Health Ministry's Denial of SARS Cover-Up Sparks Torrent of Criticism from Internet Users in China
(Clearwisdom.net report on June 1, 2003)
The Chinese Vice Health Minister Gao Qiang declared that SARS had begun to be effectively controlled in mainland China during a press conference on May 30, 2003. He also made excuses for former Health Minister Zhang Wenkang, claiming that his declaring the epidemic under control was not intentionally hiding the facts, and his being removed as Minister was not a result of the cover-up. This comment from Gao Qiang caused a torrent of strong criticism on the internet.
Denying the Cover-up of the Epidemic
According to Zhongxin net, during the press conference on May 30, 2003, a Hong Kong "Wen Wei Po" journalist remarked that many overseas media were very concerned about Mr. Jiang Yanyong, and regarded him as a hero, although the Chinese government tried to downplay Mr. Jiang's role. When the Wen Wei Po reporter asked Gao's opinion on Mr. Jiang's role in exposing the facts about the epidemic, Gao replied that many journalists had asked him similar questions on different occasions but that he did not understand this interest in Professor Jiang.
When a UPI (United Press International) journalist asked what kind of consequences former Health Minister Zhang Wenkang and former Beijing City Mayor Meng Xuenong would suffer after having been removed from their positions due to their role in the cover-up, Gao said: "First, I do not agree with this journalist's impression that Comrade Zhang Wenkang has been removed from his position because of covering up the epidemic. The Chinese government has not covered up any information about the epidemic." The same journalist immediately followed up by saying: "I remember in April, in this same room, Mr. Zhang Wenkang told every journalist that SARS was effectively under control, although in fact, SARS was spreading throughout China. I cannot understand how you can say that he did not hide the truth." Gao Qiang answered: "Comrade Zhang Wenkang declared here in April that SARS was effectively under control in China, which to my opinion, was not intentionally hiding the epidemic. At that time, we were having difficulty collecting accurate data because the information channels were blocked."
Gao Qiang's conduct was unconvincing to the journalists. Despite the fact that he just declared SARS to be effectively under control, another journalist still inquired, "You said one month ago that the epidemic was effectively under control, but in fact it was not. How can we believe what you say today?"
According to the BBC's report, the WHO (World Health Organization) criticized the Chinese government for not being open with data about the epidemic. WHO experts that went to China to investigate the epidemic said that the actual number of deaths and infections far exceeds the officially published number.
Gao's Talk Results in Sharp Criticism and the Use of Invectives
Gao's defense of Zhang Wenkang and his refusal to praise Doctor Jiang Yanyong for speaking the truth caused intensive reaction from Internet users. Some Internet users said Gao was "shameless," and highly praised Doctor Jiang Yanyong.
One person on sina.com.cn upbraided Gao, "I suggest you resign after the epidemic; drink your tea together with old Zhang, and enjoy your senior years!"
Some Internet users said, "The reason people are interested in Doctor Jiang is because they long to hear the truth. Why is this so hard to understand?" Another person wrote a poem entitled,
'To Army Doctor Jiang:'
A lone, slender pine on a mountaintop
Swirling winds do not move him,
Without the need for fame or public recognition,
His virtue earns him everyone's respect."
The "Qiang-Guo Forum" of Renmin net was inundated by articles condemning Gao Qiang. Apple Daily reported a comment saying, "Since Brother Tao (meaning Hu Jintao) is not home, I suggest Brother Bao (meaning Wen Jiabao) remove his (Gao's) job, to see if he can still bite people then!" Another user named "Zhixin" said, "Gao Qiang tried to find excuses for Zhang, damaging the image of integrity we are trying hard to establish!" This comment was quickly removed.
Did Jiang's Cronies Try to Reverse the Verdict When Hu Jintao Was Abroad?
Zhang Wenkang, Jiang Zemin's personal doctor, lied to the world media, and was dismissed by Hu Jintao. Meng Xuenong, a member of Hu's circle, was also dismissed.
Apple Daily said that for the first time, a Chinese official openly called for the reinstatement of Zhang Wenkang, but not for Meng Xuenong. Indirectly, this negates the admission of mistakes made by Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao, Wu Yi, etc. about the handling of the epidemic.
Currently, Hu Jintao is visiting Russia.