On February 7, the internet realm was jammed with news of the death of the Wuhan doctor Li Wenliang, and the whole network was filled with a strong feeling of sadness. There were rumors late last night that Li died of his illness, but some people said he was still under treatment. All kinds of news made hundreds of millions of netizens worried and confused.
Until the early hours of February 7, Li Wenliang’s hospital (Wuhan Central Hospital) released this message on its official micro-blog: “Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist in our hospital, in the fight against the new coronavirus infection, was unfortunately infected. After all efforts were made to rescue him, he died on February 7, at 2:58 a.m. We are deeply sorry and mourn for him.”
On the internet, people mourned for and remembered him in many ways, especially because Li Wenliang was one of the earliest discoverers of the pneumonia outbreak, and thus became one of the original eight “rumor mongers.”
On December 30, 2019, after hearing colleagues saying that the hospital’s emergency department had quarantined seven SARS patients from Wuhan South China Seafood Market, Li Wenliang posted the news for the first time in a social media group of more than 150 college alumni and explained: “To define it as SARS is not very accurate. It should be a kind of coronavirus and the specific categorization is yet to be confirmed.” He warned the group to watch out for prevention, but also particularly stressed on not spreading the news yet.
Despite his group warning, a WeChat screenshot of “7 confirmed SARS patients from South China Seafood Market” was eventually circulated and had a large number of retweets online. Ultimately, it attracted the attention of the local police and the matter temporarily ended in Li receiving an official warning from the local authority.
However, as the truth of the outbreak gradually surfaced, the name of Li Wenliang, “the rumor monger,” began to enter the public eye. The 34-year-old young doctor was also affectionately known in the media and among the netizens as “the outbreak ‘whistleblower.’”
Li died young and the public reacted overwhelmingly. At noon on February 7, the government announced “with the approval of the Central Committee, the State Monitoring Committee decided to send an investigative team to Wuhan City, Hubei Province, to conduct a comprehensive investigation of the relevant issues concerning Dr. Li Wenliang as reflected by the public,” which caused great public concern!
Meanwhile on the Christian internet…
In the Christian online community, however, there is a different picture. Many Christian WeChat groups are retweeting a message that Li Wenliang was a Christian, like Luke in the Bible.
To this end, many Christians on the internet go about telling each other, acting very exuberantly, as if this is not the time to express grief but to sing Hallelujah to praise the Lord’s great moment! Many brothers exclaimed how so many Christians were saying that Li Wenliang was a Christian in their WeChat moments.
There are also many Christian public platforms taking the chance to launch hot tweets, raising the matter to a spiritual height by commemorating him. For instance, there are claims that Li “gloriously returned to his heavenly home,” “he rested in the Lord’s arms,” and some are even like this: “Latest Breaking News! Dr. Li Wenliang was a brother in Christ,” as if discovering the New World...
For a while, in the Christian networks, the style of paying tribute to Li has completely changed, which is totally different from the former mourning scene: Because some Christians think that Li Wenliang “gloriously returned to his heavenly home,” they give applause and flowers not for cheering for him daring to tell the truth, but for cheering for his “returned to his home.”
Some of the Christian public platforms even commemorate him in Paul’s voice, excavating its “spiritual significance” as if Li was like Paul who fought a “good fight”:
“Paul said: ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearance’ (2 Tim. 4:7-8). Every Christian who does his duty in his job is a wonderful witness to Christ, and he is fighting that wonderful battle for the Lord.”
In order to further “elevate,” there is a message with a picture that says, “Harvard Medical School in the United States, for Dr. Li Wenliang, lowered its flag at half-mast.” In fact, this is a rumor, because it has been pointed out that Harvard was flying the flag at half-mast for an alumnus, Stephen P. Dretler.
Just as many Christians are cheering for the sudden discovery that Li Wenliang was a “brother in the Lord,” there are astute Christians who have questioned where the news that Li was a Christian came from and whether it was confirmed that he was going to any church. The rumor only says that the news came from the churches in Wuhan; but given that Wuhan is so big with so many churches, it leaves out the question of the exact church.
In this unusual period, rumors spread fast. By comprehensively processing the information on the network, it is concluded that Li must have been to the church, and even participated in a Bible study, but he was not baptized. Looking at his tweets, there is no trace of a Christian faith. On the internet, some brothers also pointed out that if Li was really a Christian, in a critical condition, then his church should have released a message of prayer on his behalf; but the network is devoid of any specific prayer message/request for Li, despite several of such on behalf of other brothers and sisters. So, according to these criteria, Li was not a Christian.
Interestingly, the original Christian platform that announced that Li was a Christian soon issued a message in a bid to “prevent the rumor” by changing the “Christian” Li Wenliang into an “interested individual” (a faith seeker to Christianity). As a result, its tweet title was changed to: “Remembrance of Brother Li's (a faith seeker) Glorious Return to His Heavenly Home.”
The cases of “Christian celebrity” glamour
Li Wenliang was an ordinary man. Only by suffering from this unprecedented outbreak of coronavirus did he become the center of public attention, which is why his name is well known to the point of being hailed as a hero. Therefore, there is no doubt that Li Wenliang went viral.
Therefore, many Christians hope that Li Wenliang was also a Christian just as the previous expectation that Yang Liwei, the astronaut, was a Christian. It is the same psychological logic. It is too wishful an expectation that people believe it will rain when they hear the wind. They seem to feel that these celebrities can give their faith “glamour.” At the end of the day, the fact that many Christians believe that Li was a Christian is still out of this unhealthy so-called glamour.
Upon taking a closer look at some of the dominating and various false testimonies on Christian networks recently, you will find most of them are taking advantage of today’s high-ranking celebrities to create attention-grabbing articles.
There are false testimonies that take CCTV as a gimmick, such as “CCTV evangelism” or a certain Christian “appears on CCTV.” Even today, a shoddy Christian platform issued a message titled “Critical moment of the epidemic! Pastor spoke on CCTV conference!” Those are all sensational headlines. As you click on it to read, you will quickly discover that it is an old piece of news that has been recycled to create hype, and CCTV has nothing to do with it.
Can false testimonies help us “evangelize”? Like raising the bar? Absolutely not! Although these false testimonies pretend to promote the “noble purpose” of evangelism, they instead undermine the most basic and universal virtue of honesty and reduce the quality of Christianity; by extension, it vulgarizes and destroys the evangelical testimony that Christians are supposed to have, eventually turning the sacred testimony into a laughing stock.
That is to say, the gospel will be damaged by the false testimonies! One brother said it quite well: “God never needs false testimonies to glorify Him! ‘Deception,’ ‘Fear’ and ‘Confusion’ in the Christian circle are all evils that dishonor God, and every believer needs to be vigilant: neither become a rumor monger nor spread the rumor!”
As to Li Wenliang, the man has gone. To find out whether he was a Christian, in fact, is not that important. Most importantly, the young doctor did his duty with his conscience and professionalism, and eventually got martyred in his career, an admirable sacrifice in the fight against the epidemic. That is enough to know.
That should be the most appropriate memorial to Li Wenliang, who had many aspects worth learning from, even as Christians. As Christians, have we ever reflected on this?
A version of this article translated from Chinese first appeared on China Christian Daily.
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