Chinese workers raise their fists beside a red communist flag in a painting displayed at a Beijing museum, one of nearly 200 works put together for a propaganda exhibition that hails, not the Maoist past, but the “heroic deeds” of frontline medics fighting the coronavirus. China commemorates coronavirus victims and celebrates victory.
Since the discovery of the deadly contagion in Wuhan at the end of last year, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has sought to model itself as the vanguard in the fight against COVID-19.
Did China try to cover up initial outbreak in Wuhan?
Outside China, Beijing has been the target of Western criticism over accusations that it covered up the initial outbreak, silencing early whistleblowers — including doctor Li Wenliang, who alerted colleagues to the virus in late December but was reprimanded by local authorities.
But inside the country, the CCP propaganda machine has relentlessly pushed a positive narrative.
China officially recorded around 85,000 cases and just over 4,600 deaths — a fraction of the world’s total — and has now primarily brought its domestic virus spread under control.
The National Museum of China’s “Unity of Strength” showcases paintings, sculptures and calligraphy, all faithful to the socialist realism style, that depicts what the regime says is its success in responding to the crisis.
2/2 CDC was caught on the spot. When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation! pic.twitter.com/vYNZRFPWo3
— Lijian Zhao 赵立坚 (@zlj517) March 12, 2020
Tens of millions of people were forced into a crippling lockdown when Wuhan and its surrounding province were shut down in late January.
As the virus gripped the nation, the power of the usually omnipotent and omnipresent President Xi Jinping seemed to waver, with the leader even disappearing from the state-run media for a couple of weeks.
But the exhibition at the museum overlooking Tiananmen Square doesn’t show the overwhelmed hospitals in Wuhan, or the homages gave to Doctor Li — whose death from the virus in February triggered a usual outpouring of rage against the government on social networks.
Among the massive canvases on display, a painting shows an ecstatic nurse reading a letter from President Xi to her colleagues. China commemorates coronavirus victims amidst criticism that it withheld initial reports about the outbreak.
In the middle of the room, life-size sculptures of soldiers disembark from a plane to come to the aid of stricken inhabitants, with their uniforms evoking a scene from the Long March — a military episode by the Red Army in the 1930s during China’s civil war.
One emotive piece depicts a nurse with a face mask, adjusting the full protective suit of a colleague. At the same time, another features a close-up portrait of the country’s most famous medical expert, Zhong Nanshan, with a tear streaming over his mask.
Day of remembrance marked across China
The state-run China Daily said, “despite not working on the frontline to battle coronavirus, artists spare no effort to document the heroic deeds of those that did, hailing their great contribution to the cause”.
The exhibition, which opened on August 1 for two months, only allows visitors with Chinese identity cards, and so is not accessible to foreigners.
‘A Chinese government campaign to cast doubt on the origin of the coronavirus pandemic is fuelling a row with the United States, with a Beijing official promoting conspiracy theories and Washington calling it the "Wuhan virus."' … https://t.co/fraPW4pLMn
— #StopTheSpread (Stop the Idiocracy) (@Sunking278) March 13, 2020
A day of remembrance was declared in China on Saturday to honour the more than 3,300 people who died of Covid-19.
At 10:00 local time (03:00 GMT), people stood still nationwide for three minutes in tribute to the dead.
Cars, trains and ships then sounded their horns, air raid sirens rang as flags were flown at half-mast.
The first cases of coronavirus were detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in Hubei province late last year.
In Wuhan, the epicentre of China’s outbreak, all traffic lights in urban areas were turned red at 10:00, ceasing traffic for three minutes.
China’s government said the event was a chance to pay respects to “martyrs”, a reference to the 14 medical workers who died battling the virus.
They include Li Wenliang, a doctor in Wuhan who died of Covid-19 after being reprimanded by the authorities for attempting to warn others about the disease.
Sorrow in Beijing over scores lost to COVID
“I feel a lot of sorrow about our colleagues and patients who died,” a Chinese nurse who treated coronavirus patients told AFP news agency. “I hope they can rest well in heaven.”
Wearing white flowers pinned to their chest, Chinese President Xi Jinping and other government officials paid silent tribute in Beijing. China commemorates coronavirus victims and celebrates what is calls a great victory.
Saturday’s commemorations coincide with the annual Qingming Festival, when millions of Chinese families pay respects to their ancestors.
China first informed the World Health Organization (WHO) about cases of pneumonia with unknown causes on 31 December last year.
By 18 January, the confirmed number of cases had risen to around 60 – but experts estimated the real figure was closer to 1,700.
Just two days later, as millions of people prepared to travel for the lunar new year, the number of cases more than tripled to more than 200 and the virus was detected in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.
Read more: Is COVID-19 a biological weapon?
From that point, the virus began to spread rapidly in Asia and then Europe, eventually reaching every corner of the globe.
In the past few weeks, China has started to ease travel and social-distancing restrictions, believing it has brought the health emergency under control.
Last weekend, Wuhan partially re-opened after more than two months of isolation.
On Saturday, China reported 19 new confirmed cases of coronavirus, down from 31 a day earlier. China’s health commission said 18 of those cases involved travellers arriving from abroad.
As it battles to control cases coming from abroad, China temporarily banned all foreign visitors, even if they have visas or residence permits.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk