“In real life, they pushed women out” onto the front lines, said one commenter about the show on Weibo, a Twitter-like platform. “In propaganda, they buried the women.” The comment was liked more than 30,000 times.
The episode was the pilot of a new show, “Heroes in Harm’s Way,” that dramatizes Wuhan’s battle against the outbreak. Wuhan was little known outside of China before the pandemic, but as the contagion spread there and then around the world it became a stark warning about the virus’s threat. Desperate residents shared photos of people being turned away from overwhelmed hospitals, and they raged at the officials who had let the virus spread unchecked in an effort to conceal it.
That desperation is far from the focus of the show, which was aired by China’s state broadcaster and produced by Shen Haixiong, the deputy minister of the Communist Party’s Publicity Department. Instead, the show is a paean to the “touching stories that happened on the front line of the epidemic” and the Chinese people’s “courage to fight and win,” according to the state-run media.
In the scene at the Wuhan bus company, dozens of drivers file into a meeting room shortly before the lockdown is imposed. An official explains that the government has requested volunteers for an emergency transport team. A number of men line up, led by a Communist Party cadre.
After reviewing the roster, the official then announces that the list is made up entirely of men. “Will a female comrade step up too?” he says.
He singles out a woman sitting in a back row and asks her to volunteer. But she demurs, saying her family has traveled a long way to visit her for the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday. “I really can’t,” she replies.
In response to the show, social media users quickly began sharing screenshots of the state media reports of female participation in the epidemic response. Many also began using the hashtag “Request that ‘Heroes in Harm’s Way’ Stop Airing.” A poll that asked whether the show should be canceled received more than 91,000 “yes” votes, with about 6,800 votes for “no.”