When people ask the government if it is okay to steal, the government's usual response is that you may have stolen a little too much this time. That is a good way to describe Deputy Minister of the Department of Public Health, Gao Qiang's performance in a press conference held on April 20th. Why did the number of SARS cases in Beijing suddenly jump from 37 to 339? As the Deputy Minister, perhaps it would have been good had he given a slight hint that the government did something wrong. But he didn't. He was speaking in a down right bureaucratic tone, craftily quibbling in every way possible, putting all the blame on external causes, without admitting any guilt.

Although the [Party] has made significant strategic adjustments in the handling of "Atypical pneumonia" by relieving Health Minister Zhang Wenkang and Beijing Mayor Meng Xuenong of their party duties, we have reason to believe that the dismissal was but a repeat of similar episodes in the history of the [Party,] whereby scapegoats were used to divert attention from the real issue.

Gao Qiang claimed that there were three main reasons for the dramatic modification of the numbers: The first claim is that Atypical Pneumonia is a severe disaster that descended suddenly from nowhere. It is rather difficult to diagnose; time is needed from admission to confirmation of diagnosis. The second reason claimed: Hospitals in Beijing lack effective communication, resulting in an incomplete tally of the number of cases. And third: The Department of Public Health was ill prepared for such sudden outbreak of a public health crisis; the system for epidemic prevention was rather ineffectual, and since the requests for reports were unclear, so, consequently, were the instructions and directions for the reporting.

Dr. Jiang Yanyong, a retired Beijing doctor from the 301 Military Hospital, was outraged by Health Minister Zhang Wenkang's report on April 3rd that Beijing only had "12 cases and 3 deaths." He stated on record that he was aware of at least "60 cases and 7 deaths" in the 309 Hospital alone. This figure was later confirmed by the World Health Organization's (WHO) onsite investigation.

Was the omission of these "60 cases" caused by one of the 3 main reasons listed by Minister Gao?

1. Time is needed from "admission" to "confirmed diagnosis."

This is not a valid reason because the 309 Hospital had already confirmed that these were "Atypical pneumonia" cases.

2. Lack of effective communication between the hospitals in Beijing.

This is untenable because all the 60 cases were in the same ward in 309 Hospital; what "effective communication" was required, and with whom?

3. Unprepared, and requests for reports were unclear.

This is again untenable as SARS was already an international focus, and WHO had repeatedly made requests for reports on the SARS cases. The requests could not have been clearer.

Public Health Minister Zhang Wenkang solemnly declared on April 3rd that "Beijing is still a very safe place" and "the epidemic is effectively contained." On April 10th, his Deputy Ma Xiaowei again unequivocally reaffirmed that "The figure is accurate for now" and "is inclusive of all confirmed cases from both local and army hospitals." The Director for Disease Control of the Department of Public Health Qi Xiaoqiu proudly declared on the same day that "confirmed cases will drop from now on."

It is apparent that they knew they were lying to the people of the world.

Today, Health Minister Zhang Wenkang and Beijing Mayor Meng Xuenong become scapegoats and are dismissed, but we have yet to witness any willingness on the part of the [Party] to admit wrongdoing.

In the history of the [Party], numerous sacrificial lambs have been let go during successive political movements. The big disaster of the 10-year Cultural Revolution was born by the "Gang of Four." In fact, many had participated in the Cultural Revolution, from high-ranking officials to the common people, but hardly anyone had come forth and expressed regret. With this kind of national mentality, how could one expect to prevent the recurrence of another disaster like the Cultural Revolution? This is the reality. When Jiang instigated the crackdown on Falun Gong, he had far more modern state propaganda machinery at his disposal to mount an even more aggressive attack than during the Cultural Revolution; how many people are brave enough to stand up and speak the truth this time? In fact, when there is a sacrificial lamb to offer, it at least signifies that the regime still feels confident about getting the situation under control. On the Falun Gong issue however, there isn't even a sacrificial lamb to be offered. This is because Jiang is charging in the front line fighting the war all on his own.

Like a young thief, learning how to steal better next time so that he is not discovered, the [Party] is probably learning a similar, perverse kind of lesson -- how to be more flawless when lying in the future so as not to be caught. The globalisation of SARS presents a new problem for the [Party], rendering its usual tricks of concealment ineffective. Undoubtedly it will try even harder from now on to more thoroughly enforce information blockades on domestic problems and issues.

What exactly did the [Party] learn this time, after dismissing the officials when confronted with SARS, we will have to wait and see, keeping our eyes open.

Please refer to http://www.clearwisdom.net/emh/articles/2003/4/30/35094.html for part 1 of this article.

April 23, 2003