On 22 April 2020, the unaffiliated journalist Li Zehua 李澤華 suddenly reappeared after having being detained by the Wuhan authorities some two months earlier at the height of China’s coronavirus crisis, on 26 February. Prior to this, Li had resigned from his job as a news anchor at the state-run China Central Television and decided to act as a citizen reporter on the front lines of the epidemic that was unfolding in Wuhan, Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak. Shortly after arriving in Wuhan, he was forcibly restrained and then held incommunicado by the authorities. (For details on this development and a comment on Chen Qiushi 陳秋實, the best-known ‘Wuhan virus citizen journalist’, see ‘The Heart of The One Grows Ever More Arrogant and Proud’, China Heritage, 10 March 2020.)
In a video statement with English-Language subtitles posted on YouTube dated 22 April, Li Zehua offered an account of his disappearance and subsequent treatment at the hands of the authorities, as well as providing details of his lengthy period under police-mandated quarantine. The video is titled: ‘我是李泽华Kcriss，这是2月26日至今关于我的一些情况。I’m Kcriss, here is something about me since February 26th.’
A report of Li’s video statement provided the following summary:
At least three men entered his apartment, identifying themselves as public security. Li then went with them to a local police station where he was told he was being investigated on charges of disrupting public order.
Police later said they would not charge him but because he had visited “sensitive epidemic areas” he would need to undergo quarantine.
Li, who had to give his devices over to a friend, spent the next month in quarantine in Wuhan and then in his hometown in a different province. He was served three meals a day, monitored by security guards and able to watch state broadcaster CCTV’s evening newscast.
“Throughout the whole time, the police acted civilly and legally, making sure I had rest and food. They really cared about me,” he said. Li said he was released on 28 March and has been spending time with his family. He wished those who suffered during the epidemic a fast recovery. “May God bless China and the people of the world unite.”
Li’s tone and comments, neutral and patriotic, were markedly different from his previous videos. Li, who had worked for the state-broadcaster CCTV, travelled to Wuhan to report on the crisis after another citizen journalist and activist Chen Qiushi disappeared.
In his videos, he reported on a local neighbourhood committee’s efforts to cover up new infections and interviewed sick residents. He visited a crematorium where a worker said people were being paid more to transport bodies.
At the time Li said: “I don’t want to remain silent, or shut my eyes and ears. It’s not that I can’t have a nice life, with a wife and kids. I can. I’m doing this because I hope more young people can, like me, stand up.”
Li’s report to his viewers also features somewhat mannered scenes of the former TV presenter engaged in everyday lockdown activities such as brushing his teeth and working out. In his voiceover Li praises the ‘civilised and legal behaviour’ of his captors. However, the update ends with a famous line from ‘The Instructions of Yu the Great’ 大禹謨, a chapter in The Book of Documents 書經, or the Classic of History, an ancient collection of texts attributed to legendary figures that has immense cultural and political significance. Li recites it in practiced and sonorous tones, ending with the words 允執厥中 yǔn zhí jué zhōng, or ‘hold fast to the mean’, an expression that occurs in various guises in classical Chinese texts, as well as frequently featuring in the political and social life of dynastic China. We would suggest that, in its modern guise, these words can be taken as a statement of self-reflection, an encouragement by Li to himself that he should remain faithful to his principles without fear or favour.
Here we offer the powerfully resonant line quoted by Li Zehua and an annotated translation by James Legge (1815-1897) as part of our series ‘Viral Alarm’. (For the contents of the series, see below.) It also constitutes a brief ‘Lesson in New Sinology’.
I am grateful to Annie Ren 任路漫, a Fellow of The Wairarapa Academy for New Sinology 白水書院, for locating Legge’s translation with alacrity.
On 23 January 2023, Radio Free Asia published a report on Li Zehua, who was studying in the science faculty at the University of Rochester, New York. See:
- 武漢封城三週年 獨家專訪李澤華，亞洲自由電台，2023年1月23日
The whereabouts of Chen Qiushi 陳秋實 and Fang Binbin 方彬彬, two other citizen journalists mentioned in ‘The Heart of The One Grows Ever More Arrogant and Proud’, remain unknown. As for Li Zehua, although in his video update he mentions ‘planning for the future’, he offers no hint as to his next (permitted, let alone possible) career move.
— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
23 April 2020
Holding Fast to the Mean
The mind of man is restless, prone to err; its affinity for the right way is small. Be discriminating, be undivided that you may sincerely hold fast the Mean.
— trans. James Legge
The translator offers the following gloss:
道心 is still 人心, the mind of man in its relation to the path of duty. The two clauses together tell us very truly that the mind of man, uncertain, unstable in what is good, is ever more likely, without a careful self-government, to fall into the way of evil.
惟精惟一, these denote the exercise of mind and force of will by which the 人心 can be kept from disturbing the 道心 and there will result in practice the strict adherence to the Mean.
— James Legge, The Chinese Classics Vol. 3,
London, Trübner & Co. 1865, Book Two, p.61
Viral Alarm, a China Heritage Series
- Li Zehua 李澤華, ‘Holding Fast’, China Heritage, 23 April 2020
- Lee Yee 李怡, ‘The End of Hong Kong’s Third Way’, China Heritage, 22 April 2020
- Kristin Shi-Kupfer, ‘Beijing’s Battle with Viral Humanity’, China Heritage, 20 April 2020
- Tsering Woeser and Ian Boyden, ‘Poems from a Plague — a Tibetan Meditation’, China Heritage, 18 April 2020
- ‘Insisting and Acting on the Truth’, China Heritage, 16 April 2020
- ‘Freedom from Fear & an Inconvenient Truth’, China Heritage, 14 April 2020
- ‘A Shared Perigean Moon’, China Heritage, 8 April 2020
- ‘Thanatopsis — 4 April 2020’, China Heritage, 4 April 2020
- Joan Judge, ‘The Truth is the Most Effective Vaccine’, China Channel, 3 April 2020
- ‘The Stone Monkey’ — a diversion during a plague, China Heritage, 1 April 2020
- ‘The Heart of The One Grows Ever More Arrogant and Proud’, China Heritage, 10 March 2020
- Ren Zhiqiang 任志強, ‘Denunciation of Xi Jinping: stripping the clothes of a clown who is determined to be emperor’ ‘任志強「討習檄文」：剝光了衣服堅持當皇帝的小丑’,《新世纪》, 2020年3月6日 (for a partial translation, see Josh Rudolph, ‘Essay by Missing Property Tycoon Ren Zhiqiang’, China Digital Times, 13 March 2020; and for a full translation, see You Shu, ‘Ren Zhiqiang’s Essay’, 5 April 2020)
- Zhao Shilin 趙士林, ‘Gengzi Memorial to the Throne’, ‘庚子上書’, 《中國數字時代》, 2020年3月9日
- Xu Zhiyong 許志永, ‘Dear Chairman Xi, It’s Time for You to Go’, ChinaFile, 26 February 2020
- Guo Yuhua 郭於華, ‘The Poison in China’s System’, China Heritage, 6 March 2020
- Xu Zhangrun 許章潤, ‘Viral Alarm — When Fury Overcomes Fear’, China Heritage, 24 February 2020
- 2019-nCoV — A Teaching Moment, Spring Term 2020, China Heritage, 12 February 2020