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Avian Flu: The China Perspective

I had a little bird
Its name was Enza
I opened up the window
and in flew Enza.

In 1918 and 1919, this was the last ditty you might want to hear—and not just on the playground. That year the world saw the loss of over 50 million lives—more than the death toll in World War I. The little "Enza bird," or influenza, also known as the Spanish flu, was the cause of it all.

Eighty years later, this little bird has begun to haunt us again. This time its name is "bird flu," or avian influenza (avian flu). A flu virus identified as H5N1, which has been on scientists’ radar screens since 1997 and particularly since its resurgence in 2003, causes the bird flu. Like the 1918 virus, however, the H5N1 influenza virus is unusually virulent, with the potential to cause a public health catastrophe.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the current outbreaks of the highly pathogenic avian influenza, which began in Southeast Asia in mid-2003, are the largest and most severe on record. Despite the death or destruction of an estimated 150 million birds, the virus H5N1 is still considered endemic in many parts of Asia. Starting in mid-2005, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Turkey, Romania, Ukraine, and even Columbia in Latin America began to report H5N1 outbreaks in poultry.

In the current outbreak, more than 100 laboratory-confirmed human cases have been reported in six countries: Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Turkey, and China. So far, the disease has manifested only after direct contact with infected poultry or surfaces and objects contaminated by their feces. The real nightmare for health experts, which has yet to come, is when the H5N1 virus mutates into a viral strain that can easily jump from person to person. This could set off a pandemic, potentially killing millions of people without immunity to the new strain.

"Made in China?"

Interestingly, chances are that this little bird—just as your shirt, pants, or your Christmas tree lights—is actually "made in China," according to a "bird flu hunter" based in Hong Kong.

Dr. Guan Yi, an associate professor in the Department of Microbiology at the University of Hong Kong, has specialized in the study of avian flu for years. Through research done in a laboratory at Shantou University in mainland China, Dr. Guan and his team have collected and analyzed more than 100,000 samples from birds throughout the country in the last five years. Dr. Guan said that scientific evidence showed that H5N1, the potent avian virus currently spreading worldwide, probably originated in southern China.{mospagebreak}

"Based on all existing scientific evidence, southern China is the birthplace of this disease. It has been repeatedly exported to other places from this location. The virus found in Eastern Europe is the same as we found at Lake Qinghai in China," Dr. Guan said.

Outside of mainland China, bird flu hit Hong Kong the earliest. In 1997, Hong Kong had the first recorded instance of human infection with H5N1. The virus infected 18 people and killed six of them. In early 2003, the virus caused two infections, with one death, in a Hong Kong family that had traveled to southern China.

Following the 1997 bird flu, Dr. Guan and his colleagues have traced the origin of the H5N1 virus back to a single goose in Guangdong, Hong Kong’s neighboring Chinese province.

This pattern is reminiscent of the 2003 SARS epidemic. It also originated in southern China and then spread to the rest of world, claiming about 800 lives as the result of a cover-up by the Chinese authorities.

"This is a huge tragedy and a bad joke. It is about the helplessness of human beings. Now the key question is, ‘Why? Why it is just from our region?’ This virus (first) occurred in southern China, and, what’s more, it has been around for as long as 10 years! This is something to which we have to give some reconsideration," said Dr. Guan.

Dr. Guan and his team published their scientific results in the prestigious scientific journal Nature, concluding that the genetic markers of the viruses found in the Qinghai outbreak pointed to southern China as the likely source. The publication of Dr. Guan’s findings, however, got him into trouble with the Chinese communist authorities. After the article appeared in print, China’s Ministry of Agriculture criticized Dr. Guan’s conclusions and the quality of his research. The authorities later shut down his laboratory at Shantou University.

Dr. Guan may not be the only one whose efforts to track down the source of bird flu are not welcome by the Chinese authorities.

A Japanese virologist stunned his colleagues at a meeting in Germany in mid-November when he broke the news of a confidential disclosure from a Chinese scientist that 300 people had died from H5N1 bird flu in China. As the head of virology at Tokyo’s National Institute of Infectious Disease, a WHO-collaborating center for bird flu, Dr. Tashiro said that he got his information through a "private channel," an unofficial, unpublished report about China’s H5N1 infection situation regarding humans that noted the deaths of 300 people.

On November 16, 2005, the Chinese Health Department confirmed the first three human cases of bird flu in China; two of the infected died. Among them were a sister and brother in Hunan Province. Back in October, the authorities denied the presence of bird flu, saying only that the sister died of an unknown type of pneumonia. Because her body was cremated immediately, the actual cause of death will never be known. WHO insisted on sending medical personnel to check on the brother, who survived, and finally confirmed that the boy had had H5N1.{mospagebreak}

China has so far reported seven human cases of bird flu: three fatalities in eastern Anhui Province, two recovered cases in central Hunan Province and northeast Liaoning Province, one in the southern Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, and one in the eastern province of Jiangxi. The most recent fatality was reported on December 29, 2005. The infected individual was a 41-year-old factory worker surnamed Zhou in Sanming City, Fujian Province. She showed symptoms of fever and pneumonia on December 6 and was hospitalized two days later. She died on December 21, according to a report released by the Health Ministry.

China’s Special Concerns

As the bird flu continues to spread across the borders of Asian countries to Europe and other parts of the world, fears of an ultimate pandemic are also starting to mount. To cope with such a possible pandemic, governments worldwide are trying to stockpile medicines and vaccines against the flu virus. Apart from these efforts, China is an area of particular concern for other reasons.

In China, domestic flocks are not only a major source of meat but also an important part of farmers’ domestic economy. Every family in the countryside raises domestic fowl and lives in close proximity to its birds. Because 80 percent of its population resides in rural areas, China presents a vast danger zone of opportunity for the avian flu virus to jump to human beings. Once in a human being, the real threat is that the virus could then mutate and acquire, if it ever happens, the ability to be spread from person to person.

To halt the spread of bird flu, the first step is to control the source of infection and break the chain of transmission once it is identified. It is necessary to cull and destroy all the remaining live domestic fowl in the epidemic area as soon as possible. Such a strategy appears to be just a matter of implementation, but in China it can be a daunting task to put into practice.

