Chinese hospitals – “Sorry, you don’t have enough money to live!”

Yet another riot in China, after a young boy died after drinking pesticide (rather foolishly put in a soft drinks bottle).

Hospital death sparks China riot

About 2,000 people protested outside a hospital in southwest China after a boy died after mistakenly drinking pesticide, a human rights group says. Doctors told Xiong Hongwei’s grandfather he did not have enough money for treatment, the group said. After the boy died protesters attacked the Guangan No.2 People’s Hospital in Sichuan province. At least 10 people were injured in clashes with police.

There seems to be a dispute over whether the hospital treated the child or not. What could have happened was that doctors began to help, but wouldn’t give further aid until more money was obtained. Certainly if they refused to treat a medical emergency due to a few hundred yuan, then those punks would have got what they deserved if the mob had broken in and taken their anger out on them. The primary objective of a doctor should be to save life, not keep the cash register ticking over. But we’ve heard enough of these stories to work out that some people in China don’t see things that way….

Of course, things being the way they are, what may have happened was that the grandfather was asked to get more money to pay the fees after he died, and the story about refusing treatment had been a rumour. Of course that would have been completely insensitive anyway – why should someone pay such a “trivial” sum of money (trivial to the hospital – significant to poor people) for failing to save your relative’s life?

And all the while China’s medical system groans under the strain of increased usage and dwindling public funds (which is why these charges are often pursued so vigorously), the central government increases Chinese defence spending by double-digit percentages, funds a space programme and plans to spend $60 billion on yet another “great” public works project (channelling water from the South to the North, when reducing water wastage would be a lot cheaper). To be quite honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if the last project ends up costing nearer $100 billion.

Makes me think of that classic Communist saying – “capable women can make a meal without food”. Well, I guess sick Chinese people will have to make themselves feel better by looking at the inspiring sight of Chinese men being sent into space and the PLA parading their hardware in Beijing.

That sort of attitude makes me feel quite ill, curiously enough…..

The Discussion: 27 Comments

Patient-dumping on Skid Row investigated

November 13, 2006 @ 2:59 am | Comment

It is a tragedy, for the family. But we may not expect that this is going to be changed tomorrow or over next ten or twenty years. It is sad. But it is what is going on. Poor peopleare ignored there. They are not allowed to be united. They do not have the powers to make a change. They are not the owner of the government. Instead, they are the governed.

November 13, 2006 @ 3:58 am | Comment

Thanks, Pigsun, for your typical and entirely expected, “well, THEY have problems, so that makes OUR problems all right!” Where would we be without your mindless, reflexive nationalism?!

As you may have noticed, we never address problems in the States here, and when someone does, we always justify them by bringing up how much things suck elsewhere. You’ve noticed that, right?


November 13, 2006 @ 4:34 am | Comment

Notice that when that happens in the US, people don’t start rioting. Why? Geez, maybe they trust the system to deal with it. Whereas in China, people have so little trust in the authorities it almost always kicks-off civil disturbance.

Also, take note at the stories. Pigsun said the US authorities were investigating – in this one, the Chinese authorities concluded nothing “wrong” had happened.

Kinda says something about attitudes in both countries. In the US dumping a body is taken seriously – in China, refusing emergency treatment because the doctors are short on the fees is acceptable…….

November 13, 2006 @ 5:36 am | Comment

In many Chinese hospitals, a lot of patients are really trying to cheat the system by not paying after being treated. Hospitals need to survive, just like those patients. If patients don’t pay up, hospitals need to take appropriate measures.

This is a tragedy. But we can’t blame it all on the hospital. This is a much bigger issue related to medical reform in China, which is indeed very complex.

Just checked, this piece of news is also there, and tens of thousands of angry reader comments have been posted. This is a real sign of progress. Just 2 or 3 years ago, this would certainly have been covered up and no one would know about it. Looks like the gov’t is letting people using the Internet as a way to relieve some of the social tensions, which I think is smart. What China needs now more than ever is stability.

Anyway, this is my first comment on the Peking Duck, please be gentle to me.

