China created a story of the pandemic. These people revealed details Beijing left out
It was spring in the Chinese capital Beijing, and the non-profit organization that the 27-year-old worked for was operating remotely as coronavirus continued its spread.
Concerned, Chen Mei’s boss called his brother, Chen Kunⓘ, who hadn’t heard from his sibling. Immediately, Chen Kun had a bad feeling. His brother had been republishing sensitive articles about the early days of the pandemic, some of which were later removed by Chinese censors. When Chen Mei’s workmate reported his disappearance to the police, officers said he had been taken away for investigation.
That was 10 months ago. Chen Kun hasn’t seen his brother since.
Chen Mei is among a number of truthtellersⓘ the Chinese government has allegedly tried to silence for sharing information that diverges from the official narrative, information that activists allege Beijing wants wiped from the collective consciousness.
Some were doctorsⓘ who tried to warn of a deadly new virus in Wuhan, or citizen journalists who documented hospitals stretched to breaking point with bodies piled outside. Others, like Chen Mei, tried to preserve evidence of the unfolding crisis online, even in the face of widespread censorship.
The truthtellers laid bare how slow authorities were to warn the public, and the world, about the enormity of the coronavirus threat. Their stories contrasted with the narrative pushed publicly by the Chinese governmentⓘ that it was on top of the dangerous virus and was preventing its devastating spread. The evidence they sought to share is crucial to understanding the timeline of the virus, so the world can prevent another pandemic of this scale happening again.
A year on, the truthtellers’ legacy is unclear. Many have paid a heavy priceⓘ for their work. Some have been detained. Others are missing. One even died as he tried to bring the full story to light.
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By Julia Hollingsworth and Yong Xiong.
Designed by Sarah-Grace Mankarious, Jason Kwok and Marco Chacón.