In most instances, the financial loss and damage to the family economy is too devastating for many low-income farmers to ever overcome, making the farmers usually very reluctant to report any suspected cases of avian flu. Nor is it to the benefit of local officials to insist on such a report because of the negative publicity and possible damage to the local economy. In some instances, those who reveal the presence of the epidemic can even face retaliation and punishment.

According to a report by the Chongqing Morning News on December 4, 2005, and later picked up by many other media outlets, Qiao Songju, a farmer who came from Jiangsu Province and raised geese and ducks in Lianyin Village in Anhui Province, received just such treatment. After learning of a sudden, massive death of geese and the villagers’ plan to transport the geese to other areas for sale, Qiao reported to the Ministry of Agriculture his suspicion that this was an avian flu outbreak. The Ministry confirmed the presence of the H5N1 flu virus and 126,185 fowl were subsequently eliminated. Qiao’s action caused resentment among the local farmers and also angered the local officials. Two days after the epidemic was publicized, the local public security department arrested Qiao on charges of being involved in fraud two years before. At the police station, Qiao was asked: "How much money did you get from the Ministry of Agriculture (as a reward)? Who encouraged you to report? Do you realize the severe losses you’ve caused?" Qiao said that he didn’t get any reward from the Ministry of Agriculture and denied that he had ever committed any crime.{mospagebreak}

In battling the avian flu, the government claims to provide subsidies to compensate for the loss to farmers. But farmers say that they are empty promises. Qiao complained to Agriculture Minster Ja Youlin, "If the government would give us full compensation, there would be no need for me to report." He said that many farmers are unwilling to report any outbreak because the subsidies fall too far short of making up for their losses.

Hu Jia, a famous AIDS activist in China, explains that either the government does not fulfill the promise or, when it does, officials at each level of government skim off a portion of the money, with only a small fraction ending up in the farmer’s hand.

Due to insufficient knowledge about avian flu, farmers usually do not pay much attention to the potential danger of infection in human beings. Farmers rarely bury their infected poultry after it has been destroyed. They either cook and eat it or sell to middlemen who collect the carcasses and then sell them to various restaurants. After special cooking, the difference between a diseased bird and a healthy one is almost indiscernible.

Media Not Transparent

Media transparency is another area of particular concern in China. Asia Times compiled a "Top 12" list of online news items that were blocked in China in 2005. Avian flu is listed as number nine. Asia Times reported that the Chinese media did not confirm the avian flu breakout until after the news was posted on the Internet and widely reported by the media outside of China.

An article entitled "Avian Flu: China Should Confess to the World" in Asia Times on November 21, 2005, revealed that China kept a secret policy on avian flu before 2004. Since 2000, many research groups in China have already been investigating avian flu viruses, including H5N1 and another less virulent virus (H9N2), and vaccines. The article also quoted a report by First Financial Daily on November 11, 2005, that Chinese scientists have isolated three clones of the H5N1 virus in addition to other virus subtypes from sick poultry between 1995 and1999. The results were published in the fourth 2002 issue of Biological Bulletin.

China has also tried to prevent foreign media from visiting the avian flu epidemic area. On February 4, 2004, Reporters Without Borders revealed that Chinese police detained TV reporters from France 2 TV for two hours in a Beijing suburb, alleging that the reporters had videotaped the vaccination process of domestic poultry without permission. In outbreaks of avian flu in other provinces at the end of January, China also prohibited foreign media, including European TV ARD, France 2 TV, and BBC, from visiting those areas.{mospagebreak}

In a commentary article published in First Financial Daily on October 31, 2005, Hu Shuli, the outspoken chief editor of Caijing (Finance, one of the top financial magazines in China), criticized the practice of China’s domestic media reporting on avian flu outbreaks only after the news is well known outside the country. She also complained that local officials had stymied her journalists’ attempts to explore the death of a 12-year-old girl in Hunan Province, the first possible human H5N1 influenza case publicly reported in China.

Scientists have long been mystified by the low number of cases in humans reported in China, which has had such severe bird flu outbreaks in 11 provinces across the country that it recently announced plans to vaccinate 14.2 billion chickens, geese, and ducks. Far smaller countries with less severe bird flu outbreaks have reported many more human cases. Vietnam has reported 91 cases of bird flu in humans, with 41 deaths, whereas China has just recently started to report human cases, with seven cases of infection in humans resulting in three deaths.

In an aired phone interview, a resident of Anhui Province said: "We did not know this at first. A student was sent to a hospital that specialized in respiratory diseases. We were just told that it was pneumonia. The doctor, who said that the student had gotten infected from domestic poultry, could do nothing about this disease. Later I asked, ‘What pneumonia? Isn’t it just bird flu?’ He laughed and said he had to listen to his superiors, listen to his leaders, and follow the official newspaper. I said, ‘Aren’t you the expert?’ He laughed and said it was not convenient for him to say anything. He could say nothing, and if I continued to ask, I would be asking for trouble."

"Quite honestly, some provinces have the virus and they still haven’t announced any outbreak. I can show direct evidence, even though China is still trying very hard to block my research. The government doesn’t do any surveillance studies, but they say there is no outbreak." Dr. Guan told Reuters, "In the eyes of Chinese officials, any honest information about bird flu could be a threat to their jobs." Dr. Guan continued, "The leaders say they are working very hard, because they don’t want to sacrifice their political futures. But for the international community, they have nothing to share. They don’t want to lose their prestige, their power, or their position—like the Health Minister who lost his job in the SARS outbreak. They want to mask things. That’s why they only allow one laboratory to do any work. Then they have only one version, and they can manipulate the figures."

"The outside world has no way of verifying the information," the Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily commented in an investigative report in November. "The Beijing authorities are imposing a tight blockade on news from the epidemic-affected areas," the newspaper said. "There are now numerous clues indicating that some people are covering up the epidemic situation or are too afraid to make the epidemic situation known to the public."{mospagebreak}

On Thursday, December 29, 2005, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang pledged at a regular press briefing that China would continue to strengthen its cooperation with the world community to deal with the challenge of bird flu. But Qin still did not respond to WHO’s requests to share more samples of bird flu collected from animal and human cases with the international society, which would help to develop anti-bird flu drugs and vaccines and trace the mutation of the virus.The article is partially based on the script of a TV program "China Today" by Journey to the East.

