Chinese AIDS Whistleblower Dies After Play Goes Ahead to Standing Ovation

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shuping-wang.jpg Wang Shuping, a veteran public health expert and researcher, became internationally known as a whistleblower from the central Chinese province of Henan, in undated photo. She died on Saturday Sept. 21, 2019, aged 60.
Wang Shuping via Hampstead Theatre

A Chinese doctor who fled China after blowing the whistle on the spread of AIDS through contaminated blood transfusions has died in the United States.

Wang Shuping died on Saturday Sept. 21 while hiking in Salt Lake City, Utah. She was 60 years old.

Wang, a veteran public health expert and researcher, became internationally known as a whistleblower from the central Chinese province of Henan.

Her refusal to keep quiet about the blood-selling schemes that enabled the HIV virus to spread unchecked through poverty-stricken rural communities, leaving an entire generation of AIDS orphans behind it, is believed to have saved the lives of thousands.

Wang first came across the severe cross-contamination of plasma while working at a plasma collection station run by the local epidemic prevention center in Henan's Zhoukou city.

Quickly realizing that the plasma would spread hepatitis C and HIV among service users, she reported the issue to officials at the local health bureau. She was fired.

"After I reported it to the Zhoukou health bureau in Henan province, no action was taken to stop the HIV epidemic," Wang wrote in a statement published just a couple of weeks before her death. "Only after I reported my results to the central government in Beijing was any action taken."

"They requested that I falsify my information about the HIV epidemic situation among the plasma donors, but I refused. In order to cover up the HIV epidemic situation, they broke up our clinical testing center, hit me with a heavy stick and insulted me, calling me a virus."

Wang's intransigence in the face of official bullying was informed by her childhood during the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution, when she witnessed her parents being forced to kneel onstage with dunce caps on their heads at a "struggle session" attended by thousands of people.

Refused to denounce her parents

She was herself regarded as the daughter of Nationalist KMT spy, but she refused to succumb to pressure to denounce her own parents, as was common at the time, and was expelled from primary school as a result.

Wang eventually moved away from her hometown and was adopted by a ruling Chinese Communist Party official, changing her name to avoid links to her family's past to enable her to resume her schooling.

As a public health research in Henan, Wang continued to be targeted by state security police, who accused her of smearing the province's reputation.

She was physically attacked during this time, and her clinic's water and electricity cut off. She eventually divorced her husband, who had been suffering by association with her.

"They pressured me to close the clinical testing center but I wouldn't give in, and then Zhoukou health bureau sent people to cut off the electricity and water supply to my lab, forcing it to discard thousands of blood samples from blood donors," Wang wrote in a statement dated Sept. 3.

"Eventually, they collaborated with the Henan provincial health bureau to close the clinical testing center."

Wang continued to speak out about the tainted plasma scandal after she moved to the U.S. and remarried, with state security police continuing to target her family back home in China.

The police wanted her to cancel a play -- The King of Hell's Palace -- that was performed on Sept. 12 at London's Hampstead Theatre, but instead, Wang issued the Sept. 3 statement defending herself. She then attended the play's premiere, where she was given a standing ovation by the audience.

Threats to relatives

The play dramatizes how the HIV epidemic spread in the Zhoukou region 24 years ago.

"[State security officers said] this play will embarrass and damage the Chinese government and the reputations of specific officials," Wang said in her retort to the Chinese authorities published on the website of the Hampstead Theatre.

"In China, pressurizing and punishing relatives and co-workers of people who say things that the Chinese government doesn't like is common," she wrote. "The government steps up pressure bit-by-bit. If you don't give in after a few warnings, they start threatening your family, friends and colleagues."

"This recent investigation from the ministry of state security is panicking my family and relatives," Wang said. "I am particularly concerned for my daughter, who is very scared about being approached. Two former colleagues in Beijing are too afraid to answer my phone calls and emails after high-level officers visited them."

She said another former colleague had deleted her from her social media contacts after being visited by officials.

"It is very intimidating and threatening to be visited by state security. During the past 10 years, officers from the ministry of health, ministry of public security and ministry of state security have been to my hometown to interrogate my relatives and colleagues several times, trying to silence me," she wrote.

"I am in America now, and am a US citizen. I tell myself that I protected vulnerable and helpless people and that I have to be strong against evil powers. I hope the play helps expose and stop the kinds of corruption and bullying Chinese doctors, health officials and AIDS activists like Dr. Gao Yaojie, Wan Yanhai and myself endured during our efforts to draw attention to the Henan AIDS epidemic of the 1990s."

"With bullying and censorship, the government has covered up the HCV and HIV epidemics in China very successfully," she wrote. "Why,­ in 2019, do they worry so much about a play being produced in London, twenty-four years after the events it depicts?"

Wang said the play would go ahead regardless.

"The only thing harder than standing up to the Communists and their security police is not giving in to pressure from friends and relatives who are threatened with their livelihoods all because you are speaking out."

"But even after all this time, I will still not be silenced."

Reported by RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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