China Censors Funeral for SARS Whistleblower Jiang Yanyong

Jiang Yanyong, a former Chinese military doctor who blew the whistle on his government’s cover-up of the 2003 SARS epidemic, died from pneumonia on Saturday at the age of 91.

The regime in Beijing intimidated his family into taking a “low-key approach” to his passing because it does not want parallels drawn between Jiang and novel coronavirus whistleblowers like Dr. Li Wenliang, who was persecuted by the State in Wuhan for trying to sound an early warning about the pandemic that would ravage the world.

Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on Tuesday that Beijing put “tight restrictions” on the funeral for Jiang, and refused to let him be interred at Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery, a prestigious plot where a figure of Jiang’s stature might normally expect to be buried.

“No funeral ceremony will be allowed. Only relatives may take part. There will be no floral tributes allowed from the general public, and no media interviews given,” the government ordered Jiang’s family.

Instead of a public ceremony and tribute, Jiang was commemorated on Tuesday in a sealed-off little room built just for his funeral at the People’s Liberation Army General Hospital. The few mourners permitted at the funeral were instructed to give “floral tributes and elegiac verses” to Jiang’s widow, who in turn handed them over to hospital officials for “review.” A State-approved eulogy was written for the late doctor.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on Tuesday was among many outside observers who compared Jiang to Li Wenliang, who was punished by the Chinese government for sounding the alarm on Wuhan coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), intimidated into silence, and then purportedly killed at the age of 34 in 2020 by the very disease he was persecuted for identifying. 

It should be noted there are admirers of Li, inside and outside of China, who question the official account of his death. The Chinese Communist Party watched Li attain folk-hero status among the Chinese public, which praised him for courageously attempting to save them from the Wuhan coronavirus, and retroactively decided to remodel him as a martyred hero.

Beijing might well have wanted to avoid reviving its Li Wenliang problem with a big public celebration of Jiang, who also achieved folk-hero status by announcing in 2003 that his government was dramatically understanding the number of patients suffering from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). 

When the Chinese health minister of the day claimed there were only 12 cases in the entire country, Jiang exploded and said he had seen at least 60 SARS patients in a single Beijing hospital. He bypassed Chinese state media to publish statements about SARS in the international press, nudging the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) into action and quite possibly helping to avert the same situation that would occur in 2020 when the regime in Beijing lied about Wuhan coronavirus transmission.

“I felt I had to reveal what was happening, not just to save China, but to save the world,” Jiang said when asked why he tempted the wrath of the Chinese Communist Party.

Unlike Li Wenliang, Jiang was not immediately punished for embarrassing the Communist government over SARS – but he was arrested and “re-educated” not long afterward, when he wrote a letter denouncing the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and his government’s effort to erase it from history.

As Jiang pointed out in the letter, he knew perfectly well there was a massacre because he was on duty as a surgeon in Beijing at the time. He witnessed the regime acting “in frenzied fashion” and “using tanks, machine guns, and other weapons to suppress the totally unarmed students and citizens.”

Jiang would spend the rest of his life being treated like a dangerous dissident by the Chinese state, with occasional periods of house arrest. Undaunted, Jiang wrote another letter about the “crime” of Tiananmen Square to dictator Xi Jinping in 2019. He was thrown into house arrest again after writing that letter and never allowed to speak to the media again.

The WSJ noted that not a single Chinese state media outlet reported on Jiang’s death, social media posts discussing him appear to have been scrubbed, and clicking on a Jiang hashtag on Chinese microblogging platform Weibo produced an error message that said discussing his life and death would be a violation of “relevant laws, regulations, and policies.”

The UK Guardian on Tuesday quoted friends of Jiang who said he caught the pneumonia that killed him during the tidal wave of disease that accompanied China’s abrupt and petulant end of coronavirus control policies in December.


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