'76 Days': Who is Fang Bin? The Wuhan clothing salesman who vanished after filming corpses during the pandemic

'76 Day' co-directors, Weixi Chen and 'Anonymous', who filmed in secret in Wuhan during the lockdown were essentially continuing the narrative started by citizen journalists like Fang Bin who 'disappeared' because of their videos

                            '76 Days': Who is Fang Bin? The Wuhan clothing salesman who vanished after filming corpses during the pandemic
(Getty Images)

The documentary '76 Days' is a searing account of the 76-day lockdown period in Wuhan city, China, at the peak of the coronavirus epidemic. Soon after the lockdown was announced on January 23, 2020, two reporters started filming at four different hospitals in the city on the behest of New York-based director Hao Wu, who wanted to expose the wrongdoings of the Chinese authorities in dealing with the crisis even as frontline workers put their lives on the line to contain the pandemic.

Out of these two reporters-turned-filmmakers, Weixi Chen, consented to be named. The other requested anonymity, fearing government reprisals, and is billed as "Anonymous" on the film credits as co-director. Both Weixi Chen and Anonymous were essentially continuing the narrative started by citizen journalists, who 'disappeared' because of their videos, tweets and photographs taken to inform the world about what was happening in Wuhan. 

Chen Qiushi and Fang Bin's names stand out when it comes to the most prolific citizen journalists at the start of the pandemic that shone a global spotlight on how grave the crisis actually was. This was a time when Chinese authorities were trying hard to downplay the extent and seriousness of the COVID-19 outbreak. Chen Qiushi, a former human rights lawyer turned video journalist, built his reputation through his coverage of the Hong Kong protests in August 2019. He caught the last train to arrive in Wuhan before the lockdown to uncover the truth. Because of his high profile Hong Kong activism and reputation, he was in touch with foreign journalists. Therefore, even though he 'disappeared' on February 7, he was too high profile to vanish without a trace. On September 23, 2020, the South China Morning Post reported that Chen was alive and staying with his parents in the country's east zone under close surveillance.

But while Chen Qiushi had some training, Fang Bin was a complete rookie citizen journalist. He was an ordinary clothing salesman in Wuhan city before the pandemic. He began posting YouTube videos about the outbreak to "report on the actual situation here", promising to "do his best". He uploaded his first video on January 25 to YouTube, which is banned in China but accessible through virtual private networks. He also used WeChat to broadcast images of Wuhan during the COVID-19 pandemic.

His first few videos featured him driving around the city and showing the situation in different places. Then on February 1, he filmed a video which got people to sit up and take notice. The clip showed eight corpses in body bags piled up on a minibus outside a hospital in Wuhan. In the video, Fang Bin groans as he sees the body bags and counts them, before saying: "So many dead. This is too many.”

The video was shared on Twitter by Chinese journalist Jennifer Zeng and it went viral. Fang was arrested on the same day, warned, and eventually released during the night. But on February 9, 2020, he was arrested again and has not been seen since. Family members and well-wishers have no idea if he is dead or alive and authorities remain tight-lipped about his whereabouts or if he is even alive.

Two days before Chen's arrest, on February 4, the police had come twice to Fang's apartment. He had recorded the police who had come in large numbers and refused to let them in without a warrant, worried that they would take him into custody.

Fang would continue making videos till the very end from his apartment, criticizing the government's propaganda and its treatment of whistleblowers like Dr. Li Wenliang and Chen Qiushi, who had already been arrested by then. On February 9, he released his last video: a 12-second clip showing a piece of paper with the sentence "resist all citizens, hand the power of the government back to the people" written on it.

'76 Days' is brought to the US by MTV Documentary Films and will be launched in virtual cinemas beginning Friday, December 4.

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