The First Avian Flu Case In Beijing

(Boxun)  The first case of H5N1 Avian Flu Case In Beijing.  November 27, 2005.

[in translation]

Boxun cannot confirm the following information.  We welcome those friends with the means to help us investigate.

According to information from Beijing, a Beijing resident who was sent on an emergency basis to Beijing Andingmen Hospital on November 25 died on the morning of November 27 at the Beijing Sino-Japanese Friendship Hospital.  This is first case of death due to avian flu in Beijing.

The information is that the patient was a male about 35 years old, living in the Fengjia Hutong of the Inside Street of Andingmen.  He is an original Beijing resident.  The patient's family rears pigeons and he is a pigeon lover.  On November 24, he was doing morning exercise at Ditan when he passed out.  The citizens took him to the nearby Andingmen Hospital.  After being diagnosed with pneumonia, he was compulsorily transferred to the Sino-Japanese Friendship Hospital.  Thereafter, about a dozen epidemic control workers went to the man's home and took away all the pigeons for disinfection.  This family and those who took him to the hospital were subject to examination.  At the present, the hospital have informed the family that the patient died from acute pneumonia.  Officials have issued political warnings to all those connected with the patient.

Local residents interpret the actions of the officials to mean that the man died from H5N1 avian flu.  Currently, there are large-scale vaccinations of domesticated pigeons in the Beijing area.  There have been no news reports about the death of the man in Bejing.

Now it should not take a genius to see that the above is rubbish.  Even an armchair blogger can see that this was not even a good rumor.  For example, the pigeons at the home would not be taken away for 'disinfection' -- they would have been either culled and cremated (as well as any other pigeons, chickens, ducks and other birds within a 3 kilometer radius, according to the state regulations) while some samples may be taken back and analyzed at the laboratories.  In other words, there would have been chaos in such a densely populated city.  As another example, the family of the deceased person, his neighbors, his co-workers and everyone else with regular contact with him or the pigeons would not just be 'subjected to examination' -- they would be quarantined (if it is someone who also made direct contact with the pigeons) for observation or monitored by follow-ups, because there is no quick and reliable test for detecting avian flu infection in humans.

But anyway, 'a friend with the means' in fact investigated and here is the result (China News via Wenxue City):

[translated in summary] 

The friend was health minister Gao Qiang and he gave a press conference.  Gao said that he saw some distorted and inaccurate reports from other channels.  A certain news website named Boxun said that a pigeon rearer in Beijing fell ill on November 24 and then died at the Sino-Japanese Friendship Hospital on November 27.  Gao immediately contacted the hospital.  From November 24 to 27, there were six deaths.  Of these five were elder citizens 70 year or older.  The other was a leukemia patient in the 20's.  There was no deceased 35-year-old person as mentioned on the Internet.

Gao Qiang said, "Apart from wanting to create some social chaos, I can't guess what the Boxun website wants to do."

By the way, Gao Qiang also discussed the case of the 70 plus avian flu cases (including 14 deaths) in Liaoning reported by Boxun, which even listed the names, ages, genders and locations of the individuals.  Based upon the information provided, the Ministry of Health contacted the local public security bureaus across Liaoning.  So far, the status of nine people have been resolved: seven of them do not live there (that is, their names do not appear in the local registry).  As for the other two, one is presently working in Jiangsu and the other got married away to Chongqing six or seven years ago.

In response to Gao's press conference, a reader's letter was published at Boxun:

[translated in summary]  

The words of this minister are not believed by many people in mainland China, because minister Gao Qiang is just another Zhang Wenkong.  Boxun was not the only website to disclose the truth about mainland Chinese citizens dying from H5N1 avian flu.  Why did he only mention one website?  Why didn't he dare mention the Epoch Times and Secret China websites.  That is because Epoch Times and Secret China website has the Nine Critiques and the party resignations information.  Why mention only Boxun?  Because Boxun is an independent neutral and righteous Internet media and a genuinely unbiased media.  If the Epoch Times and Secret China websites were mentioned, it would increase "social chaos," threaten the rule and accelerate the promotion of Nine Critiques and the party resignations.  So they had to use that "a certain overseas medium claimed" when that medium refers to Epoch Times.  So the Chinese Communists are obviously hitting the soft targets first. 

This reader has just dragged Boxun down into the same class as Epoch Times and Secret China.  Mind you, there is no discussion whatsoever about the specifics of the evidence presented by Gao Qiang.  Thus, the death of the 35-year-old man at the Sino-Japanese Friendship Hospital is the truth and not subject to doubt; alternately, anything that Gao Qiang says is a lie, and therefore the death of the 35-year-old man is a lie and not even worth mentioning.

For more discussion about the party resignations, see The Case of Meng Weizai.  It is a familiar pattern.

(Boxun)  The response of Boxun to "Minster Gao's accusations".  December 1, 2005.

[translated in summary]

First, we thank Minister Gao Qiang for pointing out the inaccuracies of Boxun news and we thank the Ministry of Health for verifying the "list of deceased persons" with the public security bureaus in Liaoning.

Boxun had also been trying hard to verify the report, especially since the Boxun editor saw that the international media published the information from the "Japanese expert" and we felt that this "expert" may have quoted the news from Boxun.  Therefore, we tried to go through local citizens to verify the names and information of the persons.  As everybody knows, it is very difficult for Boxun to verify things and we have no results to show so far.  The clarification by Minister Gao has completed the task that Boxun was unable to accomplish, and we thank the Ministry of Health for its serious approach.

