Celebrity deaths in China serve as evidence of rising COVID-related toll


Chinese Suprano Chu Lanlan (left) and a retired professor from Nanjing University and a former journalist Hu Fuming. — Twitter
Chinese Suprano Chu Lanlan (left) and a retired professor from Nanjing University and a former journalist Hu Fuming. — Twitter

The official COVID death toll has come under scrutiny as more and more deaths of prominent Chinese citizens are made public, reported the BBC.

Given how young she was, Chinese Suprano Chu Lanlan’s passing away last month at the age of 40 shocked many. Her family expressed their sorrow for her “abrupt departure”, but they did not provide any other information.

After China’s tight zero-COVID policy was abandoned in December, infections and fatalities shot up dramatically. Hospitals and crematoriums are reportedly becoming overcrowded.

However, the nation has stopped releasing daily case data and, according to its own stringent standards, has only reported 22 COVID deaths since December.

Now, only fatal respiratory conditions like pneumonia are included in the statistics.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) issued a warning on Wednesday, claiming that China was grossly underestimating COVID’s true toll in the nation, particularly in terms of fatalities.

However, the passing of Chu Lanlan and other people has led to rumours of more casualties than those listed in official statistics.

Many Chinese internet users were also saddened by the news of actor Gong Jintang’s passing on New Year’s Day.

Gong, 83, was well-known in many homes for his role in the longest-running TV show in the nation, In-Laws, Out-laws. Since the show’s debut in 2000, his portrayal of Father Kang has captured the attention of viewers for more than two decades.

His death’s cause is unknown, but numerous social media users connected it to the recent passings of other senior citizens, as per the BBC.

“Please god, please treat the elderly better,” his co-star Hu Yanfen wrote on Chinese social media platform Weibo.

Among the recent fatalities was renowned screenwriter Ni Zhen. The 84-year-old was well-known for his contributions to the 1991 Chinese film Raise the Red Lantern, which is largely regarded as one of the best in the genre.

Hu Fuming, a retired professor from Nanjing University and a former journalist, passed away on January 2 at the age of 87.

He was the lead author of a well-known commentary that was released in 1978 and signalled the beginning of China’s “Boluan Fanzheng” period, which was a period of putting an end to chaos and restoring normalcy following the upheaval of the Cultural Revolution under the leadership of the nation’s first Communist leader, Mao Zedong.

Chinese media reported that 16 scientists from the top science and engineering academies in the nation passed away between December 21 and December 26.

Although none of these deaths was mentioned in the obituaries as being related to COVID, online rumours persist.

Also criticised were the protesters who came to the streets in November to demand an end to the zero-COVID policy of the country’s leader Xi Jinping.

“Are those people happy now, seeing old people… now paving the way for their freedom?” BBC quoted one social media user.

In his New Year’s address, Xi seemed to make a passing reference to the protests by saying that it was normal for people to hold divergent views in such a large country. But as China started a “new era” in its strategy toward COVID, he asked people to band together and demonstrate solidarity.

Although they continue to downplay the severity of this COVID tsunami sweeping the nation, the Chinese authorities are aware of the widespread scepticism.

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