A Chinese language report from Hong Kong's "Apple Daily" on April 21, 2003: Containing fire with paper will never succeed (Editor: an old Chinese saying); neither will the attempt to conceal the true number of SARS cases.

The Department of Health in China yesterday announced a dramatic increase in the number of SARS cases. In Beijing, the number was changed from over 40 to over 300, with over 400 suspected cases.

Covering up the Truth Is a Common Practice By Chinese Officials

No one can determine the accuracy of the newly-announced number of atypical pneumonia cases in China, as it is not clear whether other provinces including remote and poor provinces have truthfully reported all the possible cases. No matter how much the number may increase, the newly-announced number has already indicated that atypical pneumonia is still in the outbreak phase in some areas of China. The claim that "atypical pneumonia has been effectively controlled" is nothing but a lie repeated over and over again.

In order to change its image of being "a constant liar," and to warn all officials who have lied about the true situations of atypical pneumonia, the Chinese Communist Party announced yesterday that Zhang Wenkang, minister of the Department of Health, and Meng Xuenong, mayor of Beijing, have been removed from their posts in the Party. According to China's political system in which the Party supervises the government, dismissing the two officers from their Party posts is equivalent to removing them from their government posts. We believe that in the near future the Department of State and the People's Congress will formally announce this change.

Zhang Wenkang and Meng Xuenong have been concealing the epidemic, and have been stressing that everything is under control. Now that the lies are exposed, it is no surprise that they have been removed from their posts. However, they are not the only two officials who intended to hide the truth. As a matter of fact, covering up the truth is a common practice among high-ranking officials in China.

A System Lacking Media Supervision

In fact, ever since atypical pneumonia (SARS) first appeared in Guangdong last November, Chinese officials at various levels have been using all means to cover up the true situation of the epidemic. Despite the fact that there is no knowledge about the source, characteristics, and transmission channels of the virus, they keep claiming that the epidemic is under control and that it is safe to tour and do business in China. Some officials even criticized the Hong Kong media for widely reporting the epidemic. When most officials are lying, can you expect Zhang Wenkang and Meng Xuenong to stand up and tell the truth?

Moreover, the totalitarian system in China encourages lying to cover up mistakes. We should be clear that the administration of the Chinese government never follows any due process, nor does it have enough transparency and media supervision. Whenever there is any problem, the first thing officials will do is cover up the truth and prevent the news from leaking out, thus avoiding taking responsibility so as to remain in their posts. As a result, big problems are said to be small problems, and small problems are said to be nothing. At most, officials will provide only partial facts to top authorities. Under such a system of lies from top to bottom, bad things such as the epidemic cannot receive due attention, and will of course "be controlled." As long as such a totalitarian system still exists, and as long as there is no independent media, removing some officials from their posts cannot possibly change the vice of lying that Chinese officials developed a long time ago.