The lawyer Chen Qiushi (陳秋實, 1985-) was one of the autonomous citizen-journalists who attempted to report on the outbreak of ‘Wuhan Flu’ 武汉肺炎 (武肺) — later known as ‘Corona Virus’ 新冠病毒 or Covid-19 — in February 2020.
In ‘Chen Qiushi — Rogue Reporting from the Epicentre of a Crisis’, an essay written for Viral Alarm: China Heritage Annual 2020, Sebastian Veg noted that:
Chen Qiushi 陳秋實, a lawyer who already enjoyed something a reputation as a self-proclaimed independent investigator, in particular as a result of a fledgling attempt to cover the 2019 Hong Kong protests for Mainland viewers, travelled to Wuhan on 23 January to report on the unfolding crisis. Chen situated himself in the new tradition of the ‘citizen journalists’ that appeared and gained popular influence throughout the 2000s (the Communist Party may well now prefer to refer to that decade as the ‘Noughties’). …
Chen Qiushi’s video reports which were followed by 430,000 YouTube subscribers — he also had 246,000 Twitter followers — were strikingly different from anything that could have appeared in the 2000s, when citizen journalists prided themselves first and foremost on reflecting through their work superior professional ethics to those practiced by state media. …
During his reporting venture in Wuhan, which was curtailed by his sudden disappearance on 6 February, Chen undoubtedly uncovered significant information, such as the fact that local taxi drivers had been discussing the appearance of a ‘SARS-like illness’ in December, or that the local official Chinese Red Cross was so corrupt that people were sending their donations directly to hospitals, overwhelming mail rooms as a result. Without discounting Chen’s work, it must be noted, however, that there is little doubt that its limitations reflect the fact that the present level of professional ethics to which citizen journalists hold themselves has been severely affected by the relentless media crackdown of recent years. New activists are suppressed nearly as soon as they appear, therefore there is scant opportunity or time for them to appreciate, share and transmit knowledge about the standards established by their predecessors. Still, it is remarkable that, given these straightened circumstances, someone like Chen Qiushi could appear at all. He provided important updates on the situation in Wuhan until he, like others who attempted to emulate him, were silenced.
— from Sebastian Veg in ‘The Heart of the One Grows
Ever More Arrogant and Proud’, 10 March 2020
Following his detention on 6 February 2020, updates continued to appear on Chen’s Twitter account, and the flow of tweets continued well into August, when the suddenly stopped. It was subsequently revealed that the publisher Geng Xiaonan 耿瀟男, Chen’s friend and advocate, had been acting on his behalf. As we previously recorded in China Heritage, Geng, a woman now known for the valiant and material support of many independent intellectuals and cultural figures, including most famously Xu Zhangrun 許章潤, formerly of Tsinghua University, was herself detained on 9 September 2020 (for details, see ‘Related Material: On Geng Xiaonan below). Around that time, friends reported that Chen had been released into the custody of his parents, who live in Qingdao, Shandong province. However, ten months after his sudden disappearance, Chen Qiushi’s exact whereabouts remain a subject of speculation.
On 28 December 2020, it was reported that Zhang Zhan (張展, 1983-), another lawyer turned citizen-journalist, was sentenced to four years in prison on spurious charges of disturbing the peace, one of the ‘portmanteau crimes’ 口袋罪 used by Chinese officialdom to persecute blameless opponents. Zhang had not only persisted in reporting independently on the virus from Wuhan, following her detention she also protested her persecution and went on a monthslong hunger strike. Writing in The New York Times, Vivian Wang noted that Zhang
‘was one of at least four citizen journalists to disappear abruptly from Wuhan after offering on-the-ground information that at times contrasted with the official narrative. Two others, Chen Qiushi and Li Zehua, were reportedly later released, though another, Fang Bin, is still missing.’
As the 2020 viral year draws to a close, the Chinese Communist Party hails its success in dominating the covid epidemic within its borders while celebrating an Official China Story that can brook no doubts, questions or counter narratives. The outrageous punishment of Zhang Zhan, a brave individual who dared to tell another story, is a warning and a threat.
Chen Qiushi’s account from Wuhan is well known, but he was an online celebrity long before the 2020 viral year. An award-winning debater and an outspoken cultural commentator, Chen was known for a series of short videos on a range of topics. They attracted considerable attention both in- and outside China. Below, we offer a selection of those videos, to celebrate Chen, his daring supporter, Geng Xiaonan, and other outspoken Chinese men and women of conscience. We also hope that these short videos allow readers of China Heritage to appreciate better one of the loquacious public figures who has fallen silent, suffocating in Xi Jinping’s ‘iron house’ 鐵屋. (For more on the ‘iron house’, see: ‘Silent China & Its Enemies — Watching China Watching (XXX)’, China Heritage, 13 July 2018).
This material is a chapter in Viral Alarm: China Heritage Annual 2020.
— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
28 December 2020
- Joseph Brouwer, ‘Citizen journalist Zhang Zhan face five years in prison’, China Digital Times, 17 November 2020
- Vivian Wang, ‘Chinese Citizen Journalist Sentenced to 4 Years for Covid Reporting’, The New York Times, 28 December 2020
- VOA, ‘公民記者張展被判刑四年 美學者: 感到痛心卻也在意料之中’, 《美國之音》，2020年12月28日
- 張展，‘保存自己，群體的荒謬，何處是終點’, 《中國數字時代》，2020年12月28日
- 艾曉明, ‘疫情時代的狂人日記——關於張展’, 《中国数字时代》，2020年12月28日
- 狗哥, ‘耿瀟男，陳秋實背後的女士！最理性最溫和的中國人都被消滅，就只剩下不講道理的流氓了’, YouTube, 2020年9月11日
- ‘陳秋實終於有下落了 王峭嶺被短暫拘押’, 《自由亞洲電台》，2020年9月18日
- Sebastian Veg, et al, ‘The Heart of The One Grows Ever More Arrogant and Proud’, China Heritage, 10 March 2020
- Xu Zhangrun et al, ‘Protesting the Wrongful Arrest of Geng Xiaonan in Beijing’, China Heritage, 22 October 2020
- ‘ “A Sunflower Glaring at the Sun” — on Geng Xiaonan being formally arrested’, China Heritage, 20 October 2020
- The Editor & Samuel Wade, ‘Geng Xiaonan & the Siege of Beijing’, China Heritage, 12 October 2020
- Anonymous, ‘Geng Xiaonan, Ren Zhiqiang & China’s Refuseniks’, China Heritage, 2 October 2020
- ‘The innocent cry to Heaven. The odour of such a state is felt on high.’, China Heritage, 1 October 2020
- Li Xueyuan 李雪原, ‘Geng Mulan — a poem for a hero’, China Heritage, 26 September 2020
- Xu Zhangrun 許章潤, ‘Xu Zhangrun: “I Am Compelled to Speak Out in Defence of Geng Xiaonan” ’, China Heritage, 24 September 2020
- The Editor & Bei Ming 北明, ‘The Kafkaesque Trials of Geng Xiaonan’, China Heritage, 20 September 2020
Fleeting Images, Lingering Words —
The Voluble Legacy of Chen Qiushi
On the meaning of the name Qiushi 秋實:
On eating eggs and feelings of gratitude:
Being ahead, dragging behind:
How ‘democracy’ became a dirty word:
On Hong Kong:
The People’s representatives:
Hong Kong farewell:
All together now:
Standing up for the truth:
My kingdom for a true political leader:
Class and equality:
Freedom of expression:
What does Chinese culture mean to you?
Becalmed, with human rights:
On patriotism and scoundrels:
Show me some evidence:
Refugees and Party members: