Coronavirus whistle-blower doctor Li Wenliang's widow gives birth to son

People wearing masks attend a vigil for late Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist who died of coronavirus at a hospital in Wuhan, in China, on February 6, 2020.
PHOTO: Reuters

The widow of Li Wenliang, the whistle-blower doctor whose death from Covid-19 sparked national outrage in China after he was disciplined for warning of the outbreak, gave birth to a baby boy early on Friday.

Fu Xuejie’s son was born in the early hours of Friday at a hospital in Wuhan – the central Chinese city that was the initial epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic – and she and her baby were healthy, local broadcaster Litchi News reported.

Li, who was an eye doctor in Wuhan, was one of eight people reprimanded by police in January for “spreading rumours” by warning colleagues of a mystery new illness in late December.

He contracted the virus and died on February 6, aged 33, survived by his then-pregnant wife Fu and their five-year-old son.

“My husband, can you see us from heaven?” Fu wrote on her WeChat account on Friday morning.

“The last gift you gave me was born today – I will work hard to love and protect them.”

Li’s death galvanised a tide of anger and grief in China over initial missteps in Beijing’s response to the outbreak, sparking calls on social media for accountability of officials who had sought to cover up the spread of the virus.

His case prompted calls from intellectuals and academics for greater freedom of speech after Beijing’s crackdown on “online rumours”, with many quoting Li’s remarks, given in interviews before he died, saying that “there should be more than one voice in a healthy society”.

Li had also been forced to write a “self-criticism” to his employer , in which he “compared [my behaviour] with the Communist Party’s constitution, party regulations and the spirit of a series of speeches [by party leaders]”. He vowed to “keep in line in thought and action with the party’s Central Committee”.

The Chinese government sent an investigation team to look into Li’s case, and its report in mid-March said the reprimanding of Li by local police had been “inappropriate and failed to respect relevant law enforcement procedures”.

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The police apologised to Li’s family and said it would withdraw the reprimand.

Beijing’s report also claimed that the doctor, a member of the Communist Party, was being used by “hostile forces with ulterior motives” to attack the Chinese government by seeking to “delude people and instigate public emotions”.

In April, local authorities commended Li as one of 14 martyrs, the highest honorary title awarded to citizens for sacrificing their lives to the country.

Although much of the public discontent about Li’s death was heavily censored on Chinese social media, the ophthalmologist’s official Weibo account remains a platform where people remember his life and early warnings.

Many users continue to greet Li and tell him about their lives in the comment section of his last post on Weibo, and others have even offered commemorations on sensitive dates, including the June 4 anniversary of the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown.

By Friday morning, the Weibo topic about Fu giving birth to a son had been read more than 8.8 million times, with commenters offering well-wishes to her and the baby boy.

“Seeing this news has brought tears to my eyes,” one commenter wrote.

“When he grows up, tell him that his father was a hero,” another said.

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Fu told Litchi News that Li was a very responsible doctor, and a gentle father and husband.

After his death, she suffered symptoms including low blood pressure and bleeding, and had to be admitted to hospital. The family hid Li’s death from their young son, still in kindergarten, and told him that his father was just travelling abroad.

After Li’s death, Fu changed her profile picture on her WeChat account to a photo from the Japanese manga series Crayon Shin-chan that Li had previously used, depicting a family of four with a mother, father and two young children.

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This article was first published in South China Morning Post.