November 13, 2006 @ 6:02 am | Comment


These days it’s too much trouble for the government to try to censor news of every single event like this. Also it’s not too much of a problem, because the government can point at the doctors and hospitals and say “it’s all their fault! This is why China is bad – corrupt, greedy people trying to sabotage our work.”

These days “capitalist roadsters” are still implicitely blamed for China’s woes, even if some are celebrated. Now if the State does anything wrong, you won’t be hearing about that anytime soon – or a cover-up story will be issued, such as with the Tibetan shootings, Dongzhou deaths, etc.

Also no commentator on a newspaper or journal would be allowed to suggest the government was to blame for this sort of situation by wasting money on militarisation, flying to the moon, building $60 billion canals. Those are “no-go areas” – blame the “bad capitalists” instead.

November 13, 2006 @ 6:15 am | Comment

Notice that when that happens in the US, people don’t start rioting. Why? Geez, maybe they trust the system to deal with it. Whereas in China, people have so little trust in the authorities it almost always kicks-off civil disturbance.

Also, take note at the stories. Pigsun said the US authorities were investigating – in this one, the Chinese authorities concluded nothing “wrong” had happened.

Kinda says something about attitudes in both countries. In the US dumping a body is taken seriously – in China, refusing emergency treatment because the doctors are short on the fees is acceptable…….

This is inaccurate analysis.

In China, people are more open to rebellions, because the Chinese people always do not believe in authority and challenge authority. This happens constantly in China’s history. There’s a famous saying during the Cultural Revolution called: “Do Not Trust Authorities and Excerpts”. So the Chinese gov’t always has to deal with much more hostile citizens than the US gov’t. The US citizens I feel are very obedient, and always says “Our country is a democracy, our country will resolve all the problems, it’s always better than other countires, so let’s still feel good about our gov’t”. So they have a very false sense of “optimism” and therefore always willing to be “f***” by the gov’t. But the sad thing is, when a US citizen is “f***” by its gov’t, he’ll just say “The US is still number one in the world, we are still a democracy, just like at other countries, they are much worse than us, I feel so proud to be a US citizen, so I shoud enjoy my gov’t more and not complain!”

I think a famous American writer called “Howard Zinn” said that citizens in a democracy are sometimes more easier to control and cheat, because those citizens already believe their gov’t is the fairest and their system is the best, so they do not have the alert to feel they are cheated. He said those citizens have a “false sense of superiority in their system that allows them to be duped more easily”. This is the reality of America today.

November 13, 2006 @ 7:01 am | Comment

piggy, that just confirms what I said. In China people don’t trust authority, so they resort to violence far more frequently than they do in the US.

US citizens complain frequently about what the authorities do, but they use peaceful means far more frequently than Chinese people do. In China rioting rarely gets you what you want – it lands you in jail. But I guess they have no hope, which is why they do it anyway. So if I had to choose between getting nothing done through violence (China) and getting nothing done through peaceful demontration (US), I’d have to go with the latter every time. It also happens that the latter does actually work far more often than the former.

November 13, 2006 @ 7:18 am | Comment

Haha, you are too simple, sometimes naive.

November 13, 2006 @ 7:54 am | Comment


Two wrongs does not make either right. We are not debating the superiority of the American way nor the great Chinese way. Some commentaros may make it seems like that but it is not. We should look at both countries and their systems for their faults but the ease which the Chinese authorities are willing to lose a single life,especially if he is poor and lacks the so called ‘kwangsi’ should trouble us Chinese. We should not let the laowai be the one making these comments alone.

The people riot because they do not have any other alternative channel to vent their complains and they do it so often and sometimes the readiness to believe rumours is strong. We should ask serious questions Why this should be so when ideally the CCP should be representing the people and justice and the peoples voice should be found in these platform?

Or am I naive and simple?

November 13, 2006 @ 9:10 am | Comment

My whole snarky point was, SO WHAT if the US healthcare system has problems?! Those of us who live here know that it does. We’re not shy about bringing up problems in the States.

But what does that have to do with the health care crisis in China, other than reminding us that other countries have problems too?

I mean, sure, if you wanted to write a detailed article about health care problems around the world, what the issues are, what the potential solutions are, go for it! But trying to justify problems in China by pointing the finger at others is just silly, defensive and intellectually weak.

