“But I still think that this incident reinforces the fact that everyone has to hold onto their own independent thoughts. For someone to get up and tell the truth – because someone has to – the world must have different voices. “
Dr. Ai Fen
On December 18, 2019, Chinese doctor Ai Fen, director of the emergency department at Wuhan Central Hospital, received a 65-year-old man with a fever of over 39 degrees. Two days earlier, he had been treated on an outpatient basis with amoxicillin and other antibiotics without any improvement.
At Wuhan Central Hospital – with a special unit for patients with fever symptoms – he received carbapenem, a broad-spectrum antibiotic, but the patient’s health continued to improve. He also presented an infectious image that filled his lungs with “irregular blurry shadows”. The patient underwent bronchoalveolar lavage, from which fluid samples were taken. The result was that he was infected with COVID 19, the virus responsible for the coronavirus.
Ai Fen later learned that the man was a fishmonger and worked in one of the so-called “wet” markets in Wuhan. This name refers to the typical markets of this area – where all kinds of animal meat are marketed – markets where the floors are cleaned with water at the end of the day until they are flooded.
On December 27, the doctor received a second case. This time it was a 40 year old adult with no underlying illness. He had a severe lung infection and less than 90% blood oxygen. According to Fen, his lungs were “messed up”. He was treated in the hospital for ten days without any improvement. He underwent the same diagnostic procedure as the dealer and achieved the same result: contagion from coronavirus.
When Ai Fen received the result of the diagnosis on December 30, he read it several times. He says he has felt this kind of fear, which is accompanied by a feeling of “cold sweat”. He circled the virus name with his pencil. He immediately sent it to the Ministry of Health and to part of the hospital itself that was associated with respiratory problems. He then shared the picture of the report with his former classmates and a group of Ministry of Health doctors to advise them to take precautions. The same night, the picture had been shared in all medical circles in the Chinese city.
On the day of his discovery, Fen received a message from the hospital advising him that the information related to the diagnosis of the SARS coronavirus should not be shared. Two days later, she was summoned by the hospital’s disciplinary committee, whose director had spoken of “an unprecedented and very strict reference” for the dissemination of the test results to her colleagues. After the event, Fen asked for a break, arguing that she was not fit to work on the site. It was rejected because it was time to “test it”. The doctor says when she got home, she told her husband that if anything happened to him, he could take care of his two children’s upbringing.
Li Wenliang’s alarm
Li Wenliang was one of the professionals who received Fen’s picture of the report. The doctor decided to report the matter much more radically and to share the picture in a private group on the Chinese social network Weibo.
On January 3, Weinliang was visited by a group of officials from the Public Security Bureau. These forced him to sign a document accusing him of making false comments and disrupting public order. This violated the public security regulations of the People’s Republic of China. The printed letter Wenliang signed was translated into English by the dissident Chinese media Inkstone. There you can read the answers that the doctor should have given before the requirements of the authority:
“The law enforcement agency wants you to work together, listen to the police, and stop your illegal behavior. Can you do it?
Answer: I can.
If you persist in your views, refuse to repent, and continue illegal activities, you will be punished by law. Do you understand?
Answer: I understand. “
Months later, it was Li Wenliang himself who became infected with COVID 19 after caring for an infected woman. The doctor did not survive and his death – which occurred in the early hours of February 7 – sparked heated controversy in the country over the fight against the epidemic. “Li was not a political figure,” said Adam Ni, a Chinese political scientist, “he was a normal person who tried to do the right thing and was punished for it.” The ruling Communist Party was in trouble and forced the country’s anti-corruption department to declare that it would launch an investigation into “Problems with Doctor Li Wenliang.”
At the same time, Weibo’s social network was filled with outrageous posts. The two main hashtags were “The Wuhan government must apologize to Dr. Li Wenliang” and “We want freedom of expression”. Both were quickly censored using algorithms, By identifying posts that contained such hashtags, the content was automatically removed.
