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.


Total Eclipse in Suzhou

I know I am (very) late with this, now that the eclipse is more than a day old. But it was breathtaking to stand under the overcast sky yesterday, still quite bright at 9.30am, and watch the sky get progressively darker in a matter of seconds, turning nearly black after about five minutes. It was especially exciting because heavy thundershowers earlier in the morning had made the hundreds of spectators at the hotels gloomy. While they may not have gotten their full money’s worth, it was a dramatic and rare event nonetheless. The photos were captured by my friend Ben from the outdoor area of the third-floor lobby of the Sheraton hotel in Suzhou.

First, you can see the view before the eclipse started.


Then it gets darker.


And then you know there’s a total eclipse taking place, and not just some dark clouds.




And then after five minutes the sky begins to return to normal.



Yes, it would have been a lot more magical if the skies had been clear, but this was nothing to sneeze at.

This trip, my last before moving back to the US, got interrupted by an unexpected email a few days ago when I was in Suzhou. Just like the last time when I wasn’t sure what to do next, back in April, another opportunity simply appeared, and it was again due to this blog, if somewhat indirectly. I’ll be doing writing and media relations for an NGO devoted to a cause I care a lot about, and it will bring me back to Asia (though perhaps not China) less than two weeks after I return home, at least for a couple of weeks. Fate plays strange tricks, and you never know what’s next. What was that Forrest Gump metaphor again?



A couple of days ago I came down to this beautiful city for the first time to have a look around, meet my site designer (a great designer and a great host) and maybe get a glimpse of the eclipse tomorrow morning, though weather reports and the current rainstorm don’t bode well for that. The eclipse was last on my list, but I can imagine the swarms of people that checked into my hotel this afternoon (which was empty yesterday) will be very disappointed if the forecasts hold true. What can you do?

I leave China next week. I came here seeking to unwind, and somewhat ironically and wholly unexpectedly as soon as i arrived I got an offer for a freelance assignment that’s kept me in the room all day today. Which wasn’t such an unwelcome thing, since the day before I nearly melted down in Suzhou’s famous summer heat climbing the hills on Dongshan Dao. The new work practically guarantees I’ll be busy until my flight takes off for America in a few days, and for the next two weeks after that. So more silence to follow.

Below is a picture my friend Ben took yesterday from the top of Suzhou’s San Shan Dao. It really is a dreamlike place that, like Kunming and Qingdao, has a distinctive look and feel that makes you wonder for a moment whether you’re still in China. (And sorry about the photo screwing up the alignment – working on it, but my connection now is too slow to re-upload and align. It may have to stay that way for a day or two.)



Thank you for the people, China

I just want to say that the people who showed up for my party last night are the greatest anywhere. Old friends, journalists, colleagues, blog readers, bloggers, Chinese and foreigners – a perfect batch of outstanding friends. The tragedy in Urumqi ate into the list, as several reporters were on their way there, but about 60 guests managed to find their way to the reclusive cafe for the get-together, which lasted from 7pm past 1am.

As I prepare to leave, I keep being reminded of how lucky I’ve been in terms of the people who’ve let me into their lives. Last week I spent an afternoon sipping coffee with Matt Schiavenza, a long-time member of the blog roll and all around great guy, at a cafe in Kunming to discuss the joys and challenges of living in the Yunnan city I love so much. The week before I spent an hour with one of the newer and most impressive English-language bloggers, Mark, at a Beijing Starbucks. Last night I met John Kennedy of Global Voices Online, someone I’d had some disagreements with over the years, and I think it’s safe to say a new friendship was created. Of the people who came last night, I know probably about 40 percent from this blog, in one way or another.

I know there are some terrible things happening here, and I haven’t been offering my opinion because right now I don’t have the time to follow them and make any meaningful contribution to that conversation. But no matter what is going on around you, even in the worst of times, it’s the people you know, the relationships you develop and grow, that keep us going. I had no friends when I came here in 2002, and now I feel I’m friends with just about everyone. What a difference that makes in your outlook on life. The difference between bitter and sweet.

So thanks again to all who attended, and thanks to all of you who keep trudging to this site despite the government’s best efforts to keep you away.

Lisa and I will go to Qingdao for a couple of days starting today and I expect the blog to continue being slow for a while, maybe until I’m back and settled in America in a couple of weeks. But it isn’t disappearing, even if the site traffic is (thanks, Nanny). Please stay, and thanks for letting me into your lives, if only for a few seconds a day. This blog will remain my lifeline to China.


Welcome to the club, Danwei

Just about everyone’s favorite English-language site on China appears to be unreachable here. This might be server issue, but that’s what I kept thinking a couple of weeks ago.

…Danwei’s server in Texas has been generally unreachable from mainland China since around 4pm Friday afternoon. A targeted block? An unfortunate side effect of recent upgrades made to improve the efficiency of filtering unwholesome material? A giant mass hallucination?

It’s impossible to tell at this point. So spend the weekend outside and we’ll see if we can’t get things turned around by Monday.

Update (2009.07.04): Well, a new IP address has made the server reachable again, but the connection invariably gets reset. Not the best possible situation to be in, I’m afraid.

I’ve been trying to access the site from Kunming tonight with no luck. CNReviews looks at the recent spate of blocks, highlighting a number of recent posts on the topic by Chinayouren. Scroll to the end of the post to see Kai’s advice on what we blocked bloggers can do about it.

Feel free to use this as an open thread. I think we’ve talked the censorship story to death this past week.