Xiao Yang is a reporter for Journey to the East, a TV program, and Wei Zou is a correspondent for Chinascope.

The Chinese Media’s Freezing Point

The latest assault by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on freedom of information hit the popular weekly magazine Bingdian (Freezing Point), which is affiliated with the China Youth Daily. Publication of Bingdian was suspended by the Chinese communist regime on January 24, 2006. Editor-in-Chief Li Datong[1] and Assistant Editor-in-Chief Lu Yuegang were subsequently stripped of all editorial responsibilities.

The event that triggered this retribution was an article published in Bingdian on January 11, 2006, entitled "Between Modernization and the History Textbooks" by Yuan Weishi, a history professor at Zhongshan University in Guangdong Province.

In the article, Professor Yuan used the metaphor "children fed on wolf’s milk" to describe students in China who are taught distorted history. Citing numerous examples from a widely used history textbook, Yuan concluded that the content of this textbook was based on three premises: 1) present Chinese culture is superior to all others; 2) foreign culture is invariably evil and has corrupted the pure nature of the present Chinese culture; 3) it is right and acceptable to use political power and totalitarian means to eradicate evil in the realm of ideology. This article drew the attention of the CCP to the magazine and led to its suspension.

Founded in January 1995 and published every Wednesday, Bingdian was outspoken in its unreserved criticism of the Chinese communist regime’s policies. Most noticeably, in late 2003 the magazine published an article based on an interview with human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng. That article detailed the plight of property owners whose properties had been expropriated so that the state could lease them out to generate income. In 2004, Bingdian published an open letter directly criticizing Zhao Yong, who was the General Secretary of the Youth League, for his remark bidding good riddance to any news reporter who did not want to take Party orders.

Given how Bingdian has offended some senior Party members, many see the removal of its chief editors as a kind of revenge that also serves the purpose of "killing one man to terrorize a thousand."

The news of Bingdian‘s fate immediately caught the public’s attention in China. Thirteen senior Party members wrote an open letter in the magazine’s defense, among them Zhu Houze, the former Head of the Central Publicity Department; Li Rui, former secretary to Chairman Mao Zedong; Li Pu, Vice-President of the China News Agency; and Hu Jiwei, former editor-in-chief of People’s Daily.

Echoing the CCP’s confrontation with Bingdian is its encounter with Google. {mospagebreak}

Since 2000, Google has had a Chinese-language version of its website, which mirrors its English version with uncensored news and webpages. The Chinese authorities did not like it. Using the "Great Firewall of China" (online filters), the regime caused Google to run with annoying slowness and sometimes not at all. The option given to Google was to launch a new site in the Chinese language——which is heavily censored with the communist government’s preferences. China’s websurfers now have a choice: They can use either slow, often-interrupted, relatively uncensored or speedy, self-censored

As an example, typing in "Tiananmen" on brings up photos showing row upon row of tanks, the unforgettable afterimage of the tragedy of 1989, and links to that event begin the entries. Do the same search with, and the result is innumerable links to tourist information on Tiananmen, with a snapshot of U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez and his wife posing on their visit to Tiananmen Square.

By purging dissident editors in the state-controlled Chinese media, the Chinese communist regime enforces its control over the Chinese press and its influence on the Chinese people. However, in the Internet age, this alone is not enough. To keep freedom of the press "below the freezing point," the regime also needs to seal off channels of free information on the Internet from overseas. The launch of the highly self-censored by one of the largest American Internet companies indicates that the regime’s tactic of enticing businesses in but coercing them to conform to Communist Party standards is working.

To the top management of Google, this may sound like a simple trade-off. Yet, as a U.S. company, Google also has social responsibilities. When American companies give in to the Chinese communist regime and become helping hands in information censorship, they betray both American principles and 1.3 billion Chinese people.

[1] Li Datong, Chief Editor of the magazine Bingdian (Freezing Point), was stripped of his position as ordered by the Ministry of Propaganda after he fallowed publication of an article that challenged the Chinese history books in the January 2006 issue. Bingdian under Li has been one of the more liberal magazines that has won the votes of its readers by has offended regime authorities in China.

Rising from Coalminer to Human Rights Defender

It was a cold winter day on January 20, 2006. Gao Zhisheng was driving back to his hometown, a village with a population of 200 in one of the poorest regions in northwestern China. It was a planned, five-hour journey. Mr. Gao was not alone: An entourage of over eight state vehicles escorted him on this homecoming trip. It was the 84th day since the police had put him under surveillance 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Because Mr. Gao has openly supported rights activists, victims of government abuses, and Falun Gong, the Communist Party views him as a priority security risk and ordered his law firm shut down. He has also been the target of an assassination attempt and death threats. The communist regime has investigated every member of Gao’s extended family in his hometown.

None of this appears to have affected Mr. Gao.

Mr. Gao’s Early Life

In 1964, Mr. Gao was born in a cave where his family lived. Their home was dug out of a hillside in the Loess Plateau in Shaanxi Province, northwestern China.

The family was so poor that the older brother regularly sold his blood to support the family. When Gao’s father died of cancer at the age of 41, the family could not afford a coffin.

Mr. Gao started out in life searching for Chinese herbs in the hills. With the help of an uncle, Gao attended junior high school. At the age of 15, he went to work as a coal miner. On his way home from the coal mine, he begged for food. One of the happiest moments in his life, as he recalled, was the time he was stranded far away from home and an old stone carver gave him 5 yuan (US$0.6 at today’s exchange rate), the old man’s wages for three days.

Gao Zhisheng was very close to his mother, who passed away in 2005. He recalled that during his childhood, his mother would invite homeless people to share their limited food and sleep in their cramped and shabby cave, even though his family often went to bed with empty stomachs. His mother called these homeless people "our relatives." Today Mr. Gao still provides financial support to some of these "relatives." His mother’s kindness and compassion toward the have-nots influenced Gao in his mission to assist the weak and downtrodden in his later years.

From Army to Attorney

In 1982, Mr. Gao joined the People’s Liberation Army in the hope of having a better life. Stationed at a base in Kashgar in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, he received a secondary-school education and became a Communist Party member.{mospagebreak}

There he met his wife, who was also in the PLA. Gao was not considered good-looking among the other young service men, as she recalled. In 1985, he was discharged from the service at the age of 21 and began working as a food vendor.

