The Story Behind The News

The following is a translation of a section from the book titled Investigating China: The Story Behind The News by veteran reporter Zhao Shilong (赵世龙).  Zhao is one of the most famous investigative reporters in China, and the book is about things that happened behind the scenes in some of his most famous articles.

Chapter 10 is about the AIDS crisis in the Shengluo area of Shaanxi province.  The story began with a effort by the Shaanxi government to survey the extent of AIDS/HIV in the area during late 2000.  It was determined that from local reports that about 12,700 persons have sold blood before.  A massive effort was made to test these persons for the AIDS/HIV.  After testing about 7,000 people, there were more than 300 HIV positive cases already.  In the face of this statistic, the decision was to ... suspend the testing of the remaining 5,000 people.  There was no attempt to monitor or assist these people.  It is as if the whole subject had fallen into a deep black hole because no official could deal with the magnitude of the problem.  It was at this moment that Zhao Shilong began his investigation.

The substance of the news story itself will not be treated here.  The ESWN blogger/translator apologizes on the grounds that 'it is the same old sh*t that you all know about already, so why do you need to be told about the AIDS villages all over again?'  The following translation pertains to what happened when the news story came out.

[in translation]

After the investigative work was completed, the report was sent to be published at Yangchang Wanbao.  When I did not get any response after one week, I thought that Yangchang Wanbao could not publish it.  So I sent the article to Southern Weekend.  Editor Jiang Suping gave it a good appraisal and immediately arranged for it to be published that week.  But I was surprised when I got a call just after 7am on Wednesday.  I was still sleeping but Yangchang Wanbao's news editor Luo Wei called me at home to check on the article.  He said that he wanted to get it published today for only one reason -- the publishing committee member on duty that day was professional and gutsy and Luo Wei said that it has been approved already.  There was nothing that I could do.  This report was submitted a week ago to Yangchang Wanbao; when I thought that there was no chance for publication, I sent it along to Southern Weekend.  It turned out that both of them wanted it.  So I was guilty of double submissions and I could not give them any excuses.

So Yangchang Wanbao (2 pages) and Southern Weekend (1 page) published on consecutive days my investigative report on the AIDS/HIV epidemic in the Shengluo area.  The public response was tremendous.  Even Phoenix TV's commentator quoted a large section of the report on his talk program and offered comments.  Premier Zhu Rongji ordered an investigation based upon the media reports.  With the media reports and Premier Zhu's personal directivw, this was no doubt set off an earthquake in Shaanxi.

The Shaanxi provincial government immediately ordered a thorough investigation on how the matter was leaked out.  The information had come to me from media friends in Shaanxi province.  They said that there were occurrences of "Hepatitis C"  before the spring festival.  Actually, this was a strange disease which I and my friends believed to be AIDS and which many local governments and officials were terrified of and preferred to adopt an ostrich-head-in-the-sand approach to pretend that it never happened.  I did the investigation jointly with the local media friends.  With the intervention of outside media, the Sanqin Metropolis News in the Shaanxi Daily group felt emboldened enough that Du Guangli and Wang Wu published reports in their local newspapers.  There was not much of a response from the local authorities at the time.  But when my report, which was more critical and detailed, was published in the two southern newspapers that had the most influence in all of China, all hell broke loose in Shaanxi province.

The Shaanxi province government quickly identified which media entities reported on this case.  The provincial propaganda department issued an order for a major investigation, and to hold the principals and their unit directors responsible for leaking secrets.  The provincial governor and the party secretary ordered the responsible reporters to be charged with the crime of "leaking secrets."  The leaders in their units did not dare to protect the reporters, because they may become personally involved and be accused of the crime of "leaking secrets" under the "major epidemic information cannot be released without approval" clause of the Epidemic Prevention Law.  Very quickly, the special features editors at Sanqin Metropolis Daily and the reporters Du Guangli and Wang Wu were relieved of their duties.  Du Guangli and Wang Wu were summoned twice by the Xian City Public Security Bureau for interrogation.  They were placed under residential detention and ordered not to leave Xian.  The substance of the interrogations was about: (1) who leaked this information? who was the traitor to Shaanxi?  (2) how did you get to know Zhao Shilong? (3) how did you come to gather the news together?

