Chinese officials (with too much time on their hands) harass hepatitis B advocacy group

It’s stories like this that reawaken that old “China is evil” tape I used to play a lot on this blog back when I thought I knew everything. Now, when I am fully aware of just how little I know and how fundamentally stupid I am, I still get pissed off almost to the point of outrage. Make that “impotent outrage.” Because I’ve been posting on this topic for half a decade now and still they don’t listen. I love China, I miss China, I want to go back to China, but I see crap like this and I am reminded of just how fucked up their government can still be.

In the realm of potential threats to China’s stability, an organization that advocates on behalf of people infected with hepatitis B would seem to be low-risk. But on Wednesday, the group’s director, Lu Jun, found himself squaring off against four security officials who were trying to cart away stacks of literature they claimed had been printed without official permission.

In the end, Mr. Lu scored a partial victory. After eight hours looking through drawers and photographing volunteers, the inspectors walked off with 90 pamphlets, but Mr. Lu prevented them from delving into the group’s computer files. “I fear this is not the end of it,” he said Thursday.

The raid on Mr. Lu’s organization, the Yi Ren Ping Center, comes at a precarious time for China’s nongovernmental organizations, many of which operate in a kind of legal gray zone. Two weeks ago, officials used a bureaucratic infraction as the reason to shut down the country’s pre-eminent legal rights center, Gongmeng, or Open Constitution Initiative. The closing came after a separate disbarment of 53 lawyers known for taking on civil rights and corruption cases. Just before dawn on Wednesday, the founder of Gongmeng, Xu Zhiyong, was taken into police custody, and he has not been heard from since….

“It’s basically a foolish attempt to make the year as peaceful and uneventful as possible,” said Jiang Tianyong, a lawyer who was among those blocked from renewing their licenses.

I can sort of get going after Tiananmen mothers and rogue churches and “cyberdissidents” and all sorts of other “threats” to China’s one-party system – I can get it even if I think it’s batty and counter-productive and detestable. But hepatitis b carriers? This is in a class by itself, because they simply pose no threat, yet they are victims of heartbreaking and unforgivable discrimination. Sorry for the extensive clips, but we have to understand just how inane and insane and depraved this policy of discrimination is, because it is directed at ordinary people who pose no risk to you or me or to anyone. We have to ask, how great can “the world’s next superpower” be when it allows itself to be ruled by old wives’ tales, superstition and flat-out ignorance (or more likely willful denial of the facts)? It’s nothing less than that. And it’s also kind of evil, because it leaves behind victims with devastated lives.

There is widespread trepidation over hepatitis B in China, a fear that has been inflamed by an explosion in advertising for medical testing services and sham cures. Even though it is preventable with a vaccine — and most of those infected will not become ill — state-owned companies, medical schools and food-processing plants have come to believe that it is sensible policy to bar the infected.

Under Chinese law, carriers of hepatitis B cannot work as teachers, elevator operators, barbers or supermarket cashiers. In a recent survey of 113 colleges and universities, conducted by the Yi Ren Ping Center, 94 acknowledged that infected applicants, required to take blood tests, would be summarily rejected.

Many of the 120 million carriers in China got the virus in the 1970s and 1980s, when a single contaminated syringe was sometimes used to inoculate hundreds of people at a time against diseases. The second-biggest group of carriers, about 40 percent of the total, according to the government, got virus from their mothers during childbirth.

An online bulletin board maintained by Mr. Lu’s group is a heart-rending clearinghouse for stories of people fired from jobs, or students denied college educations, after mandatory blood tests revealed their statuses. There are also scores of tales about the ashamed and the distraught who killed themselves.

One former blogger who a lot of you know (at least from his blog) once wrote to me and told me of his own plight as a hepatitis b carrier. This government-perpetuated ignorance takes a toll. It ruins lives. It is irrational and inexcusable and it should be eliminated. Fat chance of that. As I said, half a decade of complaining, and I might as well be chasing windmills. But as futile and meaningless as these posts seem to be, I have to write them anyway. If it helps to inform even one person, it’s worth it. And even if it doesn’t it’s worth it. Because it’s something we shouldn’t be silent about. It’s plain wrong.