Fate intervened one day in 1991 when he picked a torn piece of newspaper up off the street. It had been left by one of his customers who had used it to wrap vegetables. He saw an article about how to become an attorney by means of a self-taught program.

Within two and half years, Gao had completed all 14 courses by studying wherever he went. Against all odds—the pass rate was one percent—he passed the bar in 1994.

Legal Career

By 1995, Mr. Gao was a licensed attorney in Urumuqi, the capital of Xinjiang. Anticipating a future as a public figure, he got up early in the morning and walked down rows of wheat, imagining the field an auditorium full of important officials. He delivered lectures in a loud booming voice to quivering stalks.

Victims of government abuses soon started to line up in Gao’s office for help: "Attorney Gao, whatever you say, we will do it. If you do not have a way, we still have one—suicide and self-immolation." He would draft a complaint for them or introduce them to the media. If nothing helped, he would pay for their trip home.

On July 15, 1998, Mr. Gao read an article in China Lawyers Daily that contained a plea for free legal representation for a boy, Zou Weiyi, who had lost his hearing due to an overdose of the antibiotic gentamicin at a local state hospital. The newspaper rejected Gao’s initial offer because "the retaining of a Xinjiang attorney would shame the 150,000 attorneys in Beijing." Gao was finally selected when no other attorney offered to take the case pro bono as he did. Gao eventually won a 100,000 yuan (US$12,500) payout for settlement on appeal, a headline-generating sum and the largest medical malpractice award in China at that time. However, the sacrifices this family made during the years they were seeking justice were enormous. "For over seven years the family was homeless. They slept in bus stations, on piers and along the streets, and begged for food," said Gao.

Several years later, Mr. Gao won another, similar case in which a boy, Zhou Chenghan, lost his hearing as a result of medical malpractice. Due to pressure from higher authorities on the court to rule in favor of the state hospital, the victims did not receive any compensation. In closing, Gao addressed the court: "Your honor, when morality, truth, and conscience lose power, the society loses power. Today, under the banner of justice in this court, what is really happening is that morality, conscience, humanity, and truth are all losing power. The police, the prosecutor, the court, the defendant hospital, the Public Health Administration, the Communist Party Committee, and the government are acting in unison against a disabled child."{mospagebreak}

Gao Zhisheng quickly developed a reputation for winning pro bono cases. In the case of a three-year-old boy who drank from a water bottle that contained a toxic solution to keep fish fresh in the farmers’ market, Gao opened his argument in court: "If the defendants are rational, what you lose is money—you compensate the boy. If you are not rational, you will lose integrity and the money." Gao won the case, but it was too late. The child died due to lack of early treatment.

As a result of his zealousness in helping the victims of government abuses, Gao was called "a pro bono mad dog." Gao disagrees: "As an attorney, pro bono legal representation is not my goal. It is, rather, an acceptance without choice. When you learn about their pain and suffering, their tears are your tears. What choice do you have?"

In 2001, the China Ministry of Justice named him one of the top 10 attorneys in the National Advocacy Competition, a title that the Ministry of Justice retracted in 2005 after Gao became a target of the communist regime.

Against the Odds

In the summer of 2005, the authorities detained Zhu Jiuhu, an attorney, for "disturbing public order” while representing private investors in oil wells that were seized by the communist government in Gao’s home province, Shaanxi. Mr. Zhu had sued the government for violating the rights of these investors.

Mr. Gao became an attorney in Zhu’s defense, joining a team of fellow attorneys and journalists. He camped out in local government offices until officials agreed to meet him. He told one Party boss in a recorded conversation, "You will forever be on the wrong side of the law and on the wrong side of the conscience of the people unless you let Mr. Zhu go."

Mr. Zhu was released from police custody in the fall of 2005 after an intensive publicity campaign mounted by his supporters and led by Gao. Since then, Zhu has been under a highly restrictive bail arrangement that bans him from practicing law.

Turning his enemies’ weapons against themselves is a typical Gao tactic, as is pushing a situation to its limit. Last year he went to Shaanxi Province to investigate the alleged confiscation of private oil wells by the regime authorities. On the way, he heard that the authorities were lying in wait to detain him. He drove to the police station and confronted the police chief. "I told him I had saved him a lot of bother so at the very least he should pay for my transportation costs," said Mr. Gao. "The chief reimbursed me my car rental cost and arranged for a police car to drive me home."{mospagebreak}

Of late, Mr. Gao has defended adherents of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that the communist regime outlawed in 1999 as a major threat to its monopolized power.

The communist regime has prohibited any attorneys in China from filing lawsuits on behalf of Falun Gong. In November 2005, Mr. Gao slipped police surveillance to investigate claims of police torture and sexual abuse of Falun Gong in Changchun, the capital of Jilin Province.

After his investigation, he wrote an open letter addressed to Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao. In the letter, Gao said that the secret police had tortured Falun Gong members to try to make them renounce Falun Gong. "A mother and son died in police custody within 10 days of each other," he said. "Police told the boy’s father he had committed suicide by jumping from a window, but they wouldn’t let him see where the tragedy took place or his son’s body. They still have the corpse more than a month later. It is disgraceful." In his letter, he described a police-run, extrajudicial "brainwashing base” where, he said, Falun Gong members were first starved and then force-fed until they threw up. Female Falun Gong members were routinely raped while in police custody.

"These calamitous deeds did not begin with the two of you [referring to Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao],” he wrote, "but they have continued under your political watch, and it is a crime that you have not stopped them.”

In addition to Falun Gong, Mr. Gao represents underground "house church" Christians. He is one of the attorneys for a house church pastor, Cai Zhuohua, in Beijing. Mr. Cai was arrested for printing and distributing Bibles to Christians in China and convicted of running an "illegal business operation" a year later in November 2005. On December 21, 2005, Gao issued an investigative report regarding persecutions against house church leaders and Christian believers in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. He quoted at great length from 13 Christians who have been subjected to intense persecution, including torture and inhuman treatment, while in police custody.

On December 13, 2005, Mr. Gao declared that he had quit "the cruel, untrustworthy, inhumane, and evil Party." "This is the proudest day of my life," wrote Gao. Later he was baptized and became a Christian in an underground house church in Beijing.

