Zhong Nanshan (钟南山) born 20 October 1936) is a Chinese epidemiologist and pulmonologist who discovered the SARS coronavirus in 2003. He was president of the Chinese Medical Association from 2005 to 2009 and is currently the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Thoracic Disease.
Zhong earned international fame for managing the SARS outbreak and was renowned for refuting the official line which downplayed the severity of the crisis. He was voted one of China’s top 10 scientists in 2010. During the 2019–20 coronavirus outbreak originated in Wuhan, he was an advisor in managing the crisis.
On 11 March 2020, an article written by insiders reported that Dr Zhong has been replaced by Prof Liang Wannian. The article soon disappeared.
Zhong came onto the Covid-19 scene on the same day President Xi announced the outbreak on 20 January 2020. He revealed that the virus can spread between humans and one patient had even infected 14 medical personnel. Zhong quickly became a national hero.
Many Wuhan residents (and citizen journalists) doubted the claims and numbers given by the authorities. Dr Zhong’s reputation started to go downhill with his assurances that the numbers given by Guangdong and Wuhan were accurate, swearing bu the transparency of the system and the process. He even confidently declared that there will be no repeat of SARS.
Unofficial estimates from Wuhan residents themselves put the number infected at about twice the official figure. People were wondering if Dr Zhong was putting the interests of the Party before the interests of the people.
28 January, Dr Zhong made another announcement, saying that the situation would reach a peak in a week to 10 days as long as all measures were in place. He forecast that by 8 February, the number of cases would gradually decline. For the majority of Wuhan residents in the know, that was not the reality on the ground. Zhong’s reputation took a heavy beating.
27 February, Dr Zhong made the shocking statement that the virus might not have originated from China! At the same time, he criticised foreign media for being negative. He also urged the local media in China to provide more encouragement and report on the positive aspects of China’s system and processes.
Waiting in line was China’s foreign ministry which tried to trace the connect the virus to the Military World Games 2019 in Wuhan, attended by military personnel from over 140 countries. They demanded an explanation from the US and haughtily asserted that the world ought to be indebted to China.
The US gave a robust rebuttal.
While the audacity of the Chinese foreign ministry was appalling, many Chinese people actually believe what the foreign ministry said! 2 March 2020, official media revealed that Dr Zhong had just joined the CCP. The propaganda machine went into overdrive with footage of patients singing loud praises for the CCP to show that they have recovered. Dr Zhong’s blatant support for the CCP earned him the disgust of many thinking netizens who conducted investigations into his lavish lifestyle and palatial real estate.
While it easy to find such comments and viewpoints online, I find it curious that among the Chinese people on my WeChat account, almost every one of them believes everything Dr Zhong’s insinuations! At a barber shop in Singapore where the average age of the barbers and customers is 65, everyone was talking about Covid-19 and not a single one of them challenged the barber who confidently declared that the virus was created and released by the US. The internet in Singapore is a lot freer than that in China. Yet, many Chinese Singaporeans choose to get on the other side of the firewall and support Chinese propaganda.
Now for the big surprise. Rumour has it that Dr Zhong Nanshan has been removed from office and replaced by Prof Liang Wannian. It’s possible that he had refused to declare China Covid-19 free. It’s also possible that he criticised the team of experts handpicked by President Xi. Has Dr Zhong’s conscience been bugging him? Did he meet his ghost of Christmas Future and decided not to be an obedient servant? Whatever the reasons, we may never know. One thing we do know is how we should read the news and numbers coming out from China.