Thanks so much, CCP, for protecting us from the danger of a barber or doorman who is hepatitis b-positive. And for having the bravery and dedication to go after such a dangerous threat as an advocacy group for hepatitis B carriers’ rights. Jia you.

Update: James Fallows criticizes the CCP in strong language (for him) for a similar silence-all-dissenting-voices atrocity. Just as you get lulled into thinking they’re really improving, you get reminded that it is still in many ways a police state. Random arrests constitute one of the most terrifying abuses of power and must always be condemned, always. And yes (mandatory disclaimer), I condemned my own country for what seemed to be random arrests during the “war on terror.” But arresting someone based on a tip from an informant/bounty hunter, deplorable as that may be, can’t be compared to targeting dissenters and locking them up in the night to make sure no one rains on your anniversary parade.

Ironically, of course, nothing could make China look worse than what it’s doing now. On the other hand, they probably see the October beauty show as something useful to domestic audiences only, and simply don’t care how indignant we get over their crimes and abuse.

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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: 14 Comments

Yep, yep, and yep.

Why do they do this stuff? Honestly! This is how you celebrate your 60th anniversary? What are they so afraid of?

July 31, 2009 @ 8:29 am | Comment

Good question. So strong, so invincible, so macho and able to almost literally move earth and heaven. And so terrified and insecure. What a striking anomaly.

July 31, 2009 @ 12:01 pm | Comment

If you protect the rights of a minority group at the expense of the majority group, is it not an even bigger injustice, even bigger inhumanity, even bigger violation of human rights?

China has 1.3 billion people, you cannot simplistically take a Western set of assumptions and judgments and apply it to China. China has its own conditions.

Too Simple, Too Naive.

July 31, 2009 @ 12:01 pm | Comment

HE’S BACK!!!! An issue I had never thought about before, thanks for bringing it to my attention. Is it me or are you a little more firebrand now that you are back home? Maybe just in this case…anyway, I have a feeling we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to dumb draconian moves in order to “clean-up” before the 60th. But here’s the real question, we make complaints about the Chinese government for incromprehensible behaviors that as you note are usually geared to play well with the domestic audience…but what does that say about the domestic audience? Do you think things like this actually do play well to them, suggesting that the Chinese people themselves have a long way to go towards being sensitive towards human/individual rights? Or is the government way off base and these draconian measure actually make a “silent” public upset? I guess as long as it isn’t the majority being affected i.e. your average Han, the government is pretty safe to pick on whoever they please to make their “statements”. Anyway, the system being the way it is the “Chinese people” always seem to be able to shirk responsibility for their government’s inhuman behavior.

July 31, 2009 @ 12:01 pm | Comment

It’s the ostrich head in the sand …. if I cannot see it I cannot be scared of it.

If groups that elevate and raise people’s awareness cannot operate, then the people are not aware and therefore the problem does not exist.

July 31, 2009 @ 12:15 pm | Comment

Hong, that’s the oldest and lamest argument ever: “China has 1.3 billion people and therefore anything the government does no matter how odious or psycho can be excused.” Sorry, no matter how you want to parse it, the fact remains: this is blatant and unjustifiable discrimination, just like forbidding Chinese people to own land in California long ago (although that was 120 years ago and the world has become a bit more enlightened in the meantime). Anyway, there’s not going to be a rational argument about this, I suspect.

Andy, that’s a lot of questions! No, I’m not more firebrand – it’s this topic that brings it out. I hate stupidity and irrationality, especially when it is institutionalized.

China’s domestic audience does indeed have a long way to go before becoming sensitive toward human rights, but can we fault them for it? Most of them know about the issue to the extent that they learn about it in school or online (think anticnn), in which case the worst human rights violator in human history is America. So I am not so quick to lay a lot of blame on the Chinese people, and looking at China’s history, too, it is pretty easy to see that their most basic conceptions of individual rights are far different from our own. Just as we have a hard time with the notion of giving up our lives unquestioningly for the sake of an emperor. I can understand them getting apoplectic, having someone on the outside criticize them for their attitudes and their domestic practices, especially when the country doing the criticizing hosted Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. That’s not a justification of their attitude, but if we want to hope to influence it or even just talk to Chinese people about it, we have to understand where they’re coming from.

