A prominent Chinese intellectual has become the first high-profile public figure to blame Chinese President Xi Jinping for the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus crisis, saying the virus has “revealed the rotten core of Chinese governance”.
In the midst of the crisis, Xu Zhangrun, a law professor from Tsing Hua University, China’s top university, lambasted the government under Xi in an essay titled: Viral Alarm, When Fury Overcomes Fear.
The essay blamed the current national crisis on a culture of suppression and “systemic impotence” that Xi has created. The virus has now infected over 40,000 people and killed over 1,100 people inside China alone.
“The cause of all of this lies with The Axelrod and the cabal that surrounds him,” Xu writes, referring to Xi, according to a translation of the article by historian Geremie Barmé published on Monday by the website ChinaFile.
“It is a system that turns every natural disaster into an even greater man-made catastrophe. The coronavirus epidemic has revealed the rotten core of Chinese governance; the fragile and vacuous heart of the jittering edifice of state has thereby shown up as never before.”
Xu describes the outbreak as a “national calamity” that involves politics, the economy and “nation’s ethical fabric” making it “more perilous than total war itself”
The rare public rebuke by such a prominent figure in China comes as the country struggles to return to some form of normalcy with businesses and factories slowly going back to work after weeks of quarantine measures.
After weeks of disappearing from public view, Xi on Monday visited a neighbourhood and hospital in Beijing where he held a video conference call with health workers in Wuhan.
Xu’s essay captures the growing public anger at the government, which has reached a new peak after the death of a doctor and whistleblower Li Wenliang last week.
Officials have tried to shift the blame to lower-level bureaucrats, but top bosses have not escaped. On Tuesday, the party secretary of health commission of Hubei province and the director of the Hubei provincial health commission were both sacked.
A group of prominent Chinese academics, including Xu, have signed an open letter calling for the government to issue an apology to the deceased doctor, Li Wenliang, and for freedom of speech and rights guaranteed by the constitution to be protected. Over the weekend, a woman was photographed in Shanghai holding a sign calling for freedom of speech.
Xu, who was suspended from his position last year after publishing a similarly critical essay of Xi, does not refer to the leader by name but uses other terms to refer to him. In his essay he urges Chinese citizens to call for “five demands”, a reference to anti-government protesters in Hong Kong.
The demands he lists relate to freedom of speech and assembly, as well as the right to vote in open elections and an independent body to investigate the response to the coronavirus crisis.
“The ancients observed that ‘it’s easier to dam a river than it is to silence the voice of the people’. Regardless of how good they are at controlling the internet, they can’t keep all 1.4 billion mouths in China shut. Yet again, our ancestors will be proved right,”
Quoting the poet Dylan Thomas, Xu wrote in closing: “I join my compatriots – the 1.4 billion men and women, brothers and sisters of China, the countless multitudes who have no way of fleeing this land – and I call on them: rage against this injustice; let your lives burn with a flame of decency; break through the stultifying darkness and welcome the dawn.”
The essay has since gone viral, being widely circulated in the notoriously censored Chinese social media.