Even on heavily censored Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social network, people are channeling their frustrations through Chernobyl references. “Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later that debt gets paid,” wrote one user (link in Chinese), citing a quote from the show. “The spread of the coronavirus has fully resembled the unfolding of the Chernobyl incident, but with the Wuhan government making even more effort [than the Soviet Union] to suppress information… some officials will eventually pay a heavy price for withholding the truth for so long, let’s wait and see,” wrote another (link in Chinese).

The references made to Chernobyl represent the latest round of online backlash against the Chinese government’s handling of the virus. Though open dissent against the government is rare in China, many of the comments that are able to live online are those that target only local officials in Wuhan and Hubei province, suggesting that the authorities are deliberately leaving open a channel for people to voice their discontent at a time of mounting anger. As part of that strategy to manage discontent, the government has also set up a whistleblower feature online for people to notify the government of officials’ negligence and malpractice during the outbreak.

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