However, Minister Gao Qiang said at the end: "Apart from wanting to create some social chaos, I can't guess what the Boxun website wants to do."

The Boxun editor cannot agree with this conclusion and wishes for a reconsideration.  The roadside rumors in China are propagated and believed, and even accepted by international media and organizations because of the control and lack of transparency of the news.  Precisely for this reason, Boxun emphasized in the related news report that the information "has not been verified," although it still attracted the attention of international news organizations.  When the avian flu began to propagate through Qinghai, Boxun received inquiries from reporters such those from Nature.  Boxun informed them solemnly that they need to verify the information themselves as Boxun has not verified the information itself.

This time, the Ministry of Health made an independent verification of the information on Liaoning, and this proves that the central government sometimes does not know everything that is happening below its level.  Under these circumstances, one can understand the international concern over "roadside rumors."

In the end, there needs to be an explanation about "Apart from wanting to create some social chaos, I can't guess what the Boxun website wants to do."  "Rumors" damages the trustworthiness of a media entity.  As an independent media entity, Boxun hopes to increase public trust.  At the same time, we believe that if China does not open up the right of the press to gather news and report, various kinds of "rumors" will continue to have deep impact through various channels.  When Boxun receives "unconfirmed" information, it is simply publishing it "just in case" -- "just in case" that the information was concealed even from the Minister of Health, so that the policies of the central government will be erroneous to the detriment of the people and the nation.  Boxun can be said to be well-intentioned!

So let us explain to our readers: when we select certain news to report, we especially add the annotation: "unconfirmed."  Boxun welcomes those readers in the right situations, or the national departments, to find those items to be erroneous upon verification and point them out to Boxun.  Boxun will correct them afterwards.  Boxun hopes that its own reporters will be able to gather news freely in China and investigate the events.  If these conditions exist, Boxun will bar all unconfirmed information.  We thank everybody for their attention.

[Postscript:  Concerning Minister Gao Qiang's information, our editor observed that a reader has published an opinion essay earlier this morning.  We hope that Minister Gao and other netizien critics of Boxun pay attention that the essay was signed by a reader and does not represent the position or viewpoint of Boxun itself.  Boxun is a relatively free platform for speech.  In fact, we are willing to publish essays that are critical of Boxun in their original forms and we are careful about publishing critiques of other media and people.]

ESWN blogger's comment (and this is clearly marked as a personal opinion as opposed to reported opinion of others):

The Boxun response is objectionable in two ways because they are setting themselves up for doom in two ways.

Firstly, as explained in The 'True' Statistics About Avian Flu In China, anyone can send anything to them and they will publish it.  The instances so far are in fact transparently bad, but I know that I can construct much better stories with my knowledge of avian flu, public health policies and all that.  In fact, you will probably never be able to disprove what I have to offer, although it won't make it true in any sense.  In fact, they are false because I made the sh*t up.  Boxun is simply setting itself up as the dupe, willingly or unwillingly.  They may think that they are the conduits of independent and neutral information, when they are in fact being puppets of manipulation by unknown forces.

Secondly, given the Boxun policy, the Central Propaganda Department of the People's Republic of China can destroy this channel of communication through anonymous reporting by mobilizing its mass of Internet police commentators to submit thousands of fictional reports every day about all sorts of incidents (e.g. avian flu deaths, SARS cases, mine explosions, drunken party officials running over citizens, street riots complete with staged photographs, etc).  Will Boxun report all of them, as they would under current editorial policy and then be exposed as fraudulent until their brand equity is eroded to negative?  The whole communication channel would be shut down if the Central Propaganda Department so much as tried anything like it, because the system is designed to enable that to happen.  I am astonished that no one over there has thought of this obvious strategy.  I cannot be accused of aiding the Central Propaganda Department because you'd have to be an idiot not to see it.

In the final analysis, Boxun does have some responsibility for what it publishes.  Slapping a "Boxun is unable to verify any of the information herein" statement does not place it above and beyond the fray.

So Boxun may have been wrong once again, but there was a case of avian flu in Beijing that they did not catch.

(Beijing Times via Yahoo! News)  November 28, 2005.

[translated in summary]  

Yesterday morning at 7am, public bus number 57064 on route 9 reached the terminating stop.  But there was a man wearing a respiring mask still sitting in the seat by the rear exit with a green traveling bag by his feet.   When the conductor spoke to him, he said that he wanted to go to Dongdanwangfu.  The conductor told him that the bus did not go there directly and recommended him to switch at Chongwenmen for a transfer.  When the bus arrived at Chongwenmen, the conductor reminded the man to get off.  The man said that his legs hurt and he couldn't move.  Thereafter, he just sat there, looking half-asleep.

The driver thought that "the man was behaving strangely with who-knows-what in that bag," and therefore called the police.  At Tianningsi, the other passengers were transferred to another bus while the police spoke to the man to ask him to get off.  The man yelled: "Don't touch me!  I've got the avian flu!"

The police then called for an ambulance.  When the man arrived at the hospital, the doctor examined him.  His body temperature was normal, and there were no avian flu symptoms.  When told that he was healthy, the man refused to leave and complained that he has other problems such as brain paralysis, etc.  Then the police contacted his family in Chongqing and learned that he was a mental patient.  The police then took him to a different hospital for examination.

Bus number 57064 was taken back to the depot and thoroughly disinfected as a precaution.