Reference Material: Looking at the Credibility of China's Official Propaganda in Light of the SARS Outbreak
[Editor's Note: This article was written by a non-practitioner and does not necessarily represent the understanding of Falun Gong practitioners.]
After Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) spread to many countries around the world and caused dozens of deaths, the state controlled media in China were finally allowed to reveal the extent of the epidemic. However, it has been at least four months since the initial report of this disease in Guangdong Province in China. Bao Tong [Mr. Zhao Ziyang, the former General Secretary of Chinese Communist Party, was forced to step down because he was sympathetic to the 1989 students' democratic movement in Tiananmen Square. Mr. Bao was his secretary.], a former official of the Chinese Communist Party central government, said that blocking reports about SARS is the biggest scandal created by the Chinese Government in the twenty-first century. Bao Tong's comments, presented below, represent his personal viewpoint.
Looking at the Credibility of China's Official Propaganda in Light of the SARS Epidemic
Last fall, SARS first surfaced in Southern China; however, none of the media in China reported the problem. While civilians were not aware of SARS and had no protection, this dangerous disease started quietly spreading across China. It went from Guangdong Province to other provinces, and from China to other countries including Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, and Canada. In Hong Kong, within a few weeks, there were more than 700 SARS patients, of which 16 died. Fortunately, Hong Kong still has freedom of the press and the media quickly reported the outbreak, which warned people, raised the awareness of the residents, and caused the Hong Kong authorities to intensify the prevention and control of the disease. The media publicized the status of the epidemic to people in Hong Kong and the rest of the world, which provided valuable information.
There is no freedom of the press in China. Just like widespread corruption, the epidemic was hidden in a black box. A search of Xinhuanet.com revealed that not a single report about SARS was published since last fall. There was no report about the source of SARS, or any information about SARS development, trends, or precautionary measures. The central government used all means to keep the information from being published outside of China, yet it allowed the media to report the overall or even local patient numbers and the number of deaths, as if this severe epidemic happened outside the earth or it was just not important.
Oddly enough, a search of Xinhuanet.com using the key word "SARS" found it mentioned in the "Stock Market Review," or in such headlines as "The pharmaceutical industry sector and vinegar industry became the hot spot because of the recent SARS epidemic." What else was found? A short news item on March 19 stated that the Chinese Health Minister told the WHO representatives in China, "Some areas in Guangdong Province have had SARS since November 2002. The Chinese Government has treated it with high importance and quickly organized medical institutions and experts to treat the patients, analyze the causes, and adopt precautionary measures. Currently the epidemic is under control. Most patients have recovered. The people's lives and workplaces have returned to normal." "The WHO representative in China highly praised the effective measures taken by the Chinese Government." This piece of news was published right before the Political Bureau meeting. It painted a false, but indeed pretty, picture of peace and prosperity but did not provide any practical information for the public. Facing such a fatal epidemic, it only talked about taking "effective measures" but did not tell people what the "effective measures taken by China to prevent and control the SARS" were!
Not until April 1, almost half a year after the first case of SARS was reported, did Xinhuanet.com publish the first article telling people how to protect themselves against SARS.
If the media had been allowed to cover the issue openly at the beginning of the outbreak, reveal the reality of the situation and the risk to the public and to people's lives, it would have resulted in the necessary precautions being instituted earlier. How many lives could have been saved in China and elsewhere?
If the WHO representative in China had not requested a meeting with the Chinese Health Minister, how could the cover-up have been detected? How many more people would have died?