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China bars citizens from viewing film on Wuhan lockdown

The producers were reportedly forced to flee the country to release the documentary
The 'Wuhan Lockdown' project was conceived by Wang Dan, the film's executive producer and former 1989 student leader. He is shown during a press conference in Tokyo, on Dec. 1, 2022.

The 'Wuhan Lockdown' project was conceived by Wang Dan, the film's executive producer and former 1989 student leader. He is shown during a press conference in Tokyo, on Dec. 1, 2022. (Photo: RFA)

Published: January 04, 2024 10:36 AM GMT
Updated: January 04, 2024 10:42 AM GMT

China’s communist regime has imposed censorship to bar citizens from watching a film on the Covid-19 lockdown in Wuhan, the city known as ‘ground zero’ in the emergence of the pandemic, says a report.

The producers of the documentary "Wuhan Lockdown" which premiered globally on Dec. 30, 2023, were forced to flee the country to release the film, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on Jan. 2.

The documentary compiles front-line reporting from the early days of the pandemic by citizen journalists, the report stated.

A producer told RFA on the condition of anonymity that the team used two different anti-censorship systems overseas to collect data and form a detailed picture of what transpired in Wuhan.

"We also conducted research and verification, then collected videos, pictures, and text from citizens’ protests, and investigated the number of deaths from ‘Wuhan pneumonia,’" the producer added using an early term for Covid-19 in China.

"Our documentary was very long starting out... but we had to condense it, so we could only touch on the role played by some characters,” the producer explained.

The documentary was later compiled with footage smuggled out of China by citizen journalist Lu Yuyu who fled to Canada after serving a four-year jail term for building a database of public protests related to the Covid-19 lockdown.

Wang Dan, the film’s executive producer and a former student activist who participated in the 1989 Tiananmen protests said he conceived the film to remind people of that traumatic part of China's recent history.

"It has been more than a year since the three-year zero-Covid restrictions, and production began more than a year ago," said Wang.

"We were worried that people would start to forget about this human tragedy, so we wanted to revisit it after some time had elapsed,” Wang added.

The film was financed, shot, researched, compiled, and edited by a huge team of writers, businesspeople, photographers, music producers, and other volunteers, who wrote their own anti-censorship software to get around the Great Firewall, RFA reported.

A resident of Wuhan who identified as Li told RFA that he would love to watch the film but would have to use illegal circumvention software to evade the Chinese censors to see it from China.

The documentary records the early days of the pandemic in Wuhan and its impact on the city’s then 10 million residents and their efforts to cut through the narratives of communist and government officials which dismissed the high transmissibility of the disease.

The documentary also highlights the whistle-blowing attempts of Wuhan doctors Wenliang and Ai Fen to warn people.

The works of now-jailed citizen reporters like Fang Bin, and Zhang Zhan, as well as exiled journalist Kcriss Li among others, are shown in the film.

Kcriss Li had checked into hotel rooms in the city to report from its streets, hospitals, and rapidly built quarantine centers while evading attempts by state security police to detain him.

The film also touches on the topic of the number of deaths reported by Chinese authorities.

The Chinese authorities claimed that only 2,531 people died due to Covid-19 infections.

Estimates at the time based on the number of cremations conducted by the city’s seven crematoriums suggested that tens of thousands died, RFA reported.

An unnamed production team member pointed out that the content was collected before the idea for the film took off.

"We started collecting evidence of the Wuhan authorities' censorship of speech [about the outbreak] on social media," the team member said.

"We hadn't thought of making it into a documentary at first, but then we started seeing very detailed videos after the Wuhan lockdown ended, with very rich content about civil resistance, censorship, and so on," the team member added.

The team member pointed out that most of the production team had left China due to fears for their safety and those of their loved ones.

Meanwhile, residents complained about the financial crisis brought forth by China’s three-year-long zero-Covid policy that was lifted only in December 2022.

"The pandemic has wiped out all of our family's money," said a resident who identified herself as Zhou.

"Wages haven't increased, while prices have skyrocketed. It makes it very hard for ordinary people to get by," Zhou added.

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