Many in China and elsewhere are closely following the events surrounding Gao. At a website sponsored by The Epoch Times, one posted a message: "There is a shining star high up in the dark night sky. It is not alone-people on earth are all watching it."

Xiao Tian is a correspondent for Chinascope.

From the Editor

While the Western world’s New Year starts in January, Chinese people are busy preparing for the biggest event of the year for them–Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, which falls on January 29 in 2006. On that day, schools are closed, offices empty, and factories dormant. Above all, it is a time when everyone takes a break after a long year’s hard work and family members get together to have a good time.

However, the Chinese media aren’t feeling quite so festive this year. On December 28, 2005, Chief Editor Yang Bin and Associate Chief Editors Sun Xuedong and Li Duoyu for The Beijing News, one of most successful stories in China’s media market since beginning its publication two years ago, were suddenly dismissed from their posts. Then on January 24, 2006, another popular weekly publication, Bingdian (Freezing Point) magazine, was ordered to shut down. Its Chief Editor Li Datong and Assistant Chief Editor Lu Yuegang were also stripped of all editorial responsibilities.

The orders came directly from the Ministry of Propaganda. In both cases, the publications offended the authorities for being too liberal in their reporting and daring to broach the country’s most sensitive issues. In the past, such punishments were usually carried out under the radar. This year, however, both cases have met fierce public reactions. More than 100 reporters from The Beijing News launched a strike to express their discontent. Many people, from both inside and outside of China, denounced the Propaganda Ministry after the Bingdian incident.

In contrast to the brave Chinese journalists who are fighting to emerge from the shadow of censorship, American stock market darling and rising star Google is casting aside its motto of "Doing No Evil" by surrendering to the Chinese communist regime. Following in the steps of Yahoo! and Microsoft, Google launched a new self-censored search engine in China on January 25, 2006, blocking topics that the communist regime does not like.

We have already tasted the grave consequences of media control in China. In 2003, when SARS first appeared, lack of timely knowledge of the disease’s spread due to media blockage caused delayed action to contain it, which eventually resulted in a global pandemic and loss of more than 800 lives. Now with the looming threat of an even more lethal disease in the form of the avian flu, China is again the most perilous area that requires particular attention (reasons detailed in the current issue’s feature article). Prompt, accurate media reporting will be vitally important in the battle against the disease. We cannot afford to learn another dire lesson before realizing that everyone has a responsibility to ensure the transparency and openness of the Chinese media.

Attorney Gao Zhisheng And His Unwinnable Cases

Public anger has been rising in China during recent years over the massive displacement of rural villagers. According to a World Bank report, over 171,000 people were relocated for the construction of the US$4.8 billion, 505-foot Xiao Langdi Dam. According to public security reports, there were some 20,000 property-related protests in 2004. In response to the protests, the communist regime has cracked down on displaced citizens who demand their property rights.

Instead of looking for help from the appeals system in the local and central government, more and more Chinese citizens, especially marginalized groups such as villagers who lost their land to infrastructural and urban development projects, have started to look for help from the courts. This trend has highlighted a major social problem: The court system in China is not independent from the rulings of the central government and the Chinese Communist Party. As a result, few attorneys dare to take this type of case for fear of reprisals from the regime authorities.

Gao Zhisheng is among a handful of lawyers who are willing to handle high-profile human rights cases involving rural land rights, labor activists, and religious freedom. Already one of the most prominent lawyers of his generation, Gao, 41, has taken a public stand to defend the most oppressed groups in China: democracy activists, victims of religious persecution, mine accident widows, and peasants who have had their land seized by the authorities. His law firm defended a group of workers who faced criminal charges after participating in mass protests in April 2004 against poor working conditions at two shoe factories in the city of Dongguan in Guangdong Province, which were owned by the Taiwanese firm Stella International. Thanks to the case put forward by Gao and his colleagues, the workers were eventually freed.

Other civil rights cases undertaken by Gao Zhisheng include his legal assistance to a worker named Wang Guilan, who in August 2005 was detained for trying to enter the United Nations office in Beijing and has since been sentenced without trial to 18 months of "re-education through labor." Gao is currently helping Ms. Wang, who was in the process of undergoing a series of operations after suffering severe facial burns several years ago, to sue the Enshi City police. In addition, Gao has been assisting the family members of miners killed in the November 2004 Chenjiashan coalmine explosion in the city of Tungchuan in Shaanxi Province. The families will seek up to one million yuan (US$125,000) each in compensation from the mining company.

Gao has become well known to those who need representation in human rights related litigation. As one might imagine, this does not sit well with the authorities. On November 4, 2005, the Beijing Bureau of Justice ordered Gao’s Beijing-based Sheng Zhi Law Firm to suspend all operations for one year.

His life has changed greatly since then. The following is a chilling account of a few days in December 2005:{mospagebreak}

"In the morning, a group of more than 30 petitioners met me in Beijing. That morning, all seven surveillance vehicles were in action. When I reached the destination, I went into the restroom. Six plainclothesmen even followed me in there to watch. I went into the lobby to wait for those who wanted to see me. Perhaps because the waiting took a long time and the plainclothesmen were bored, they said something into the walkie-talkies and soon each undercover person had the company of a pretty girl. Four hours later, the caravan of eight cars (including mine) headed back to my office, where the plainclothesmen continued with their duty of waiting downstairs."

"I went out early this morning to exercise in the park. Several plainclothesmen were around me. Compared to before, the scale of the surveillance has clearly gone up. On the way back home, several plainclothesmen shadowed me closely. After breakfast, my wife took my daughter to her music tutor. As soon as they stepped out, the plainclothesmen followed them. While my daughter took lessons for one hour, the plainclothesmen waited idly outside. Afterward, they followed them home. At noon, my daughter went to take English lessons. I took her downstairs and watched the small, thin girl being followed by two big, strong plainclothesmen. I felt very angry that a little child should have to be threatened by such filthy tactics 24 hours a day." (December 25, 2005)

"Today, the Chinese regime has suddenly raised its level of surveillance of my entire family. Six cars followed me today. Apart from the two old faces ("Beijing EP0030" and "Beijing E92673"), there is now a Mercedes-Benz and a BMW in the caravan. The signs are that there are more senior-level departments getting involved. Wherever I went, the cars would surround me and a group of about twenty strong men would run up. I don’t know if President Bush gets this kind of luxurious treatment, but things are definitely different from a few days ago.