The censorship machine is still running
In March, Ai Fen gave an interview to the Chinese publication Renwu, shocked by her colleague’s death and despite strict disciplinary warnings. There he shared the above details of what he had experienced so far, his insecurity about whether the agency had listened to his warnings, and his regret for being a “professional without principles”, which led to social panic. However, the cases did not increase and the doctors had to remain silent before trying to report the condition of the new illness. In the last two weeks of January, Ai Fen told the magazine that 1,524 patients, 655 with fever, had come to the emergency room. A retrospective diagnosis showed that 90% of these people were infected with coronary pneumonia.
On March 10, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Wuhan to say that the coronavirus epidemic was “virtually contained” and that the measures taken by the regime were “very effective”. This visit was carried out with strong media coverage, accompanied by pictures of the President who visits hospitals and speaks to medical staff. The official government newspaper China Daily with the English title: “The country is an example of the fight against the virus.”
On the same day, the recently published interview with Dr. Ai Fen, in which she insisted that the “tragedy of Wuhan pneumonia” could have been avoided, should have been withdrawn three hours later. It was censored on WeChat and on any other platform that tried to reproduce it. An algorithm automatically recognized and eliminated any attempt to reproduce the interview in any medium. Ai Fen’s first-hand report was a threat to Jinping, who was in full campaign on the day of publication to claim the success of the government’s strategy to contain the epidemic.
Resistance to censorship
When the Chinese government launched their attack to censor Ai Fen’s story, the people of China began to develop a number of strategies to silence the government’s actions. These censorship measures included the use of pre-built algorithms to recognize text segments associated with Fen’s article.
According to The Straits Times, a newspaper shop in Singapore, Different strategies of network users to maintain the integrity of the textincluding transcripts with deliberate spelling errors; Convert text to QR code; Versions in Hanyu Pinyin – which change the use of traditional Chinese characters from conceptual to phonetic (pronunciation) – and versions in which the words are replaced by emojis.
Another way to protect the doctor’s censored message was by the Twitter user, which shows the well-known Star Wars presentation, with the original report replaced by Fen’s article.
吹哨 子 的 人 ， 今天 至少 出来 一百 个 版 了 ， 下面 转发 电影 版 ， 中国 人民 有智慧。 pic.twitter.com/VgCt95sxdK
– 荣 剑 (@ rongjian1957) March 11, 2020
Ai Fen’s story is protected on the Ethereum network
Blockchain technology has also been shown as a possible tool for preserving censored content. This is because a registration platform based on this technology enables the transparent and unchangeable storage of information with a time stamp and a transaction hash that acts as a fingerprint for this information.
It is interesting to note that blockchain technology uses cryptography, which converts a message or transaction into code to protect part or all of the content. And that all of the strategies used by the community to protect the Wuhan doctor’s article were also forms of encryption in which the text was converted to emoji, phonetic translation, or using misspelled characters.
So far, two recordings of Ai Fen’s words that were generated in particular have been reported on the Ethereum network.
The first was announced by journalist Sarah Zheng, a Hong Kong reporter on China affairs, who referred via her Twitter account to the publication of the article on the Ethereum blockchain. However, the publication does not contain coordinate details.
The Forbes newspaper published a note on March 31, referring to a “group of internet users” who this time registered the article in Ethereum and gave the exact coordinates.
By entering the transaction hash in the Ethereum browser, it is possible to access the Ai Fen article in Chinese. To view the text, go to Input Data and then to the View Input As drop-down menu, where the UTF-8 option is enabled. In this way, the text is displayed in its language and original version in the field.
With this event, The Ethereum network is one of the first blockchain applications to serve as a censorship resistance tool in the complex context of the pandemic;; and in an efficient response from citizens to the measures taken by statistical administrations to silence any information that questions their totalitarian practices.
Ai Fen’s disappearance
Shortly after this episode of the censorship that crossed Chinese borders, Dr. disappeared Ai Fen. Local media indicate that she may have been arrested by the Chinese authorities, who had severely reprimanded the article before it was published.
The warning she gave her husband about childcare in the event that she was gone still resonates. And the question that comes up after the alarming of his colleagues – and the world – is answered harshly by the hospital authorities: What have I done wrong?
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