Feb 06, 2020 12:26 PM

Whistleblower Li Wenliang: There Should Be More Than One Voice In A Healthy Society

Li Wenliang. Photo: Li Wenliang
Li Wenliang. Photo: Li Wenliang

Li Wenliang, one of the whistleblowers who raised the alarm over the deadly coronavirus, is still in an intensive care unit (ICU) in Wuhan. In an extraordinary medical rescue effort, medical staff treated him Thursday night with extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), in which the patients' blood is pumped through an artificial lung machine. As of midnight, Caixin reporters were waiting outside the ICU for updates on Li’s condition. While a rescue was still underway, a nurse said he “won’t make it.”

Li confirmed Feb. 1 that he had been diagnosed with a 2019-nCoV infection, most likely as a result of treating patients. By Feb. 5, his condition had worsened. 

The story below was originally published on Jan. 31.

An ophthalmologist in Wuhan, believed to be a whistleblower of the coronavirus outbreak punished by local police, has been vindicated by China’s top court. Suspected to have been infected after treating a patient, he says that he will return to the front lines and continue fighting the virus once he recovers.

Li Wenliang received national attention after China’s top court Tuesday criticized (link in Chinese) Wuhan police for reprimanding eight Wuhan citizens for “spreading rumors” about an illness in late December, in a post on its official WeChat account. Li is considered to be one of the eight, although the police did not identify who specifically they had accused or punished.

On Dec. 30, Li sent a message in his medical school alumni WeChat group, warning that the ophthalmology department in his hospital had put seven patients from a local seafood market who were diagnosed with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) into isolation wards.

A screenshot of the message was leaked, and Li was summoned by the hospital’s inspection unit for a talk. Later on Jan. 3, he was called in and reprimanded by local police for spreading rumors online and disrupting social order.

China’s Supreme People’s Court said that in retrospect, the eight Wuhan citizens should not have been punished as what they said was not entirely false.

“It might have been a fortunate thing if the public had believed the ‘rumors’ then and started to wear masks and carry out sanitization measures, and avoid the wild animal market,” the top court’s social media account said on Tuesday.

Li told Caixin that he had been worried the hospital would punish him for “spreading rumors” but felt relieved after the top court publicly criticized the police. “I think there should be more than one voice in a healthy society, and I don’t approve of using public power for excessive interference,” said Li.

A few days after the police summons, Li treated a patient who initially came in for glaucoma but later had a fever. A lung scan of the patient also showed pneumonia. On Jan. 12, Li felt unwell and was suspected to have contracted the virus, and was moved to an isolation ward, Li told Caixin. His parents were also infected and sent to the hospital. On Thursday, Li said that his test result had come back negative, but he remained in the isolation ward.

He added that he did not plan to go through official judicial channels to get an explanation, saying that it would be troublesome for him and the public security bureau; “It’s more important that people know the truth, justice is less important to me.” Li did take the opportunity to clarify, however, that rumors saying his medical license was suspended are not true.

Contact reporter Timmy Shen (, Twitter: @timmyhmshen) and editor Gavin Cross (

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