"When I arrived at the office this morning, the landlord called to say that someone was causing him trouble for renting the office space to me. The level of tender loving care from the plainclothesmen is incredible. They can think about all the things that you can never imagine, and this is perhaps the unique attribute that they use to select plainclothesmen." (December 27, 2005)

Gao has written a series of open letters to Chinese Communist Party leader Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. "I advised them to leave the Communist Party. It is not capable of reform. History teaches us that no dictatorship can last forever. One day, those with blood on their hands will face a trial by the people." According to news reports, the authorities imposed this punishment after Gao Zhisheng refused to retract a letter he sent to Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao on October 18, 2005, calling for an end to the widespread detention and torture of Falun Gong practitioners in China, and after he refused to withdraw from other politically sensitive cases as demanded by Beijing officials. Gao posted his letter to China’s top leaders on the Internet and distributed it widely by email.{mospagebreak}

Many have contended that political liberalization in China will follow closely on the heels of increased affluence. One such person is Tony Blair, who said there was "unstoppable momentum" toward greater political freedom. Gao said that such an argument was just an excuse for the West to trade with a human rights violator.

Gao reserved his fiercest criticism for the two European countries that have done the most to build close relations with Beijing: "Many Chinese people think the governments of France and Germany are as terrible as ours. They are only acting in their self-interest and making a fortune from the misery of the Chinese people. There will be a price to pay one day for the so-called civilized foreign governments who are honeymooning with the Communist Party. I want people in the outside world to understand the situation in China. We face a Party with millions of troops. I have dozens of plainclothes police around my home. It is hard to use words like understanding and forgiveness with them."

"They threaten to arrest me and I say, ‘Go ahead,’" he says. "I am a warrior who does not care whether he lives or dies. Such a sacrifice will be nothing to me if it speeds the death of this dictatorship." Gao was urged to leave China by secret police in February. Such an anti-Party tirade would have quickly resulted in imprisonment or death under different circumstances, but Gao believes that he has been spared because the authorities are worried about domestic protests and an international outcry if he is arrested.

Indeed, the level of public support for Gao from inside and outside of China is high. "The Beijing authorities’ vindictive retaliation against Gao Zhisheng’s law firm is deplorable," said China Labor Bulletin director Han Dongfang. "It directly undermines the regime’s claim to be promoting the rule of law and a sound civil society. Gao is a front-line human rights defender, and an attack on him is an attack on citizens’ rights in general."

China Labor Bulletin called on the Chinese regime to show respect for its own legal system by immediately rescinding the closure order against the Sheng Zhi Law Firm.

On February 4, 2006, Gao and a dozen other Chinese weiquan (rights protection) activists started a hunger strike relay in China. The hunger strike was to protest the several recent physical attacks on weiquan activists in China by either state agents or by thugs hired by the Communist Party. Within 10 days, more than 20 organizations from 12 countries formed a support network for him, and hundreds of people joined the hunger strike relay. The effort has its own website at

Gao has received strong support from Chinese people in China and around the world. After many years of engaging in the weiquan effort, Gao has become a symbol for the movement. This fact was expressed very well in a statement that was signed by the "Global Association for Supporting Gao Zhisheng," an alliance of 119 organizations: "Attorney Gao has given his all in the Chinese non-violent weiquan movement. He is the symbol for human rights in China, and he represents the Chinese conscience."{mospagebreak}

So far, public scrutiny and support has stopped the Chinese communist regime from putting Gao in prison. The chief editor for China Affairs, Wu Fan, who was among the initiators of the "Global Association for Supporting Gao Zhisheng," had an explanation: "The Chinese Communist Party could not deny the facts revealed by Gao in his letters. The regime wants to get rid of this thorn in its side, but it is afraid of the ensuing backlash. All it can do is harass, follow, and threaten Gao in hopes that he will back off. The regime took Gao Zhisheng away on January 12, but it had to release him after one hour. They wanted to test the waters and see the reaction from the rest of the world. If there were not much reaction, it would have gone much worse. But because the reaction was strong and quick, the regime chose to withdraw for now."

This cat and mouse game is likely to go on for some time. Gao continues to draw attention and support from around the world for himself, as well as the weiquan movement. As for the question of how to succeed, Gao offered a simple approach—renouncing the Communist Party and believing in God.

On December 24, several dozen petitioners from Shanghai went to see Gao in Beijing. At the end of their conversation, Gao stated his opinion as the following.

"There is an easy approach to resolving the problems in China, and that is to renounce the Party and to walk on to the street openly. As long as people continue to renounce their Party membership, in two or three years, most of the Party members will have quit and refuse to cooperate with the regime. That would be the end of this murderous regime’s life. When the regime cannot hold on to its own life, it cannot kill people anymore. Renounce the Party and turn to God, that is something that we all can do."

Ann Lee is a correspondent for Chinascope.

Scientist Facilitating Open Internet Access in China Attacked in the United States

Peter Yuan Li, a United States citizen and key figure in the Falun Gong efforts to bring uncensored information to China through the Internet, was attacked and beaten in his home in the U.S. The attack took place just days before the U.S. Congressional hearing on the Chinese communist regime’s Internet censorship, held on February 15, 2006.

On the morning of February 8, according to Dr. Li, four Asian men stormed into his house in Duluth, Georgia. The intruders bound, gagged, and brutally attacked him. They ransacked the house, taking two laptop computers, his wallet, home telephone, and files from a locked cabinet that they pried open. No valuables, such as jewelry and other costly electronics, were touched. Dr. Li needed 15 stitches to close the wounds on his face.

Dr. Li holds a Ph.D. in computer science from Princeton University. He is a Falun Gong practitioner and Chief Technology Officer of The Epoch Times, a newspaper that published a highly critical series of essays titled the Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party. The Nine Commentaries has been banned in China, yet reportedly has been widely distributed within China through underground channels. The mere possession of the booklet has led to several years of imprisonment for more than a few people in China. The Nine Commentaries and its public campaigns have urged Communist Party members to renounce their Party affiliations on a specially designed website maintained by The Epoch Times. As of mid-February, over eight million Communist Party and Youth League members have renounced their allegiances on the website as a result of the Nine Commentaries campaign.

