Dogged investigative journalist and blogger Wang Keqin, who broke and has been intently pursuing the “tainted vaccines” case in Shanxi, recently made a post on his blog called “China’s Unluckiest Father: Gao Zhanghong is Arrested”. Combined with earlier stories of Gao Zhanghong that have been passed around the internet, the man really is tragically unlucky. We’ve paraphrased bits of his story below, cobbled together from these two sources.
Gao Zhanghong’s Story
Gao’s first son fell ill with encephalitis B in 2006, after receiving a tainted vaccine injection. According to Gao, he was extremely ill, and “the hospital reported several times that he was in critical condition. Though ultimately his life was saved, there were afteraffects. His intelligence has decreased; he’s currently in primary school but can’t keep up with the other children.” His head also apparently isn’t growing properly, and he has trouble controlling his bladder, to the extent that he frequently urinates while playing.
So Gao and his wife has a second son in 2007, one who they hoped might grow up to care for his older brother. According to Gao, “After he was born, he was continuously drinking Sanlu milk powder, we didn’t realize that he too would become a victim ((It’s unclear in the article I read how Gao’s son was specifically affected, but it seems he did survive.)), this time of the Sanlu milk powder scandal […] So my eldest son was affected by the vaccine problem, and my younger son was affected by the milk powder problem, what I am supposed to do?”
Sadly, Gao’s problems don’t end there. Wang Keqin quotes another father whose son was affected by bad vaccines, Wang Mingliang, as saying that Gao Zhanghong has been recently arrested. According to Wang Mingliang, who spoke to Gao once from his holding cell in a Shanxi local police substation, Gao was walking down the street when someone grabbed him forcefully from behind. Gao, being a rather sizeable man, threw his assailant off forcibly and the man — a complete stranger to Gao — fell to the ground. Getting up, he claimed that Gao had injured him, and dragged him to the local police station. The police, apparently, treated it like they would any fight, and arrested both Gao and the stranger.
However, by the time Wang Mingliang showed up to speak with Gao and his captors, the other man — from Sichuan, as it turned out — had already been released. The police had no explanation for who the stranger was and why he had already been released but Gao was still being held. They did, however, say that despite the other man’s release, Gao would continue to be held, and was not free to leave.
In his talk with Wang, Gao said he found it very suspicious than an out-of-towner would attack a large man such as himself on the street, and suspected the man had ulterior motives. Whether or not that’s true is unverifiable, as the police would not release the name of the Sichuan stranger, or reveal where he had gone to, although they suggested he may have gone to see a doctor.
As of Wang Keqin’s post, neither Gao nor his family could be reached by phone; calling them just results in the “this phone is turned off” error message. Gao is currently being held at the Jiaokou country Huilong township PSB substation.
The first half of the story is tragic, but probably inevitable. As long as there is lightning, someone is bound to be struck by it twice. In this case, Gao was failed twice by China’s lax quality assurance and safety standards, and it cost him the health of both of his sons. But his arrest is also interesting, as it illuminates just how effective the government can be at obfuscating exactly who is doing what, and for what reason.
Perhaps I’m being overly skeptical here, but the odd attack by a stranger, combined with his early release the police’s reticence to release information about him, seems to suggest that he may have been a government plant. Gao’s story, as previously mentioned, has been spreading around the internet, and he has given interviews to reporters — is this bizarre arrest for “fighting” a means of intimidation, a sort of punishment for Gao’s openness about the tragic fates of his sons? Or is it a total coincidence, just some crazy guy from Sichuan having a go at Gao for no reason? Coincidence seems less than likely, but the situation is vague enough that as long as the Sichuan guy keeps his mouth shut, the government maintains plausible deniability without having to give up their freedom to arrest and intimidate citizens at will.
Make no mistake, this kind of vagueness is a weapon, and it’s something unscrupulous government officials use to their advantage. Whether that’s the case here, we may never know, but here’s hoping that someone is able to dig into this mystery Sichuan man’s identity a bit and find out the truth. Certainly, if there’s anyone in China capable of doing it, it’s the indomitable Wang Keqin.