July 31, 2009 @ 12:18 pm | Comment

@Richard

What you describe is basically the way I’ve rationalized for a long time, but two things have made me reconsider that position.

1. It is obvious that today in China, when a strong majority can be represented (usually behind the veil of anonymity on the internet), the government’s ears prick up (most recent example is Green Dam). If enough people can get together to complain, the government can be influenced.

2. I think that the common position of “they haven’t been taught/don’t know any better” isn’t as simple as it was before. Chinese people often complain that it is a false assumption by the Western audience that they are “brain-washed”. They do not want to be infantalized by us anymore than their own government infantilizes them i.e they want to be viewed as responsible independent thinkers. So why not give it to them?

Point being I think that to blame it on their education is impossible without reverting back to the problematic idea of the Chinese populace as a brain-washed mass. Which you and I know is not true. If it isn’t true, then you have to give credit where credit is due, and allow the Chinese people to take more responsibility for either 1.supporting a draconian system that preys on the weak or 2. not using the resources they have to protect their fellow citizens from a bully government.

Anyway, I think that there is also a potential lack of understanding “where the Chinese people are coming from” when we blame everything on their repressive government and its education system…

July 31, 2009 @ 12:42 pm | Comment

Fair point that they shouldn’t be infantilized. And there is definitely a lot of indifference to what they (or many of them, including friends of mine) do know, especially when they are busy doing what they do best, making money. But the difference in cultural perspective is still real and I can’t fault them for their bewilderment at so much concern and outpouring of compassion for one individual who got in the government’s way, or even thousands. There is definitely a different mindset. No conversation made this more apparent to me than one I had with a colleague about Tank Man, in which she expressed utter amazement that we would see on rebellious de-harmonizer as a hero. This attitude, discussed at length by Peter Hessler in River Town, has to be taken into account when you discuss their outlook towards human rights.

July 31, 2009 @ 12:49 pm | Comment

Didn’t James Fallows assert that 9-11 was an “Inside Job”?

July 31, 2009 @ 11:36 pm | Comment

Jethro, you had better document that. Until you do, I’m calling your comment slander, and most likely the work of a troll. (And you can’t document it because it’s a lie, and you know it.)

July 31, 2009 @ 11:47 pm | Comment

[...] Does it really all go back to the October beauty pageant? We just saw the 20th anniversary of the CCP’s greatest source of insecurity and paranoia, and the actions taken in the months prior seem relatively lame compared to the 60th anniversary. My own site pumped out posts about June 4 for weeks before the anniversary, and for five days following. (The ax didn’t fall until June 9 for reasons I still don’t understand and probably never will.) And the detentions at the time seemed at lease explainable – the usual suspects who get detained every year. This seems different. They are going after people who are heroes to many in China. Even a defender of the rights of marginalized citizens. [...]

August 1, 2009 @ 2:00 am | Pingback

Discrimination is plentiful and diverse in China. Besides the novel discrimination based on a positive Hep B status, there is discrimination against each other among the Chinese people from different regions, discrimination solely based on family background in Chairman Mao’ s era, when the innocent children whose parents used to be landowners or capitalists in pre-Mao China were not allowed to enter college, also the reverse discrimination against Han Chinese engendered by the CCP’s policies to favor the Uyghur minority, which allow them to have a second child and enter college with lower scores in the college admission test ( but it can’t appease their hatred for the Chinese govt anyway), etc.

Unlike the racial discrimination based a racial theory, the discriminations existing in China are simply groundless and ridiculous. However, the people in China are able to accept all forms of discrimination without the critical mentality to question its legitimacy, just as they accept all the social and political injustice and inhumanity in China without a protest. In the meantime, they readily believe what the govt told them of the coming of a Chinese century.

August 1, 2009 @ 10:00 am | Comment

[...] I put up a link yesterday on Facebook to my post about the arrest of the advocate for victims of China’s medieval restrictions on hepatitis B carriers, a reader there was [...]

August 1, 2009 @ 11:03 am | Pingback

Slightly off topic but is anyone here aware of the quarantine restrictions due to Swine flu, for people entering china. It appears Jiangsu is quarantining anyone from outside China in their hotel for upto 7 days. Doesn’t seem to apply to anywhere else in China though.

August 3, 2009 @ 11:15 am | Comment

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