Dr. Li maintains both The Epoch Times website and the related Nine Commentaries and Communist Party renunciation websites. He ensures that, through proxy technologies, hundreds of thousands of mainland Chinese are able to access the site and post their resignations. The Epoch Times website receives over one million hits from China per day.

Internet access to websites outside of China has become a tit-for-tat battlefield. As Dr. Li and his fellow Falun Gong colleagues work tirelessly to ensure that those in China can access The Epoch Times websites, the Chinese communist regime has been trying to counter these efforts with the technologies and services of Western firms that provide the nuts and bolts of China’s Internet. Cisco Systems, Google, Microsoft, Nortel Networks, Sun Microsystems, and Yahoo! are all reported to have assisted the Chinese regime in arresting or otherwise persecuting those who speak up against the Chinese Communist Party or seek access to certain websites in the West. At the February 15th Congressional hearing in Washington, D.C., on the regime’s Internet censorship, these companies testified that compliance with Chinese authorities’ requests is required to stay in business in China. {mospagebreak}

The first man who knocked on Dr. Li’s door said he was a water deliveryman. Once Dr. Li opened the door, another man immediately appeared and helped his cohort push their way into Dr. Li’s home in the Atlanta suburb. The two were armed with a knife and a gun and spoke Korean, according to Dr. Li. As he called out for help, the two men knocked him to the floor, kicked him, and hit him on the head with the butt of the gun. After they had taped his eyes and bound him, he said he heard another one or two men enter his house. One of them spoke to him in Mandarin Chinese and demanded to know where he kept his documents. The men ransacked the house and forced open locked file cabinets. After the men left, Dr. Li was able to escape into the street, where a neighbor saw him and called the police. Fifteen stitches were needed to close the gashes on his face.

There have been many reported incidents of Falun Gong practitioners getting harassed or threatened while on U.S. soil. The New York City apartment of Falun Gong spokeswoman Gail Rachlin has reportedly been burgled five times since 1999. In April 2002, Falun Gong practitioners filed a lawsuit in Washington, D.C., against the Chinese communist government to protest these activities. Last year, for example, the San Francisco home of Mr. Youzhi Ma, an editor for The Epoch Times who finances and manages reporters inside China, was repeatedly broken into. His laptop computers were also stolen.

In October 2004, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H. Con. Resolution 304, which recognizes that "the Chinese government has attempted to silence the Falun Gong movement and Chinese pro-democracy groups inside the United States." The resolution urges the U.S. Attorney General to "investigate reports that Chinese consular officials in the U.S. have committed illegal acts while attempting to intimidate or inappropriately influence Falun Gong practitioners or local elected officials."

Peter Yuan Li’s case is still under investigation. The police have not unearthed any evidence that ties the break-in at Dr. Li’s home to the Chinese communist government, nor has the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., issued a comment on the incident.

Xinhua Special Topic: On the U.S. Defense Review

U.S. Defense Review Promotes “China Military Threat Theory”

[Editor’s note: The two articles below are excerpts translated from the Chinese communist regime’s official news agency, Xinhua. They are posted on its website Xinhuanet under the special topic "U.S. Defense Review Promotes ‘China Military Threat’ Theory."]

Rear Admiral Yang Yi Interprets American Defense Review: Taking China as a Hypothetical Rival Object

Xinhuanet, February 9, 2006

At the beginning of this month, the United States released the "Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR)." The QDR contains extensive coverage of "China’s military expansion." It declared that China will develop the high-tech, non-asymmetrical military capability, including strategic nuclear weapons, tactical unmanned aerial vehicles, and so on. In an exclusive interview, Rear Admiral Yang Yi, Deputy Director of the Strategic Research Department and Director of the Strategic Research Institute, National Defense University, provided detailed interpretations of the report.

The Change in Quantity Draws America’s Suspicion

Reporter: Compared to previous reports, what are the features of America’s 2006 QDR as important indicators for American defense development?

Yang Yi: Compared to the QDR of 2001 or even earlier reports, the prominent characteristic of this year’s report is that the United States explicitly shows worry about China issues. The content of the "China threat theory" was also mentioned in the 2001 QDR, but in a relatively vague way. For instance, when it talked about the issue of "the precise attack of the theater," it actually referred to China.

The main reason is that, after the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, the United States needs assistance from China in counter-terrorism affairs. Thus, it did not go public with the "China threat theory." However, China went through rapid development over the last four years. China’s developing model has been recognized by the international society, and its international position has been upgraded. Under the guidance of the scientific development concept, China has implemented a new military reform. On the other hand, after the Iraq War, the United States has been lacking the ability to do what it would like. This change in the balance of power draws the argument within the United States about "who overlooked China."

The United States wanted to maintain its absolute superiority from the ideology of pragmatism. Military strength is the important tool for maintaining its "absolute power." Therefore, under these conditions, the United States openly brought out the "China threat theory."{mospagebreak}

U.S. "Fever" in Taking China as a Hypothetical Target

Reporter: What is the purpose for the United States to openly bring up the "China threat theory?"

Yang Yi: America’s military strategic adjustment and development needs a target. During the Cold War, it focused on competing with the former Soviet Union for dominance. After that age, it targeted some regional big countries and in the post-9/11 period, it turned to the anti-terrorism. Now its strategic adjustment could be described as "one eye on counter-terrorism with the other on the challenge."

In the domain of strategy, "it is difficult to formulate a high-level policy without an enemy." As a result of the fast growth of its national power, China became America’s "hypothetical challenger."

Reporter: In the report, the United States includes Russia and India in the "Strategic Crossroad" countries.

Yang Yi: Yes. But we should notice that the United States gave India more positive comments than negative ones. Russia was "degraded" as a regional big country. The overall power of Russia will not have much increase in a short period. Therefore, taking China as a rival is easier to stir up America’s "fervor."

Don’t Make a Fuss Over It

Reporter: At this time, the United States is very concerned about the development of China’s navy.

