This World AIDS Day, we witnessed an extraordinarily well-coordinated effort by Chinese media to raise AIDS awareness among the populace and to communicate the resolve of the central government to win the battle against the disease. This small sampling of stories that appeared in state-run English-language media is enough to give you an idea of what went out on Chinese news:
President Hu: HIV/AIDS not scary
President Hu tells HIV carriers, communities not to be daunted by disease
Premier revisits AIDS-suffering central China villages
Young HIV carriers go public to join battle against AIDS
Import of AIDS drugs streamlined
Jilin HIV carrier claims tests show disappearance of virus
Great Wall walk to fight AIDS
Chinese public, celebrities promote AIDS awareness
Red ribbon flies across China on World AIDS Day
Feature: Positive changes strike the right note in China’s worst AIDS-hit village
Chinese to undergo compulsory HIV testing if abroad for more than one year
Now if you have both the President and Prime Minister running around simultaneously doing their own separate media gigs that include highly publicised speeches and handshakes with AIDS patients, you get an idea of how important this whole AIDS issue is to the central government. Even with floods and earthquakes and other natural calamities, chances are you won’t see them both flying out immediately to disaster areas (usually the Prime Minister goes). After all, China is a huge country, and someone needs to be running it.
The President’s gestures managed to impress the likes of James Fallows of The Atlantic, who was reminded of similar gestures by the late Princess Diana some twenty years ago. Like Fallows, we too think it is great that both the President and Prime Minister are doing what they are doing. To their credit, they have done what the leaders of many other countries — both developed and developing — cannot fathom themselves doing.
But while China’s World Aids Day media hoopla is winning it the applause of many international organisations and China-watchers, China’s own AIDS activists are telling another story — one that is much more sinister. Black and White Cat offers a translation of a blog entry (blocked in China) by AIDS activist Hu Jia who is currently under house arrest. The following is his response to the Premier’s visit to Wenlou, an AIDS village in Henan province’s Shangcai county, the worst-hit in all of China:
Premier Wen Jiabao will visit AIDS villages in Henan tomorrow
News has come from Wenlou village in Shangcai county, Henan province that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will visit Wenlou on November 30, 2007. This is the third time a senior official from the central government has inspected the AIDS village. It follows Vice Premier Wu Yi’s visit to Wenlou on December 12, 2003 and Premier Wen Jiabao’s Chinese New Year’s Eve visit to Wenlou on February 8, 2005. It’s the second time Premier Wen has visited this “World-class AIDS-affected model village” in Henan.
Over the last three days, a number of villagers in Wenlou have sent me e-messages, saying they are uneasy about Premier Wen’s visit. This is in marked contrast to the anticipation and excitement before Premier Wen’s last visit. Nearly three years have passed and things have got even worse there. Wenlou is just a stage for government departments to display false achievements to the outside world, and one often takes over where the other left off. During these last three years, Shangcai’s former party secretary Yang Songquan, who embezzled tens of millions of yuan, fell from power – his nickname was “Fifty Million Yang.” But the new party secretary who replaced him, Li Haizhou, has his own nickname – “Take All Gifts Li.” Local people say this gentleman is even worse than Yang Songquan. The corrupt party secretary of Wenlou village still has her job, and she’s even a favorite of the Henan provincial government. People in Wenlou have made a number of appeals to higher authorities, written joint letters, sought out journalists to expose the situation, but none of these and other methods have succeeded in bringing down this corrupt official. Liu Yuemei had no trouble being elected village party secretary after bribing 20 or more party members. She is the village chief as well as party secretary, with all the power to divert public money into her own pockets and take revenge on villagers who report her. Tomorrow, Liu Yuemei will still be wreathed in smiles at Wen Jiabao’s side, and give Premier Wen her report on Wenlou’s “excellent situation.”
Premier Wen Jiabao doesn’t know that the last time he visited, 1,200 police were dispatched to seal off the road to Wenlou from the county town of Shangcai and a large number of local cadres pretended to be villagers welcoming him. Yang Songquan personally made sure that people who were likely to meet Premier Wen would answer his questions in exactly the way the Henan government wanted, without getting a single word wrong. That show of being close to the people was a waste of time and money. As soon as Premier Wen left, the local authorities breathed a sigh of relief; the country’s premier had turned out to be easy to handle. Now, large numbers of Henan police have already been stationed in Wenlou and sealed off key areas. The local government has also put some active villagers with AIDS under house arrest, usually sending two village cadres and two security guards hired by the Shangcai county police for each “trouble maker.”
Ma Shenyi, the subject of the documentary “To live is better than to die,” has also given his opinion on Premier Wen’s visit. Yes, he’s been through all the visits by high officials. Each time a high official came to inspect the village, people with AIDS in Wenlou couldn’t go to the clinic because the government wants to present the “actors” it has arranged to tell the high officials of their deep debt of gratitude to the party and the government. The “actors” can give a perfect and emotional rendition of how the people’s AIDS has been brought under control by the government’s effective work. Local officials make a good display of their achievements so they can gain higher positions in the future. Ma Shenyi acts as a true voice of the ordinary people. In the end, the premier’s visit did not make anything better for them and actually encouraged the arrogance of corrupt and ruthless officials in the Henan local government. Premier Wen, why you do travel so far, when what you seek is so near at hand? In the last two weeks, many people with HIV from many places have come to Beijing. All they wanted was to see officials at the Health Ministry to appeal for medicine to prolong their lives and express their desire for just and legal compensation. The result was that the Health Ministry twice used trickery to hand these invalids over to personnel sent from Henan to seize petitioners. Those people with HIV/AIDS are so desperate. If you spoke with them in Beijing, that would mean a lot. One of these sick people is Sun Ailing who is illegally detained at the Henan appeals reception center. She is locked in a draughty room made of iron sheeting and it has already given her a fever and vomiting. Senior officials have said she’ll she’ll be locked up until after December 1 to prevent disturbances. So if you hurry back to Beijing, you can still go to that black prison set up by Henan province at Beijing South station and talk face to face with AIDS patient Sun Ailing. As the premier, you should know that as long as you are accompanied by local officials, you will see nothing, or if you do see anything it will be totally false. Here in our country, you cannot openly investigate a government department. The only way to discover the real situation is to go there completely unannounced. That would be a hundred times more effective than repeatedly going to Wenlou. It would achieve much better results with less effort.
Premier Wen, tomorrow you will see a “good show.”
Thursday, November 29
The 195th day of being illegally monitored and controlled in Bobo Freedom City by the National Security Squad
253 days until the opening of the Olympics
Here are comments by another AIDS activist Dr Gao Yaojie, on the corruption that goes on within the AIDS villages in Henan. This story was carried by China Daily last year, but we haven’t seen any similar stories this year:
“I have not been to Wenlou village for half a year. If you didn’t mention it, I would not want to bring it up. You go and tell your friends and readers not to donate money or material to Wenlou village. This is just a PR project to deceive the public. They even dare to deceive Premier Wen Jiabao. It does not matter how much you donate. This is a ‘black hole’ and an inscrutablee trap. There are quite a few more ‘black holes’ in Henan like this one.”