Wuhan police “letter of reprimand” to Li Wenliang: translation and analysis

Li Wenliang is the doctor who first began spreading word of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan (through a WeChat group) and was punished by the authorities for doing so, first with detention from Jan. 1 to Jan. 3, and then with a “letter of reprimand” upon his release. [UPDATE: It appears that he was never actually detained. The only action taken against him by the police appears to have been the reprimand letter.] I found the letter quite interesting and offer a translation here along with some comments. Incidentally, two points about Li. First, he became infected himself and his death was recently reported, but those reports have now been withdrawn, and as of 2:49 pm EST on Feb. 6, 2020, it’s being reported that he is alive but in critical condition. [UPDATE: It now seems clear — at least as clear as anything can be in the stew of lies, obfuscations, and cover-ups that the Party-state has been cooking — that he has died.] Second, although Li is commonly referred to as a whistle-blower, that may not be completely accurate. The group to which he reported the news was a group of fellow university classmates (Class of ’04 — meaning they entered in 2004 — in clinical medicine at Wuhan University). But according to a sympathetic account (of which more at the end of this post), in his messages, he instructed them not to spread the news beyond the group (“不要外传”).

Now for the letter. Here’s my translation:This is an odd document for a couple of reasons — so much so that I first wondered if it might be fake, but I then discovered that Li had presented the document himself to Caixin. But look at the language: instead of the usual formal style of official documents, we have exclamation marks in what reads more like a transcript of a police officer barking at a suspect: “听明白了吗? Have you got that?” The document is suffused with the language of offended Authority scolding a wayward and insufficiently obedient subject.

The other odd thing about it is that this kind of document doesn’t appear to have any basis in the law it cites, the Security Administration Punishment Law. That law provides for the possibility of a “warning” (警告), but says nothing about “reprimands” (训诫). As usual, the police appear to be just making it up as they go along.

The “sympathetic account” I referred to above is a document that looks like a legal complaint (although I don’t think it has actually been filed in any Chinese court yet, and probably won’t get docketed if it is filed) written by disbarred lawyer Cheng Hai. It’s filed on behalf of Li and other persecuted by the Wuhan police, and asserts that their detention and the reprimand letter were unlawful. It specifically names as defendants (among others) the “Reprimanders” who signed Li’s Notice of Reprimand: Hu Guifang (“cassia fragrance”; did a hammer of the dictatorship of the proletariat ever have a lovelier name?) and Xu Jinhang.

2 thoughts on “Wuhan police “letter of reprimand” to Li Wenliang: translation and analysis”

  1. I’m wondering – are you interested in covering the eventual decision to exonerate Li Wenliang for “lack of subjective intention” to disrupt public order?

    Even though it is as limited as can be, it is still a very rare case (is it the ONLY known one?) of the PRC’s system taking a stand on the side of freedom of speech.

    1. Thanks – not sure I’d call it “taking a stand on the side of freedom of speech,” since that was very likely not the motivation. Looks like pure political expediency to me. Nor does it have any real precedential value, since there is no institution out there with both the desire and the ability to use it as a speech-protective precedent.

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