Following the first coronavirus case reported to the World Health Organization in Wuhan in 2019 and the ensuing city-wide lockdown that was imposed, many people attempted to leave the city, culminating in a vigorous discourse on the dominant Chinese microblogging site, Weibo. This study seeks to examine how online participants discursively delegitimated and legitimated people who left Wuhan before the lockdown. Weibo posts with the hashtag #逃离武汉 (‘Fleeing Wuhan’) were collected, and delegitimation and legitimation strategies deployed by users were identified. My findings reveal that the delegitimators exploited moral evaluation and impersonal authority to highlight the construed unethicality and shamelessness of people who left Wuhan, whereas the legitimators used an array of strategies, including explanation and definition, to normalize their intentions and counter linguistic hostility. These findings also provide implications vis-à-vis the clustering of delegitimation strategies as well as their linkages with emotional appeals in online discourse.

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