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Money for Old Hope

February 14, 2003 – A small notice in the Weekly Epidemiological Record reports 305 cases and 5 deaths from an unknown acute respiratory syndrome which occurred between 16 November and 9 February 2003 in the Guangdong Province, China. (WHO WER 7/2003) The illness is spread to household members and healthcare workers. The Chinese Ministry of Health informs the WHO that the outbreak in Guangdong is clinically consistent with atypical pneumonia. Further investigations rule out anthrax, pulmonary plague, leptospirosis, and hemorrhagic fever.

Two weeks later, at the end of February, the Chinese Ministry of Health reports that the infective agent causing the outbreak of the atypical pneumonia was probably Chlamydia pneumoniae. (WHO WER 9/2003)

March 12 – The WHO issues a global alert about cases of severe atypical pneumonia following mounting reports of cases among staff in the Hanoi and Hong Kong hospitals.

March 24 – Scientists at the CDC and in Hong Kong announce that a new coronavirus has been isolated from patients with SARS.

March 30 – In Hong Kong, a steep rise in the number of SARS cases is detected in Amoy Garden, a large housing estate consisting of ten 35-storey blocks, which are home to around 15,000 persons. The Hong Kong Department of Health issues an isolation order to prevent the further spread of SARS.

April 2 – The WHO recommends that persons traveling to Hong Kong and the Guangdong Province of China consider postponing all but essential travel

April 16 – The WHO announces that a new pathogen, a member of the coronavirus family never before seen in humans, is the cause of SARS.

April 20 – The Chinese government discloses that the number of SARS cases is many times higher than previously reported. Beijing now has 339 confirmed cases of SARS and an additional 402 suspected cases. Ten days earlier, Health Minister Zhang Wenkang had admitted to only 22 confirmed SARS cases in Beijing.

The city closes down schools and imposes strict quarantine measures. Most worrying is the evidence that the virus is spreading in the Chinese interior, where medical resources might be inadequate.

– Sarsresource.com SARS Timeline

Hu Jintao officially assumed power as the President of the People’s Republic of China on 1st November, 2002. At around the same same time, a farmer in Shunde, Foshan, Guangdong was being treated for a mystery illness in the First People’s Hospital of Foshan. He was never conclusively diagnosed, and soon died as a result of the severity of his symptoms.

The disease quickly spread, and quickly claimed more lives, although the Chinese government was aware of what was happening, and knew that because of the flu-like symptoms, they should report the cases the World Health Organization. Through it’s Global Public Health Intelligence Network, WHO had picked up reports of several cases involving “flu-like symptoms” on the 27th November, but it wasn’t until February 2003 that the Chinese central government officially reported the outbreaks, after they had realised that a national health crisis was brewing in the south of China.

China apologized for delay in reporting the SARS outbreaks two months later, claiming that Chinese citizens had been fully informed about what was happening. “China has given public notices of this epidemic to Chinese people and to the world at appropriate times, in light of our national conditions and our law,” so said China’s health minister, Zeng Wen Kang. What had in fact happened was that Beijing media had been ordered not to mention the SARS outbreak, or to downplay it as much as possible. Two months later, in April, the very same health minister had said that it was completely safe for people to travel around China, contradicting the WHO, who had said that some parts of China still weren’t safe enough for foreigners. Or for Chinese people.

On April 4th, the lid on the whole thing was blown off by one of the most senior doctors and party members in the country, Jiang Yanyong, who risked both his career and life by writing an 800 word letter to two local TV stations – Pheonix TV and China Central Television (CCTV) 4. The letter was never reproduced in it’s entirely in China, but it was leaked to foreign journalists, and ended up being printed in Time magazine. Unbeknownst to the central government of China, the World Health Organization had known that there was a burgeoning healthy crisis in the country because the WHO routinely monitored radio and television broadcasts in China.

