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.
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.