At a meeting of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China on May 5, Xi Jinping issued a positive note on the country’s “dynamic zero-covid” policy, which he said would “stand the test of the weather”. His remarks suggested an underlying unease among leaders about how China’s covid policies have played out in recent weeks, as online frustration over the government’s response in Shanghai has repeatedly boiled over. .
As Xi and the leadership urge “perseverance”, the crucial task of maintaining the positive Party-state narrative falls to thousands of journalists within the country’s vast state-run media system, many of them at Shanghai. But what does it do for these journalists to maintain the spirit of “perseverance” even as they personally struggle with the stresses of lockdown?
This was one of many questions asked over the past week as a handful of social media accounts reported the death on May 4 of a young journalist from Shanghai named Tong Weijing (童薇菁), a reporter for Wenhui Daily (文汇报), a state-run newspaper published by the Shanghai United Media Group (SUMG).
The WeChat public account “Media Daily” (传媒见闻) was among the first to report the news of Tong’s death. In its May 5 post, the account quotes a colleague of Tong saying, “Locked down too long [under lockdown], the girl had been having heart problems for the past few days and may have been depressed. Her parents are devastated.
Beyond that quote about overlong confinement, the only hint of complicating factors in the background was a screenshot of a private group chat in which a user noted, using the shortcut for services ambulance, that “120 could not be called [in time].” The inability of Shanghai’s emergency services to cope with a spike in calls under lockdown was at this stage a generally recognized fact.
The “Media Daily” post noted that Tong has written extensively about culture and film. He also quoted his former PhD supervisor as saying, “I can’t believe such a young and beautiful life suddenly passed away. I have known her for six or seven years and have discussed a variety of her reports, always with such gentle persistence and solemn seriousness. [She deserves] respect, and I wish him peace.
Later that night, however, another public WeChat account, “E Di Shen” (额滴神), complicated the story of Tong’s passing with a post citing messages from a private chat group of Wenhui Daily reporters who reported that Tong had in fact committed suicide after suffering serious mental health issues while in quarantine.
According to the “E Di Shen” message, Tong’s mother had urgently contacted her newspaper colleagues late on May 4, saying that she had been unable to sleep and was mumbling to herself, “What the hell? I’m doing ?” A co-worker suggested the family secure all windows in their apartment and watch Tong closely, even while sleeping next to him. They would contact the hospital the next day to see if she could receive treatment. Around 11 p.m. that evening, the colleague received an urgent call from Tong’s mother saying that Tong had escaped unnoticed and jumped from the ninth floor.
The “E Di Shen” message asked why Tong Weijing’s death had not been reported at all in the “mainstream media” – that is, in China’s case, the official Party media – State. Why was there not even an acknowledgment of receipt of Wenhui Dailythe newspaper for which she had worked so conscientiously?
When the author searched Tong’s name in the Baidu search engine, there was only one post alluding to his death, while all the others were his recent and past signatures. “In a Baidu search, Tong Weijing appears to be alive and well,” they marveled.
“It is incomprehensible that the sudden death of Tong Weijing did not send shock waves through the media world, and even in the Wenhui Daily, where she worked, there were no reports of this unexpected event,” a culture editor wrote on her Weibo account. “News and tributes regarding Tong Weijing’s death are only scattered in certain circles of self-media and friends. It must seem strange to people.
“Was it a heart attack or did she blow up? another puzzled user asked. Another replied: “Yes, they don’t even dare to make public the cause of his death.”
Personal struggles, public obligations
As news of Tong’s death was quietly shared on social media, some began to pay more attention to what the reporter had actually written. Like the original “Media Daily” post, a post shared on the Tencent News platform on May 6 shared several of its articles on culture. But others noted an important detail – that Tong had also written about the Shanghai lockdown.
Tong’s writings were mostly triumphal pieces, a stark departure from the environment she, like everyone else in Shanghai, had found herself in since late March. They underlined the firmness and perseverance of the people in the fight against the epidemic in the city.
Among Tong’s cautionary tales was a piece called “Art Rises and Moves Forward!” Flowers on the sea, blooming in the wind! The Shanghai Light Music Ensemble creates another anthem in the fight against the epidemic. Published via the Wenhui Daily news app on April 27, just days before Tong died, the piece was a brief but searing tribute to the Party’s battle against Covid which shared a video of the performance in question. A piece of propaganda to promote a piece of propaganda.
“At the critical juncture of the fight against the epidemic, Shanghai Light Music Ensemble, a subsidiary of Shanghai United Media Group, created another anti-epidemic anthem,” Tong wrote, “using flowers on the sea, s rising in the wind and connecting hearts, to symbolize each person fighting against the epidemic.
“With a lively style, [the anthem] celebrates the courage and tenacity of the people, as well as the spirit of mutual aid, shared love and unity.
Another article, “The story of fighting the epidemic all around me: the delivery of love in the pouring rain”, was published the next day on the Wenhui Dailythe various social media channels of . He conveyed the same spirit of love and sacrifice. But this time it was written by CEO of venture capital firm Feimalv and edited by Tong. “Wind and rain can’t stop the delivery of love,” he began. “At a critical moment in the fight against the epidemic, we help each other, we transmit our love, everyone invests, so that a single ember becomes a torch, a single heart to protect Shanghai.”
Tong, like so many state media reporters, had lifted the facade, spreading positive energy – while online, people across Shanghai flooded social media with stories of anger and frustration, culminating in the April 22 release of the viral video “Voix d’Avril.
It is impossible to know what personal difficulties Tong Weijing faced in the days leading up to May as the lockdown continued in Shanghai. But for some acknowledging his death online, as state media remained eerily silent, the stark contrast between personal pain and responsible public affirmation was an important fact to note. In a comment on Weibo accompanied by the emoticon of a burning candle, one user wrote: “For someone carrying their own depression, still closed, to write against what they personally witness and their own wishes would make post- traumatic stress almost a given.