The Mayor of Beijing resigned, Wen Kang was fired, and, five months later, the Chinese government began to fully co-operate with the efforts to bring SARS under control. No one admitted, or has ever admitted, to distorting or covering up the full extent of the damage that SARS had caused.

Jiang Yanyong was a hero, when he bravely decided to go against the party line and email local TV stations, he saved the lives of thousands, if not millions of people. In 2003, he would write another letter to China’s newly elected leaders, asking the CCP to re-evaluate the Tienanmen Square crackdown:

“I was chief of the department of general surgery on June 4, 1989. On the night of June 3, I heard repeated broadcasts urging people to stay off the streets. At about 10 p.m., I was in my apartment when I heard the sound of continuous gunfire from the north. Several minutes later, my pager beeped. It was the emergency room calling me, and I rushed over. What I found was unimaginable–on the floor and the tables of the emergency room were seven young people, their faces and bodies covered with blood. Two of them were later confirmed dead by EKG. My head buzzed and I nearly passed out. I had been a surgeon for more than 30 years. I had treated wounded soldiers before, while on the medical team of the PLA railway corps that built the Chengdu-Kunming Railway. But their injuries resulted from unavoidable accidents during the construction process, while before my eyes, in Beijing, the magnificent capital of China, lying in front of me, were our own people, killed by our people’s army, with weapons supplied by the people.”

Although awarded a Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service, which recognised “his brave stand for truth in China, spurring life-saving measures to confront and contain the deadly threat of SARS,” after sending these letters, Jiang was arrested in June and spent seven weeks under arrest. The Chairman of the Central Military Commission, Jiang Zemin, ordered the arrest of Jiang Yanyong on the grounds of violating military discipline. In a public statement to the Washington Post, the government said, rather ominously, that “the military has been helping and educating him.”

The scab of inner secrecy was lifted off the event again by the good doctor, when he posted an open letter to Hu Jintao demanding an apology for the way that he and his wife had been treated by CCP henchmen. He quoted the PLA General Logistics Department’s CCP Commission press release that supposedly explained why he’d be arrested:

According to the CCP disciplinary rules, article 58: “For creating rumors that demonize the Party and the State, for mild offenses, a warning or a serious warning shall be issued; for serious offenses, probation or a change of position within the Party organization shall be issued; for extremely serious offenses, expulsion from the Party shall be issued.” The case of Jiang Yanyong should be considered an extremely serious offense. However, because Jiang has admitted to his mistakes and provided a written letter of repentance and a wish for redemption, we hereby issue, with the approval of the Central Military Commission, a two year internal Party probation for Jiang Yanyong.

The disciplinary rules, or Guiding Principles for Inner-Party Political Life, were adopted in February 1980 during the Fifth Plenary Session of 11th CPC Central Committee. A paragraph later, Yanyoung lambasted the Communist Party leadership:

I believe the “administrative detention” issued by the former Chairman of the Central Military Commission, Jiang Zemin, against me starting on June 1, 2004 was in violation of the Constitution, the Party Charter and army disciplinary rules. The “administrative investigation” starting June 16, 2004 was also without grounds and a complete mistake. Furthermore, it is really outrageous that I have continued to be restricted from visiting family members overseas. I believe all restrictions on me should be removed and the relevant departments should correct their mistakes and issue an apology. Only then will they be in compliance with the ideals of the Party’s fourth generation leadership: “rule by law,” “the people first” and “harmonious society.”

On May 19th, 2008, a three day period of mourning was officially announced for the victims of the Sichuan earthquake that had hit the province a week earlier. During these three days, China saw it’s biggest out pouring of grief in China since the death of Chairman Mao in 1979. In Tiananmen Square, after the moments silence, crowds erupted into cheers of “long live China”, casinos in Macau were closed, as were servers for online games. Jackie Chan told reporters “I want to make a movie about the earthquake because there were so many touching stories; through this movie, we will be able to show the whole world what happened

The speed at which the Chinese moved to get the army and rescue workers into Weichan impressed many, and it did much to silence those who had be bold enough to ask the question that mattered – why exactly had so many schools collapsed so easily when the earthquake hit?

