact information. Zhao is believed to be 20 years old. The Communist Party itself published information of locations she had recently visited in an attempt to find other potential coronavirus patients, including multiple night clubs, restaurants, and bars.

Many insulted her online because she allegedly visited bars and clubs shortly before testing positive for the virus. Zhao has since clarified she believes she tested positive after meeting with her grandparents, also confirmed coronavirus patients.

The Communist Party heavily regulates Weibo content, as well as content on other Chinese outlets such as WeChat, immediately deleting content it considers problematic for the Party. Beijing notoriously deleted basic infectious disease guidelines from WeChat in the early days of the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, using police action to harass and silence doctors who rightly identified coronavirus patients as carrying an infectious respiratory illness.

The Communist Party has repeatedly insisted since the decline of coronavirus cases in Wuhan, where the pandemic originated, that it had successfully overcome its internal epidemic. Yet multiple major cities, Chengdu being the most recent, have been forced into what the Party has dubbed “wartime mode” lockdowns in response to continued waves of cases. Beijing, Tianjin, Harbin, and Urumqi are among major Chinese cities fighting outbreaks long after Wuhan declared victory.

In addition to harassment on Chinese social media, Zhao has told Chinese outlets that she received threats via text and insulting phone calls. The state-run outlet Sixth Tone described the comments visible on Weibo about Zhao as “slut-shaming,” quoting some as condemning her for visiting bars.

“Her decadent lifestyle could cause a second wave of COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] in Chengdu,” one “netizen” wrote. Others allegedly referred to her as a “queen of clubbing” for a record of allegedly visiting some night clubs before her diagnosis.

Xinhua, the Chinese Communist Party news agency, reported on Wednesday that Zhao issued a formal statement clarifying that she worked in bars — she was not simply enjoying herself — and affirming the threatening calls she was receiving. She also apologized to the public generally for causing “trouble.”

In an attempt to diminish the negative publicity of the story, Xinhua said Party officials in Chengdu had acted to punish at least one person, a 24-year-old man, identified as the first person to publish Zhao’s personal information and encourage her harassment.

“The Chenghua branch of Chengdu’s public security bureau said in a statement that the man surnamed Wang posted a picture on social media containing identity information and daily movements of a woman surnamed Zhao, who was confirmed as a COVID-19 patient on Tuesday,” Xinhua reported. “Police said Wang’s invasion of others’ privacy caused baleful effects in society and that Wang has admitted to his wrongful deeds.”

Peng Qinghua, the Communist Party chief in Sichuan province, also issued a statement Wednesday on the controversy vaguely calling for Chinese citizens to respect patient privacy.

The Chengdu incident is the most high-profile instant of harassment of suspected or confirmed coronavirus patients since a campaign in April in Guangzhou, a southern city home to a large African diaspora population, to keep black-skinned people out of public places. The Communist Party at the time insisted that it had defeated the local epidemic and foreigners were the only ones bringing it into the country; Africans are the most easily identifiable foreigners in China given the majority Han population. Restaurants, hotels, and other businesses began posting signs banning black people from their services and Africans complaining that they were being abruptly evicted, resulting in people sleeping on the street while they could afford a place, as hotels would also not take them. The Chinese regime dismissed the campaign in Guangzhou as a series of isolated incidents.

Chengdu, in the nation’s southwest, entered “wartime mode,” a euphemism in China for partial restrictive measures to fight Chinese coronavirus, this week in response to seven cases of the disease in three days, blocking off the area around the hospital treating coronavirus patients and entire neighborhoods where identified patients resident while those patients are forced into quarantine in the hospital. Schools in those areas are closed and all citizens are forced to take a coronavirus test.

“Residents in communities close to where those patients live are banned from going out before their nucleic acid testing results [for coronavirus] come out,” a local in Pidu district, where the hospital is located, told the state-run propaganda outlet Global Times.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

.

Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.