I’d much rather hear a defense that might bring up inaccuracies or distortions in the account, reasons why it happened and aspects of the system that still work.

November 13, 2006 @ 9:40 am | Comment

Heh. Pay no attention to “too simple, sometimes naive” – pigsun’s just channeling Jiang Zemin….the situations are hardly the same, though, right?

November 13, 2006 @ 11:47 am | Comment

Does anyone ask about the money currently going to Africa? Oil has its costs and China is finding out what US citizens have as well.

But as regards healthcare; let me put a little oil of a different sort on the fire.

In Taiwan, with 23 million people (larger than 75% of the countries in the UN) we have excellent healthcare and 98 % of the population are covered by it. My average cost of going to a doctor, getting treatment and medicine is about US$10. People complained when the government raised our co-payment contribution by about US$2 to $3.

This is one of many reasons why I wonder about the mental and/or math ability of those who say we would be much better off joining with China, so that we can among other things take on the tax burden etc. of trying to upgrade the healthcare of China’s 1.3 billion people. Would any sane country want to take on that burden? Certainly the US would not.

This is

November 13, 2006 @ 11:52 am | Comment

>I feel so proud to be a US citizen, so I shoud enjoy my gov’t more and not complain!”

Yeah, because everyone knows that Americans never complain about their government. For example, this very site that we are on right now, they never complain about the US government. They praise it continuously because “it is the best country in the world” and “other countries are worse.” Americans are reflexsive, unthinking nationalists — if anyone points out any problem in the US, they instantly point out a problem in a different country, even though it has nothing to do with the problem that was pointed out and doesn’t advance their argument one iota.

Oh, wait, I guess I was describing pigsun.

November 13, 2006 @ 3:00 pm | Comment

I can vouch to the truth of that patient’s experience. A while ago, I had an emergency while travelling in China and was admitted to a hospital. I was in serious pain and the hospital refused to treat me until I paid 600RMB upfront in cash. I left the hotel in a hurry and didn’t take enough cash with me. They didn’t accept credit cards or cheques and it was in the middle of the night. So I had to wait there for someone to return to the hotel and fetch me some cash. In the meantime, I was left sitting in the waiting room in excruciating pain and the hospital staff just couldn’t care less.

Something like that would not happen to me if I was in Australia.

November 13, 2006 @ 3:33 pm | Comment

In an emergency, life or death situation, this would never happen in Russia either. If the patient couldn’t pay the bill later, the typical Russian Doctor’s reaction would be a shrug. Although, a typical impoverished Russian patient would at least try to give the doctor (or other hospital officials) a jar of pickles or a home-made fish pie just to say thanks, later.

November 13, 2006 @ 6:23 pm | Comment

@Pigsun: Why is it that “Chinese” posters always smell of trolls?

@Ivan: I’ve never been to Russia, and you’re certainly much more the expert on commenting about their health care, but that sounds pretty idealistic and unsustainable without a helluva government subsidy backing it up.

I think a country should be judged on three things: how it treats its sick, how it treats its elderly and how it treats its poor. China does poorly on all counts, but so do a lot of countries.

In a Utopian world we’d all have national health care, or at least health care that works on a progressive scale based on total household income.

I’ve spent the last four days in a Chinese hospital, and though its draining (financially, physically, mentally), to watch the poorest of the poor throw away years of savings on endless generic IVs, over-done blood tests, etc., is the most painful part. And if the nurse so much as looks in the four +1 bed room, that’ll be another chunk of change. It’s no way to run a health care system… as neither of the words “health” nor “care” make much of an appearance in a Chinese hospital.

November 13, 2006 @ 8:22 pm | Comment

People come to a hospital because they have a problem. The main objective of a doctor is to care for people. In China they have either lost that concept or never grasped it. There are stories like this everyday here. It’s disgusting that life has no value here. You pay I fix. No pay no fix. Slide me 5000 and I take care of you first.

November 13, 2006 @ 10:34 pm | Comment

I think we can all agree that this is a tragic situation for all involved – the family whose child died and the hospital workers whose lives and potential employment futures have been thrown into chaos by the riot and the effects of it.