Yang Yi:When we communicated with American military personnel, we found what they were concerned most about was the "uncertainty" of China’s military development. They thought that the "strategic border" between China and the United States should be on the sea. If China’s goal of development is to be a regional big country, it should not develop ocean naval forces. Therefore, the United States is always worried that China’s naval development is targeting the United States. It pays particular attention to this aspect.


What’s Changed and Unchanged in the U.S. Quadrennial Defense Review

Xinhuanet, February 6, 2006, Source: People’s Daily Overseas Edition{mospagebreak}

On February 6, 2006, the U.S. Defense Department submitted to the U.S. Congress the new "Quadrennial Defense Review." Generally speaking, this report stays within the framework of the new national security strategy of the United States after the "9/11" incident. However, compared to the previous report four years ago, the new one adjusts the focal points for future defense. From the unchanged framework and the small adjustments, we can better understand the direction of America’s China policy.

In the new report, there are mainly two things unchanged. The first one is that the United States is still engaged in a long-lasting counter-terrorism war; that is to say, America’s No. 1 enemy is still terrorism. The second one is that the United States still sees China as a potential "military competitor." As early as four years ago, American strategy expert Cohen explicitly stated that those who formulated the national defense strategy had no doubt about two things: one, the United States would face longer and tougher threats from terrorists; and two, the rising China would become the rival of this region.

What are other changes in the new report that we should be concerned about? First, the new report for the first time uses the word "China." The previous report four years ago stated that in the East Asia region the United States would face the challenge of "a military competitor with a formidable resource base." But the new one explicitly mentions that, "as a major and newly emerging big power, China has the most potentials to engage in a military competition with the United States." Second, the new report proposes specific measures to strengthen the U.S. military’s operational capability in the Pacific region. At the same time, it also set the goal of increasing the long-range offensive capability as soon as possible.

These two changes show that the United States will increase the tracking and research of Chinese military development and will take this as the key goal for the future defense strategy. It is particularly worth mentioning that the United States will enhance its long-range offensive capability out of the consideration of the potential change in the political situation in the East Asia region. Once the United States encounters problems for its military bases in Japan, Korea, and so on to control East Asia, the only way is to increase its long-range offensive capability. Otherwise, it cannot effectively control this region. In the meantime, the increase of its long-range offensive capability would also enhance the deterrence impact of the United States against terrorists and so-called "rascal countries."

With respect to strategic focal points, the new report is different from President Bush’s State of the Union that emphasized more on China’s competition with the United State in the economic arena. But the report is closely connected with Bush’s speech. The latter emphasizes politics and diplomacy while the former concerns military preparation, which naturally would consider the China policy from the military preparation and prevention. From the U.S. strategy of "putting stakes on both sides," the United States is putting the "stake" of defense on the unpredictable side.

Translated by CHINASCOPE from

Chinese Citizens Comment on New Regulations to Ban Pornography

The Chinese communist government has recently published new regulations for recreational businesses. The new regulations bar all gambling, pornography, and other illegal activities in Karaoke bars, massage parlors, and other recreational venues. The regulations also prohibit government officials and their relatives from running recreational businesses. How do ordinary people regard the regulations? Will the regulations work? Below are reactions from VOA’s (Voice of America) audiences toward the new regulations.

Regulations Are Only a Superficial Formality

Mr. Wu from Liaoning Province said that the government published such regulations merely as a formality. People are very clear about this. Mr Wu said, "Service businesses with pornography are all run by people having connections with power. These people either have money or connections with government officials. If police make an arrest, someone will manage to get the person released immediately. Some people are so special that no one dares to arrest them—they are above the law. Do you know how much money they give to officials every year? No one dares to touch them. The laws are only a show for the outside world. Everyone knows that the laws cannot be enforced. We should learn from the West and restrict the (pornographic) services to designated areas. This practice is good for social stability."

Legalized Pornography Good for Social Stability?

Mr. Zhao from Hebei Province believes that the Chinese government should legalize prostitution, as it will be good for social stability. He said, "I suggest that prostitution be legalized. China’s family plan has caused a huge imbalance in the gender ratio. Many men will never find a wife; if their demands for sexual relations cannot be met, it will cause social disorder."

For Every Government Policy, People Have a Counterstrategy

Mr. Shi from Shanghai used to work as a security officer in an entertainment house. He said the regulations in the entertainment business have always been strict. But for every government policy, there is a local strategy to bypass it—all the rules are useless. He said: "I have lots of work experience. I worked in a dance club and later in an Internet café. I think the government policies all look ok. But again, for every policy there is a strategy. Take the Internet café as an example. The rule says no students allowed; another rule says business must close at 3 a.m., 24-hour service is not allowed. But the place where I worked, every day it was open for 24 hours. Karaoke, dance clubs are even more so. All owners are very liberal; no one really follows the rules. They must have inside connections to the government."

Many Entertainment Businesses Have Government Connections{mospagebreak}

Mr. Du from Zhejiang said that many entertainment businesses have connections with the government. Therefore, they are hard to control; in fact no one can really control them. He said: "The Chinese government issued the regulations to control the businesses. In reality, they don’t really know how to control, nor canthey control. Why? It is because all the entertainment businesses and underground gambling shops are run by people with (government) connections. Why can’t they control—because the police are collecting protection fees from the businesses. Of course, they don’t call them ‘protection fees,’ they called them ‘security fees.’ If the government cracks down, everyone will close their businesses; then the police’s supplemental income will be gone."

Mr. Du believes that the sex industry will eventually be legalized. He said: "Years ago, laws and regulations against pornography and organized crime were all published. From Deng Xiaoping to Jiang Zemin, until now, every year, the government launched some campaigns to eliminate them. But China’s reality is that people look down on poor people, not prostitutes. Sex shops, beauty saloons, gambling houses are all over the place. In the past, people still had objections and didn’t like them. Now few make a big deal out of it. So it’s better to legalize them."

According to Mr. Zhang from Shanghai, "I believe that the measure (new regulations for the entertainment business) is claiming that (the sex industry) will continue. It’s like the fight against counterfeiting: The more you fight, the more counterfeits are made. I once read in a magazine that, sometime ago in Beijing, the government closed all the sex shops one night. If they really wanted to control it, they could do it immediately. But right now they don’t really want to control."

Translated by CHINASCOPE from