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On Friday, China premiered a patriotic documentary film to mark the one-year anniversary of Wuhan’s coronavirus lockout, part of a wider attempt by authorities to cast a positive light on the government’s early reaction to COVID-19.

Small numbers of audiences gathered in Beijing to watch the “Wuhan Days and Nights” film as it opened to the public in the early hours of Jan. 23, 2020, exactly one year after Wuhan went into a sudden 76-day lockdown. It is suspected that Wuhan, in central Hubei province, is the epicentre of a global pandemic that has infected almost 100 million people and killed more than two million so far. With strict control measures months later, China managed to quash the virus and life in Wuhan has largely returned to normal, but the early reaction of the government attracted widespread public criticism.

The documentary was released in theaters nationwide and features tearful scenes inside Wuhan’s hospitals, including medical workers tending to patients and shots of empty streets, a co-production between state media and the Hubei Propaganda Department.

“It is using life to record life, and create a heroic hymn of the people,” following an early viewing for medical staff in the city of Wuhan, a state media report was posted on the Wuhan government website.

The movie has been described by state media as the first big documentary on China’s outbreak.

“YEAR OF STRUGGLE”

Local propaganda authorities and government-backed media have published hundreds of laudatory documentaries on China’s COVID-19 outbreak, evoking wartime analogies to explain the actions of medical staff and policy makers, including President Xi Jinping.

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The film’s release comes as China, after months of apparent success in containing the virus, fights a new wave of infections. During the Lunar New Year holiday next month, authorities are discouraging travel and have put lockdowns on some towns, in an eerie echo of last year.

“I wanted to learn how China got through the hardship,” said a woman surnamed Li, 32, who was one of the first people to see the film in Beijing. “We’ve been through a year of struggle and hard work, and now there are new cases in many places.”

By silencing opponents, Beijing has also tried to monitor the narrative surrounding the outbreak. Following the COVID-19-linked death of a Chinese doctor who had been reprimanded for giving an early warning about the disease, there was an outpouring of public grief and indignation in February 2020. A Chinese court held citizen journalist Zhang Zhan in jail for four years in December for publishing her own collection of first-hand accounts from the streets and hospitals of Wuhan. 46,483 cases of the disease and 3,869 deaths have been officially reported by Wuhan.

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