That said, I think the trying to pick apart the hospital workers (docs, nurses, doormen) for denying someone help until they pay is a bit simplistic. This denial certainly seems to affront our collective sense of humanity, but at the same time it also points to the systemic problems in the Chinese government system.

The hospitals must turn away patients who have no money because the hospitals have no means to pay for it. The money is not coming in from the central government and their is not enough money from local sources (taxes at county level) or the charging of fees (many of which are kept absurdly low by the national gov) to pay for the procedures. So the hospital, which has no money to begin with, must make choices which result in death where a little more money could have made a difference.

Unfortunately there seems to be money in the system to pay for this care. Forget about projects like the South North water to be polluted and evaporated transfer costs. Far too much is eaten up by corrupt comrades trying to gain favor (100 billion USD in 2004 I understand); far too much is wasted by bureacrats trying to act big and get rich on the peoples money (cars for low officials and official trips to investigate dining!).

No, it is not the doctors to blame (not in full), or the peasants to blame (many who would have more money if they smoked less, drank less, and bothered to study more in school). It is the culture of corruption that thrives due to the inability of people to find the truth, organize themselves, and confront and demand more from those who “represent” them. You cannot fix the problem of hospitals refusing treatment for the poor without cash upfront unless you fix the system itself!

November 13, 2006 @ 11:25 pm | Comment

Who cares? China can launch a man to the moon! Boo yah!

November 14, 2006 @ 1:09 am | Comment

Quote: The Humanaught: Why is it that “Chinese” posters always smell of trolls?

@The Humanaught: that is, for sure, your problem. When the frog is in the well for too long, different rationalities sound troll to him.

November 14, 2006 @ 4:34 am | Comment

Sad, because I remember several experiences I had in ’79 – the facilities were both pretty primitive – in one case a hut in the back of a school compound – and the people who took care of me were incredibly kind AND competent.

It’s this kind of thing that goes a long way towards explaining any nostalgia for the Mao era – the notion that there was a sense of collective interest (misleading as that was at times) looks awfully attractive in an era of turbocapitalism, every man for himself.

November 14, 2006 @ 5:48 am | Comment

Remember it is the Mao era that has put China’s society in the situation that it is in today. Any nostalgia or idolism of Mao is misdirected.

There is money in the central Gov’t to help subsidise things like this. China has the worlds largest cash reserves. Around 1 trillion dollars if I’m not mistaken. With reserves like that, there is no excuse why they can’t afford some social projects. No one from the top down cares if an individual lives or dies here.

November 14, 2006 @ 10:24 am | Comment

Chaz, in case I wasn’t clear, I’m in no way defending Mao or his policies, and I agree with you about the horrifically destructive impact his ongoing “revolutions” had on China. But there is some nostalgia for certain aspects of his regime among a good percentage of Chinese people, because of the breakdown of the health system, the uncertainty that faces many workers since the dismantling of the Iron Rice bowl, and so on.

November 14, 2006 @ 2:11 pm | Comment

Anyone here has seen the movie “John Q” by Denzel Washington? When people are desperate, they take desperate measures. It happens everyday in all corners of the word. What the Chinese didn’t do and didn’t have time to do was to kidnap the doctor and force him to perform the operation on the boy. Hospitals, for-profit or not, have a social responsibility, which needs to be enforced by laws. Unfortunately, in China while the old social safety net is disappearing and a reasonably functional state and privately funded healthcare system has yet formed, we’ll probably see more tragic events like this until the legislation process puts an end on it and the state steps up to shoulder the costs.

November 14, 2006 @ 9:57 pm | Comment

i am a guy in the riot place . after hearing of such a riot i was very ancious about my family in my home town. acturally , people’s anger with the gov’t and society is very accumulating day and nights.but we still can tolerent. we are waiting. but how the world will be when our people konw more about the outer world?with the help of internet , we thank you for your kindness to chinese people.we all hope that the day when everybody in china can enjoy freedom and equality will come soon.

November 14, 2006 @ 10:38 pm | Comment

Dear Guanggan’er,

I hope that China can make this transition without a lot of violence, because Chinese people have suffered so much from political violence in the past. Just know that a lot of us on the outside are hoping for the best for you. Thanks for writing!

November 15, 2006 @ 3:15 pm | Comment

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