Du Guangli was a forthright person who did not think that he did anything wrong and so he was uncooperative with the police.  Therefore, he ended up in an unfavorable situation.  By contrast, Wang Wu was used to doing special features and political news beats, so he was all smiles and friendly with the interrogators.  He even got them to call a colleague Liu Gandu at the newspaper to deliver a few packs of cigarettes over to the police station.  This was how the fact that Du and Wang were brought down to the police station in the middle of the night for their reports on the AIDS issue in the Shengluo area became known to the newspaper.  The Sanqin Metropolis Daily middle-level manager Liu Gandu then contacted the police officer in charge and made the following points: First, this affair has come under the attention of the national and even international media; second, this case will eventually face up to history and truth, so the police should handle the case carefully; third, there must not be any physical and mental mistreatment of the reporters in the case.

Before all this, Du Guangli had taken the opportunity to call me from a public telephone.  He was concerned that his home telephone and mobile telephone were being monitored.  Technically speaking, this is trivial -- all that is needed is to input your telephone number into the special tracer software of the government.  Over the telephone, we agreed: we will all insist that we met each other by accident during the course of investigating the same topic in the Shengluo area and that was how we got acquainted.  We collected our own material, we wrote our own articles and we had nothing to do with each other.  This would allow him and his colleague to erase the "Shaanxi traitor" label.  I said that I have looked up the Epidemic Prevention Law and AIDS was not listed in there.  Previously, Southern Weekend had presented a four-page feature on AIDS.  I specifically called up Jiang Suping about it, and she said that in order to report on AIDS, they had consulted the relevant laws and regulations and they believed that it was not against the existing laws and regulations.  After Southern Weekend's four-page report was published, nothing happened to them.

Therefore I called Du Guangli and I told him that if they summon him on the grounds of "leaking secrets," it would be illegal because AIDS was not written into the Epidemic Prevention Law.  If they arrest him on that count, it is an abuse of the law.  I wanted him to distribute this information among his colleagues and family members and also to give them my telephone number.  I promised that if the authorities arrested him on this charge, I would personally fly into Shaanxi to "surrender" myself in the case so that they can arrest me as well.  Of course, before I come, I would make sure that the whole world knows about this.  When I discussed the issue of "surrendering" myself, we used his mobile telephone and home telephone because the telecommunications equipment of those under residential detention is monitored.  If someone was listening in, then those conversations would have a big impact.

Later on, the government could not find them guilty of any crime.  This was obviously the result of having no evidence but a lot of wariness.  Even though the orders came from above to arrest Du Guangli and Wang Wu, they could not charge them due to the various pressures as well as the lack of legal evidence.  So this matter eventually faded away.  Du Guangli and Wang Wu returned to the secondary line at Sanqin Metropolis Daily.  After about six months when people's memories faded, they returned to the special news features department and they continued to publish great articles and they are two of the best reporters around.

It was only later that we learned that the Shaanxi provincial government ordered the Xian City public security bureau to bring in 8 police officers (including one who happened to be Du Guangli's classmate in middle school) in a special case squad.  At the same time, the Shengluo district public security bureau had more than 10 police officers in an investigative team to follow up on all the contents, events and people in our stories.  We are proud that they never found anything inaccurate.  On the contrary, the investigation caused the police investigators to undergo a big change in attitude.  One of them later disclosed: "The investigation showed that the conditions in the reporting was factual.  If anything, the reporters were quite conservative about the large-scale dissemination and spreading of the AIDS epidemic ..."  If it were not for the fact that the final report from the police special case squad was favorable to the reporters, then Du Guangli and Wang Wu might be looking at jail time and even I would not have got off scot-free.