China, thank you for doing the sane and humane thing

I have been covering the harassment, trials, tribulations and greatness of China AIDS activist Gao Yaojie for many months, and I am thrilled to see China doing the right thing and allowing her to fly to the US to receive an award for her work.

A 79-year-old prominent Chinese AIDS activist is to fly to the United States as early as Sunday to receive a human rights award after she was freed from house arrest thanks to U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Gao Yaojie is to receive the Vital Voices Global Women’s Leadership Award for Human Rights in Washington in March for helping bring to light official complicity in the spread of AIDS in her home province Henan in central China, where thousands of poor farmers sold blood in the 1990s and have been infected.

To prevent her from going and embarrassing China, police in Zhengzhou, provincial capital of Henan, placed Gao under house arrest on February 1. The move sparked an international outcry.

Henan authorities relented and freed her on February 16, days after Clinton, a Democratic presidential-hopeful, wrote to Chinese President Hu Jintao and Vice Premier Wu Yi, urging them to intervene and let Gao leave for the United States.

“World pressure was too heavy. Henan was ordered by the central government (to let me go) because China did not want relations with the United States to become too tense,” the retired gynaecologist told Reuters in her Beijing hotel room.

A vice health minister paid Gao a courtesy call last week to extend the vice premier’s greetings, a sign of a change of heart.

But fellow AIDS activist Hu Jia declined to reveal Gao’s departure details in case the authorities decide to change their mind about letting her go. She plans to return in late March.

Hu Jia has faced his own misery from local authorities, and is another of my heroes.

Can we imagine just how wonderful it would be if China simply allowed people like Gao Yaojie their basic freedoms, and treated them as the heroes they are? Wouldn’t it be inspiring to see China honor people like Gao and Hu Jia and send them off to such events as China’s goodwill ambassadors, showing the world how China is becoming open and confident and a willing participant in noble international causes like AIDS awareness? Wouldn’t it be thrilling if China would…well, I think I’d better end it there. Because the questions bring tears to my eyes.

I know it was local officials who harassed her, and central officials who ended her dilemma. Unfortunately, the two are inextricably bound by a one-party system in which the central party has no choice but to tolerate all sorts of noxious behavior by local officials, upon whom they rely for keeping the system oiled. And yes, it’s getting better, and yes, I am praising China for ultimately doing the right thing. I just have to keep asking, why do they always do so many things wrong (as with SARS and AIDS and other cover-ups) before finally doing what’s right? Why don’t they do the right thing first, and show all the world how they have matured? (And for all my friends who insist on drawing parallels, yes, the US under Bush is often just as bad.)


Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 55 Comments

I’m really impressed with the way David Li has obfuscated and attempted to hijack this thread. The point is the noble things Gao has done and the way she was then treated. The point is not the argument of what causes AIDS – that is a far diferent issue totally unrelated to Gao’s house arrest, harassment and subsequent release. Personally, I think there is validity to the scientific argument that heterosexual AIDS is a myth, but whether I think AIDS is caused by touching doorknobs or performing bestiality or via airborn germs is totally irrelevant. You keep bringing it up because you want to distract from Gao’s mistreatment and instead focus on how fucked-up America’s viewpoint on AIDS is. That may be true. It may be false. But it is incredibly irrelevant to how local CCP officials treated Gao Yaojie, and it shows you have no argument to defend her abuse and instead seek to change the subject because the facts are hard for you to reconcile.

March 2, 2007 @ 10:47 am | Comment


Scientists go up against mainstream perceptions especially emotionally charged ones always get treated badly. I think that’s a norm across the society. And their noble acts push the society forward and there is no doubt about it. Gao has been on the AIDS for 10 years and is the pioneer of the field in China.

However, from her blog and one of the latest interview. She’s really mad about people using her names for selfish purpose. And this is definitely one of the instance that people are using her for their selfish gain.

You are praising China for doing the “right thing?” What’s the right thing here? Beijing is letting her go to US because pandering to the first female president of United States is the right thing?

Let’s take a look at what Vital Voice is according to their web site:

The Vital Voices Democracy Initiative was established in 1997 by then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Now, give me an article reporting Gao’s trip without mention of Clinton? The whole award is really nothing more then a great photo ops for Hillary and she’s using the old lady to bring focus to the Clintons’ efforts on AIDS which pander the liberal base, show her international influence on China and wrap her arms around the 74 years old grandma for the family value.

Why do you think China which refuses the previous two attempts for Gao to accept awards oversea and agree to the award from an organizations which doesn’t have a long track history on AIDS in China? Beijing is playing the American politics and it’s using a 74 years old grandma to do it. Plus, it fits Beijing’s current policy to come down hard on local governments.

March 3, 2007 @ 10:40 pm | Comment

As much as I think Bush is the worst president in US history I think your last sentence was just ludicrous. The US democracy on it’s worst day is better than the Chinese dictatorship on its best day.

March 5, 2007 @ 12:23 am | Comment

David Li, now we all know. You have no idea what you are talking about. Gao has been featured countless times in the US media with no mention of Clinton. Your theories are embarrassing. I’m glad you said it. Now no one can take you seriously. Notice not one reader has defended you, on either side.

Jay, I threw the last line in as a disclaimer to those who instantly bark back that the US is worse than China. Unfortunately, under Bush they can point to concrete examples that actually do measure up to some of the bad stuff China’s and other authoritarian governments do, specificlly the denial of habeas corpus and arbitrary arrests and torture. And I wouldbe a hypocrite if I didn’t recognize this and denounce my own president for the things I denounce in China. If we had a way to measure, it may not be as bad as China, but it does detract from our ability to argue from a position of moral strength.

March 5, 2007 @ 9:03 am | Comment


“Well, I’m asking you, how is China with a Communist dictatorship doing at least a comparable job (on corruption) with democratic India and Mexico? What are the differences between China, India, and Mexico?”

Who gives a rat’s ass? You’re ignoring my point that China could be better WITHOUT the dictatorship.

I can see what your thesis is here, that democracy is no better than dictatorship in fighting corruption. But that’s pretty easy to turn on it’s ear. Clearly, communist dictatorship isn’t doing a better job of fighting corruption than democracy. And you have to put up with all that political repression to. Sounds like a bad deal to me.

My question is why can’t China do better? And my answer is it’s because they are a dictatorship. I’m just saying that the notion of cleaner government through dictatorship for developing countries is crap. Can you imagine how much better China would be doing if it were a bit democratic? I can.

Corruption in India and Mexico, bribes, kickbacks, dirty cops, corrupt officials would be reduced by even greater democracy and even better functioning rule of law (as opposed to rule by Party). Under dictatorships there simply is no solution to these problems. They’re entrenched and become part of the system. IN a democracy, Nobody knowingly votes to have their money stolen.

India and Mexico at least have the right tools in place even if their not blowing China out of the water in terms of clean government. China copletely lacks democratic institutions and a functioning legal system and is at a severe disadvantage when combatting corruption.

March 5, 2007 @ 6:17 pm | Comment

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