"No more heroes". So it goes one the most ingenious songs by British punk/new wave group The Stranglers. Fortunately, as Mark Twain would have said, "the news of the heroes' death have been greatly exaggerated". Heroes do exist and they need not to be demigods as believed by the Ancient Greeks. They can be found next door and across the border. They are the infected patients, the doctors and medical staff who risk their lives to save others, the police officers who ensure law and order, the firemen who rescue and assist those in need, the workers who are struggling to make ends meet, the small businessmen whose bread and butter is deeply affected, the journalists striving for seeking the truth and provide a priceless public service, and all those communities under quarantine countless days, namely those Wuhan and Hubei province residents who endure a traumatizing ordeal.
Last week we lost someone whose name will forever be remembered as a true hero. Sometimes its is simply all about doing the right thing: telling the truth for the sake of public interest and face dire consequences. Doctor Li Wenliang warned against the outbreak of what then he identified as a SARS-like disease in Wuhan and was deplorably admonished by authorities. He was eventually infected with the infamous novel coronavirus and passed away prompting commotion and more than fair sound call for an end to censorship and obsessive control over the flow of information in mainland China.
Its seems clear that the delay in Wuhan authorities reporting the outbreak of the new coronavirus was not solely due to misjudgement but also to a system where lower-level officials have no incentive to report "bad news" up the line. Quite the contrary.
One understands that priority now goes to the all-out "people's war" and mobilization to fight against the coronavirus. However, the Central Government cannot turn a blind eye to serious and systemic problems that surfaced in this crisis. Beijing needs to act firmly and swiftly to prohibit wild animals' trade, reform the early warning system for infectious diseases and imposing and enforcing stricter food safety regulations. But there is another task, which is of paramount importance and must be addressed. Authorities need to understand the nefarious impact on people's lives of a heavy-handed and secretive approach to flow of information and must heed the citizens' call for freedom of expression, openness and transparency.
At the end of the day, as Lenin (or was it Orwell?) said one day, speaking the truth is a revolutionary act.