Tag Archives: Guest Posts

A Guest Post from Asia Catalyst on HIV and AIDS

The following is a guest post by Meg Davis, an anthropologist and the founder of Asia Catalyst.

China’s annual “two sessions” wrapped up this week, and Chinese lawmakers finally considered proposals to establish a national compensation fund for thousands of victims of the world’s largest HIV blood disaster.

Back in 2002, Elisabeth Rosenthal wrote in the New York Times that in Henan, “poverty begat AIDS, but AIDS has begotten previously unimaginable poverty.” For thousands who received tainted blood transfusions while local authorities covered up the epidemic, the compensation fund would be a life-changer.

While government officials maintain only 65,100 people contracted HIV through blood sales and transfusions, AIDS activists have long argued the true number is much higher. A new bilingual report by Asia Catalyst and Korekata AIDS Law Center finds that few of the thousands affected have been able to get compensation.

UNSAFE BLOOD COLLECTION

In the 1990s, state-sponsored, for-profit blood-collection centers used unsafe practices to spread HIV to thousands of people in Henan and other central provinces. Health officials who believed that foreign blood was tainted but that rural Chinese blood was “pure” promoted blood-sales as “glorious” for cash-strapped farmers. “Now [they say] I’m a criminal [because I sold my blood],” said Niu, a man in Henan.*

Back then, selling blood was a big pyramid scheme. Everyone went, you took me or I took you, friends took friends. …[Y]ou had 50 kuai in your pocket and you could get your kid something to eat. …We didn’t know we were going to get sick. If we knew that, who would have done it?

Many of those affected by the epidemic have demanded compensation and an apology for their suffering from hospitals, local authorities, and the courts. However, probably because they fear a deluge of lawsuits from tens of thousands of victims, most courts refuse to try these cases. When local authorities feel directly threatened by demands for compensation, political pressure on lawyers and courts leads to cases delayed, postponed or shut down.

A group of farmers in one province described how they were unable to find a lawyer even willing to represent them locally, and had to bring one in from another province. But that lawyer was run out of town by threats:

The government went through our provincial bar association to telephone our lawyer’s firm in the province where he lived, and told the firm to revoke his license. The blood center expert who came with our lawyer pleaded with him to go home that night.

Telling the luckless plaintiffs “Only you can solve your problems,” the lawyer fled town in the midst of a rainstorm, escorted by a protective group of the people he had failed to help.

Denied their right to sue, blood disaster victims try petitioning. Some have gotten small payouts, but many, including a group turned away from the Ministry of Health on World AIDS Day in 2011, have gotten threats, intimidation, and detention in “black jails.”

UNEVEN PAYOUTS

The report also examines cases where victims have gotten compensation, and finds that amounts have varied. In places like Heilongjiang where the number of people affected is relatively low, compensation has been high, ranging up to 400,000 CNY [~$63,492]. But in Henan and other areas where the disaster hit hardest, payments have been as low as 40,000 CNY [$6,394]. When the money is spent, often victims go back to petitioning and protesting again.

The uneven payouts have created more resentment. Fan, a blood disaster victim in Hubei, said,

Let me tell you, if you look around online, you’ll see that people who got hepatitis B, here in Hubei, they got paid 200,000 CNY [about US$31,750]. We got both hepatitis C AND AIDS, but we only got a couple ten thousand. So I asked the government, I said, if you kill one person you get the death sentence, but if you kill two people you’re not guilty? The more people you kill, the lighter the penalty. What kind of logic is that?

LEARNING FROM THE WORLD’S MISTAKES

Almost every country in the world has faced an HIV blood disaster early in the epidemic. AIDS denialism, the stigma surrounding the epidemic, and ignorance of how the virus was transmitted all contributed to the transmission of HIV through blood supplies. In many countries, the blood disasters affected a few dozen or a few hundred people. In Japan, France and Germany, victims numbered in the thousands. China’s blood disaster affected more individuals than in all other countries combined.

Some countries, such as Japan and France, reacted within a few years with investigations, compensation for the victims, and criminal penalties for officials responsible for the disaster. Others reacted more slowly and less decisively. But no country has taken as long to respond as China, where the blood disaster dragged on for years, while local officials fumbled in a failed effort to cover up the scope of the disaster.

The report calls for an independent investigation in order to obtain a reliable estimate of the number of people infected through the blood disaster. It makes detailed recommendations for a national compensation fund, and calls for a government apology.

For millions of Chinese citizens who still think of HIV/AIDS as a moral disease that stigmatizes those burdened with it, a national compensation fund and a public apology may also go a long way towards creating greater understanding about the epidemic, how it is transmitted and that it can be prevented. With a compensation policy, China has an opportunity to do tangible good on a longstanding social problem.

*All names were changed to protect interviewees against repercussions.

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Guest Post: Shame on Shaun Rein

The following is a guest post by Tom of Seeing Red in China. Of note also is a similar piece on The Peking Duck.

Yesterday Shaun Rein published a piece in Forbes bashing CNN’s lack of journalistic integrity when it helped Christian Bale organize a trip to Linyi. The main point of his article is sound, CNN did clearly cross a line from reporting news to creating news, but in Shaun’s efforts to hawk his new book and attack CNN, he grossly misrepresents what is going on in Linyi, exposing his own shameful lack of journalistic integrity.

