Grassroots Complicity in Silencing Dissent: The Wuhan Diary Controversy

Emma Zhang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference abstractpeer-review


In China, powerful voices of social commentary may be incorporated into a narrative of heroism and self-sacrifice or, quite conversely, be marginalized and silenced by the public. The regard for the very same voice can switch overnight due to perceived national identity threats. A salient example of this kind of backlash can be found in the Wuhan Diary controversy. From January to March 2020, Wuhan writer Fang Fang published a daily account of her quarantine experiences on Weibo, documenting the citywide COVID-19 lockdown. In contrast to the official Chinese narrative about the pandemic, which emphasized the heroic self-sacrifices of individuals for the collective well-being of the community, Fang Fang’s diary is compassionate; it documents the suffering of individuals and courageously calls for the accountability of local government officials for their mismanagement of the crisis. In the early days of the pandemic, Fang Fang’s diary resonated with readers throughout China; her Weibo posts attracted more than 50 million views. Followers revered her as the voice of the people and collectively resisted government censorship by sharing and reposting her posts. However, the reception of her diary took a dramatic downturn when it was translated into English and published outside China. Fang Fang and her supporters suffered relentless attacks and accusations from Chinese grassroot nationalists. Consequently, Fang Fang’s Diary posts were removed from the Chinese internet and Fang Fang was denounced as a traitor by patriotic netizens. The grassroot backlash against Wuhan Diary was triggered by its availability in non-Chinese languages, which turned an internal criticism of the local authorities into an external attack on the legitimacy of the Chinese government amidst the rising Geo-political tension between China and the West. The controversy surrounding Wuhan Diary shows that the Chinese official pandemic response narrative imposed a strong sense of unity within the nation to the exclusion of even a mild form of criticism and encouraged aggressive resistance against perceived assaults by the West built on historical imaginations of victimhood. Grassroots Chinese people’s complicity in silencing dissent is shaped partly by the external, state-controlled information authoritarianism within China and partly by the internalized collective narcissism of Chinese nationalist sentiments.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jun 2023
EventGlobal Complicities - Technische Universitat Dresden , Dresden , Germany
Duration: 5 Jun 20236 Jun 2023


ConferenceGlobal Complicities
Internet address

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

User-Defined Keywords

  • complicity
  • nationalism
  • COVID-19 lockdown narratives


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