Seven thousand schoolrooms folded under the stress of the shaking ground, and, thanks to the one child policy, many families lost an only child. The response was that the law was to accommodate those who had lost a child in the disaster, which wasn’t really much use since many parents had themselves sterilized or were too old to conceive another child. The local government had promised to investigate why the buildings collapsed as they did, but as of July 2008, no official report has been published, and no investigations have been knowingly carried out by either local or the central government. Stories about the investigation that had been demanded were swept under the carpet, and parents were at first discouraged from protesting, and later, when they did protest, they were dispersed by police.

As usually happens in these kinds of situations, the parents were offered cash payments, offered on the provisio that they never complain or protest about the alleged building faults. Undeterred by the pressure from both the government and local Sichuan officials, a Sichuanese schoolteacher, Liu Shaokun traveled to Shifang to take photos of the destroyed buildings. In one interview he expressed his outrage at the poor quality construction quality of the schools (calling them “tofu buildings”), and was arrested in June 2008 for disseminating rumors and destroying social order”. He was sentenced to one year of severe Re-Education through Hard Labor, although, thanks to the media attention focused on him, he served this sentence outside of a labor camp.

While self criticism, is a cornerstone of the Maoism, the only problem is that when the CCP is criticized, or even worse, thinks it’s being criticized, they don’t take too kindly to it. What the CCP is most worried about, and most anxious to remove is not just direct criticism, but the implication that there is a problem that isn’t being addressed. Sweeping the issues into prison is not going to make the issues vanish, and it’s clear from the protests that something isn’t being done through the “proper channels”. Chinese people are no strangers to protest and getting their voices heard. The CCP must learn that protest and dissent are not signs of a weak leadership or symbolic of the decline of society, but they are part and parcel of a modern, prosperous country in the 21st Century.

  1. Layla
    April 11, 2009 at 8:24 am

    Most Popular VS The Right Decision
    Joseph Walker 2008.06

    A group of children were playing near two railway tracks, one still in use while the other disused. Only one child was playing on the disused track, the rest were on the operational track.

    The train is coming, and you are just beside the track interchange. You can make the train change its course to the disused track and save most of the kids. However, that would also mean the lone child playing by the disused track would be sacrificed. Or would you rather let the train go its way?

    Let’s take a second to think what kind of decision we could make.

    Most people might choose to divert the course of the train, and sacrifice only one child. You might think the same way, I guess. Exactly, I thought the same way initially because to save most of the children at the expense of only one child was a rational decision most people would make, morally and emotionally. But have you ever thought that the child choosing to play on the discused track had in fact made the right decision to play in a safe place?

    Nevertheless, he had to be sacrificed because of his ignorant friends chose to play where the danger was. This kind of dilemma happens around us everyday. In the office, in the community, in politics and especially in a democratic society, the minority is often sacrificed for the interests of the majority, no matter how foolish or ignorant the majority are, and how farsighted or knowledgeable the minority are. The child who chose not to play with the rest on the operational track was sidelined. And if he was sacrificed, no one would shed a tear for him.

    The critic Leo Velski Julian who told the story said he would not try to change the course of the train because he believed that the kids playing on the operational track should have known very well that track was still in use, and that they should have run away if they heard the train’s whistles.

    If the train was diverted, that lone child would definitely die because he never thought the train could come over to that track!

    Moreover, that track was not in use probably because it was not safe. If the train was diverted to the track, we could put the lives of all passengers on board at stake! And in your attempt to save a few kids by sacrificing one child, you might end up sacrificing hundreds of people to save these few kids.

    While we are all aware that life is full of tough decisions that need to be made, we may not realize that hasty decisions may not always be the right one. Everybody makes mistakes, whoever it’s the government or not. Remember that what’s right is not always popular…and what’s popular is not always right.

  1. May 7, 2009 at 10:33 pm

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