Please bear with me as I pick apart the worst paragraphs of the piece:

“My issue here is not with Bale. In general, I believe one should follow the laws of nations that one visits, and that Bale should do so, but I also generally believe in free speech, no matter how misguided.”

It should be noted that it is not against the law to visit the city of Linyi. At no point did uniformed police officers or even the thugs that chased him away claim that what he was doing was against the law. Rein’s implication that it was in someway illegal serves only to obscure the issue.

One of the reasons I wrote my upcoming book, The End of Cheap China, was to dispel myths and distortions in the Western world about China, by covering both the good and bad of its evolution and trying to bring nuance where organizations like CNN bring activism. Far too many news organizations in the West perpetuate outdated or simply wrong views of the Chinese government and its people for the sake of getting eyeballs or, perhaps, to try to help contain the country. It is sad when CNN’s coverage of China becomes more like tabloid fodder than the gold standard it once was.

Here Shaun speculates that CNN might actually be trying to contain China, when it was covering what actually happened when Christian Bale tried to enter the village. Yes, it was 100% wrong for CNN to hire the van at Bale’s request, but CNN didn’t hire the thugs that kept Bale from visiting Chen Guangcheng. Pretending that human rights abuses don’t happen in China is hardly what I would call “nuanced” or balanced. It’s on par with Global Times pretending that the pollution in Beijing is harmless fog, hardly something worthy of Forbes.

I have a chapter in The End of Cheap China on the lessons I’ve learned from China’s sex industry and how it seems contradictory at first glance that brothels exist in the open everywhere, without local police molestation, while the central government cracks down on Internet porn. A closer look shows that China’s sex industry actually is a friction point between the central and local governments, a juncture where interests often diverge.

The central government might try to shut brothels but is stopped by corrupt local officials. President Hu has called local corruption a serious problem and has made rooting it out a major goal of his administration. My book tries to shed light on the interplay and often diverging interests between local and central government officials and why improvements are sometimes much slower than the central government wants.

Through censoring web searches for information on Chen Guangcheng and Linyi, the Central gov’t has clearly displayed that it actually has a similar interest in keeping Chen’s illegal detention a secret within China. While Shaun’s point about the difficulty of controlling prostitution might be true, Chen’s initial detention was the result of him opposing local implementation of a national policy. In this case the central gov’t’s interest in keeping Chen silenced does align with the local gov’t’s interest in saving face.

As a Chinese co-worker told me the other day, when there is one corrupt official, it’s a problem with that official, when there are hundreds of corrupt officials, it’s a problem with the system.

Bale and CNN’s publicity stunt indicts an entire political system without delving deeper into the reality of Chen’s detention and the interplay between the central and local governments.  I have no idea about Chen’s detention, and if he is being wronged or not, but if there are issues with his case, I am not convinced that calling the entire political class “disgusting,” as Bale does, can help.

When I pressed Shaun on his ignorance pertaining to Chen’s detention, he said again that he would not comment on something he had no knowledge of. The documentation of Chen’s abuse has been widely reported for nearly three months. To have “no idea” about it seems like he is feigning ignorance, otherwise he must have only been reading People’s Daily (even Global Times reported on Chen). It’s fine that he isn’t convinced that Bale calling the system disgusting is helpful, but how can he complain that CNN didn’t delve deeper into the reality when he himself has no idea about it?

Far too many in the West indict China’s whole governing class and system when a single local official does something stupid or brutish. Yet they criticized only a lone thuggish police officer in New York for pepper-spraying Occupy Wall Street protesters. They didn’t called [sic] President Obama evil for what that one officer did, or call for an overthrow of all of America. Yet Bale did that in China’s case, and, worse, CNN helped him.

So much is wrong with this paragraph that it hurts. Firstly, what is happening in Linyi absolutely involves the entire political system. Local officials who were initially involved in Chen’s case have been promoted to provincial level offices, and the brief mention in Global Times indicates that the central gov’t is aware of this illegal detention. Yet, the central gov’t has yet to take any action to help Chen.

The imprisonment of Chen does not rely on a “single local official” but involves village leaders, city level leaders, and provincial level leaders along with a squad of hired thugs.

Shaun pretends that this is in some way comparable to thuggish cops pepper spraying protesters. This would be similar if 1) the police in the pepper spray incident involved faced no punishment, ever 2) similar events happened throughout the US several times each day and 3) domestic newspapers were not allowed to report on the incident and information related to it was scrubbed from the internet. However, Shaun did say that he had “no idea about Chen’s detention”, so I guess it isn’t too surprising how wildly inaccurate his comparison is.

The last thing the world needs is increased tension between the world’s two superpowers. CNN should be ashamed for becoming more like a tabloid and inserting itself into the story rather than maintaining journalistic integrity and providing an objective view of its subjects.

I would argue that it is actually not a journalist’s job to be concerned about whether or not the story they are publishing creates tension between China and the US. The role of the journalist however almost certainly demands checking the facts and reporting the whole story when it does appear.

Shaun argued more eloquently at the beginning of the piece, CNN should not have involved itself so closely in the creation of this story, but it would have been a much stronger piece if he had demonstrated any of the integrity he expects from CNN.