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Coronavirus Criticism Comes At High Price In China

Coronavirus Criticism

U.S. President Donald Trump has done a lot of rage-tweeting about the coronavirus outbreak, which has prompted a backlash, but other than social media name-calling, it pretty much ends there. The fact is that many American late-night TV show hosts, commentators, and comedians who aren’t terribly fond of Trump have been using this time to lash out, and Trump is pretty much doing the same. 

But this is America--the no-holds-barred media circus. It’s not China, where freedom of speech--even if it’s just pointless venting--isn’t allowed. 

The last big name to criticize the Chinese president amid the coronavirus outbreak has now disappeared. 

Ren Zhiqiang (aka, “Big Cannon Ren”), a Chinese former real estate tycoon and outspoken critic of the Communist Party, has just disappeared without a trace, and his friends say they haven’t heard from him in days. 

Ren’s reported disappearance comes several days after an article he wrote criticizing the way in which Chinese authorities responded to the coronavirus outbreak.

In his article, Ren--a one-time Communist Party official who was recently put on probation by the party--criticizes not only the initial cover-up of the virus outbreak but also the way in which Beijing is now seeking to promote its success in handling it, as well as the growth of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s personal power.

He went as far as to insult the president for a public speech last month about the government's efforts to battle coronavirus.

“I saw not an emperor standing there exhibiting his ‘new clothes’, but a clown who stripped naked and insisted on continuing being emperor. Despite holding a series of loincloths up in an attempt to cover the reality of your nakedness, you don’t in the slightest hide your resolute ambition to be an emperor, or the determination to let anyone who won’t let you be destroyed,” Ren wrote.

Related: Is A Banking Crisis Looming?

Ren's disappearance comes as censorship over how local media and online users discuss the epidemic has tightened in recent weeks.

Earlier, the media reported that Chen Quishi, a journalist covering the story from Wuhan, had also disappeared, while outspoken Chinese activist Xu Zhiyong is reportedly being detained. 

Chinese government censorship is well documented and appears to be effective. The so-called Great Firewall of China blocks access to many foreign internet services and the state controls what information people can access online.

As for within the country, popular messaging apps and social media have been censoring keywords about the coronavirus outbreak from as early as January.

A report released by the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab looked into two Chinese social media platforms--WeChat and live-streaming site YY--finding hundreds of blacklisted keywords in references to the virus. 

These keywords included the terms "Unknown Wuhan pneumonia" and "SARS outbreak in Wuhan", as well as “Lockdown of a city + Military” and “Xi Jinping + Epidemic spread.”

However, citizens have found a few work-arounds and other ways to express their outrage without the sword of censorship coming down on them by creating code words and phrases to express their dissatisfaction, according to research from Amnesty International. 

By Fred Dunkley for Safehaven.com 

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