A Chinese Reporter And His Source

(Southern Weekend)  I Had My "Deep Throat."  By Fu  Jianfeng 傅剑锋.  December 28, 2006.

[in translation]

Perhaps many years later, this friend whom I have never met will invite me for a cup of coffee on a sunny afternoon and then tell me at leisure about his reasons which were based upon instinct and conscience.

This is a friend I really want to meet, but I don't even know the gender of this person.  So I shall refer to "him" here.  He was an informant in my investigation of "The Burn Unit of the Shenzhen Number Two People's Hospital defrauding worker insurance funds through overbilling."  He was the anonymous "deep throat" inside the medical care system, and the most mysterious informant in my entire career in investigative journalism.

Between September and October, he sent me letters of complaint at the rate of one per week.  In the letters, he claimed that he was also sending letters to certain Shenzhen and national supervisory departments at the same rate.  The letters were completely type-written.  There are six bright red exclamation marks on the envelops.  The only method of contact is a mobile telephone number that never gets through no matter what time of day, with the annotation: for SMS only.

This case for investigation was hard to come by, and it is especially important at a time when the Premier is emphasizing that we need to protect the social security fund.  I sent a SMS, but I did not get a reply for several days.  I recognized the psychological mindset of these whistleblowers.  When their complaints fail to arouse interest, they will usually erase all the traces for self-preservation, including discarding the telephone numbers.

I did not have a lot of hope left.  But several days later, a SMS came in late at night: "It is really great to make contact with you.  If you have sufficient persistence and courage, you will find a huge black hole."  I smiled and I replied: "I thought that you discarded the mobile telephone number.  I can see that you are not someone who gives up easily."  He replied: "I am only doing what a medical worker ought to do.  Actually, privately, many medical workers could not stand to look at those unethical behavior."

To verify whether his information was truthful and his motives were truly to protect the public interests as opposed to settling some personal grudge, I went to Shenzhen and I kept sending requests to meet him.  He replied: "Do you know about the case of Zhang Shu at the Anhui hospital?  He made a public complaint, and all the doctors and nurses around China called him sick and nobody at the hospital paid any attention to him.  I am afraid of that happening.  I am afraid of losing my job.  I don't dare speak to you.  I can't let you hear my voice.  I don't even want my friends know that I am sending messages.  I have no personal stake ... I just cannot stand this suffocating darkness!"

There are always certain people who have particularly sensitive conscience.  Even if they benefit along with the interest holders, they will reflect about these activities of the interest group that challenge the moral and legal bottom lines.  I have contacted the "deep throat" who reported to CCTV about the breast enhancement product Amazingel.  He was a conscientious official within the health system.  I also met a whistleblower who reported on a huge provincial corruption case.  This person of conscience straddled both government and business and spent several years fighting against corruption.  I also met another whistleblower who went public from underground.  This was a coalmine owner named Huang Yuanxun.  After complaining in public, his prosperous family became dirt-poor with only piles of complain material left.  His life was threatened many times, and he wrote a will addressed to the provincial party secretary.  On the day when the corrupt officials fell, he and the local citizens set off firecrackers to celebrate.  He called me and cheered loudly over the telephone ...

This mysterious whistleblower sent SMS to me almost every day and inquired about the progress of the investigation.  He provided me with a large number of telephone numbers of the principals and the supervisory agencies.  I located several medical workers in the know and I sent each of them a letter: "When you see this letter, do not be afraid.  You should not think that this society is cold and indifferent.  No, there are many good people in this society, good people just like you.  But most of the time, they are hiding in the dark, they are silent and they lack courage.  In this society with plenty of good people, the saddest thing is that the good people are isolated, helpless and fighting on their own.  What is missing is good people helping and supporting each other.  If the good people can unite together, the darkness will no longer be so scary and the truth cannot be covered up!"

Some of the medical workers were moved and they provided many instances of appalling cases.  But most of these were based upon verbal descriptions and this poses a fatal danger in investigative journalism.  It is essential to obtain documentary evidence.  At an obscure restaurant, an insider medical worker told me that he(she) once copied over one hundred medical case files of improper billing.  But the Burn Unit director Zhu Zhixiang was first placed under the "double regulations" and then returned to his post unpunished.  Then this medical worker was so despondent that he(she) incinerated all those copies of case files.

For the next dozen or so days, I was stuck in an impasse when I tried to find material evidence.  I did not even bother replying to my informant's SMS.  One day, he wrote: "Frankly speaking, I am uneasy when I don't hear from you.  First, it is because I cannot help you all the way.  Secondly, I am afraid that you have given up ... you cannot give up!  Without you, the truth cannot get out!"

But as the evidence collection began to become smoother, the newspaper's hotline received a telephone call.  The caller claimed to be someone who is about to commit suicide in Shenzhen.  Before dying, he wanted to speak with the reporter Fu Jianfeng.  I called back immediately.  But I was very careful and I used a brand new telephone number.  As soon as I heard the voice, I felt that the crying tone was faked.  After a few words, he asked me whether I was in Shenzhen.  My professional instinct told me that this was not something that a person about to commit suicide should be saying.  So I asked unexpectedly: "Are you a doctor?"  The voice on the side seemed panicky and said: "Yes."  I calmly spoke to him a bit more and then I hung up the telephone.  I informed my informant about this situation.  The informant replied: "When you went to visit the Guangdong Occupational Injury Rehabilitation Center, they realized that you were conducting an investigation.  This so-called suicide telephone call was an attempt to determine your whereabouts."  He recommended that I go back to Guangzhou the next day and then use a fixed-line Guangzhou number to call this "suicidal person" again to comfort him while hinting that I had returned to Guangzhou because the investigation had failed.  This will make the other side relax, and then I could go back to Shenzhen immediately to continue the investigation.  His recommendation was shockingly the same as my idea, and this made me a bit wistful.

More than 40 days later, the report <Two cases of work injury cases cost 1.61 million RMB; the sky-priced medical care black hole eats up the social security fund> was published and the principal was formally placed under the "double regulations."  Immediately afterwards, CCTV exposed another sky-priced medical care case at the Shenzhen Number One People's Hospital.  The mysterious whistleblower sent me a SMS: "At a time when everybody dare to say anything,  you did what your conscience told you.  In this whole world, you are the only one that I admire."  This was followed by a few dozen exclamation marks.  I replied immediately: "Daring to speak out is just my professional duty.  But you are in the middle of it and yet you are so brave.  This is the main reason why the truth was revealed.  I salute all the people who have conscience!"

He did not reply again.  He was as traceless as a particle of sand lost in an ocean.

Perhaps many years later, this friend whom I have never met will invite me for a cup of coffee on a sunny afternoon and then tell me at leisure about his reasons which were based upon instinct and conscience.