On Sept. 12, following a performance of “The King of Hell’s Palace” at London’s Hempstead Theatre, the Chinese whistleblower received a standing ovation from the audience.
The play, one the Chinese government pressured the whistleblower to cancel, is based on the whistleblower’s life and tells of the spread of the HIV epidemic in eastern Henan Province in the 1990s. According to a statement posted by the whistleblower on the theater’s website, the Chinese government feared the play would “cause embarrassment” to the government “and damage the reputation of specific officials.”
In the early1990s, Henan Province had a thriving commercial blood harvesting industry where hundreds of thousands of poor farmers were recruited to sell blood for a few dollars, which contributed to the spread of hepatitis C and HIV. Dr. WANG Shuping (王淑平) was the Chinese whistleblower. She collected evidence and exposed efforts to conceal an AIDS epidemic in rural China.
Wang was one of the earliest medical professionals engaged in the war against AIDS in China. She became aware of cross-contamination of plasma bought from poor farmers at a plasma collection station ran by Zhoukou city’s epidemic prevention center. The stations’ equipment was often not sterilized properly. “Leftover” blood was often mixed in tubs and transfused back into the blood sellers so they can sell more blood more quickly.
Realizing the gravity of the situation, Wang reported the issue to officials at the local health bureau. That drew no response from the local authorities. She then reported it to the Ministry of Health in Beijing, but was asked to falsify her data about the HIV epidemic among plasma donors. She refused because she knew, if unchecked, the contaminated plasma would enable the HIV virus to decimate poverty-stricken rural communities.
Her refusal to keep quiet brought on unspeakable hardships for her and her family. It cost her marriage. Her parents were forced to don dunce caps on a stage in front of thousands of people. She was physically attacked. She lost her job.
Despite all that, Wang stayed the course in her quest to stem the bad blood issue. She defied the Chinese government not once, but twice: first by refusing to cover up the AIDS epidemic in the 1990s and then, in 2019, exposed the pressure tactics used to intimidate her throughout.
In a statement published Sept. 3, 2019, Wang said, "They pressured me to close the clinical testing center but I wouldn't give in, and then Zhoukou health bureau sent people to cut off the electricity and water supply to my lab, forcing it to discard thousands of blood samples from blood donors. Eventually, they collaborated with the Henan provincial health bureau to close the clinical testing center.
“I am an America now, and am a U.S. citizen. I tell myself that I protected vulnerable and helpless people and that I have to be strong against evil powers. I hope the play helps expose and stop the kinds of corruption and bullying Chinese doctors, health officials and AIDS activists like Dr. Gao Yaojie, Wan Yanhai and myself endured during our efforts to draw attention to the Henan AIDS epidemic of the 1990s.”
The Chinese government quietly closed the plasma collection stations in 1996 and introduced HIV- screening tests, as recommended by Wang originally. Unfortunately, by then, countless (the BBC estimates more than half a million) people had already been infected; many families were affected. And it is believed an underground trade in tainted blood continued to flourish. In 2001, the Chinese government admitted there was a serious AIDS outbreak in central China, and established a special health clinic to treat AIDS-related illnesses.
Wang was born in Henan Province in 1959. When Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution began, her parents (mother was a village doctor, father was a math teacher) were attacked for their backgrounds. At 8, her education was cut short because of the persecution. Five years later, an uncle took her away from her home village, adopted her so she could resume her education. In 1991, shortly after graduating medical school, she began work at a plasma collection center in Henan.
In 1997, Wang moved to Beijing where she found others as alarmed by the AIDS epidemic in rural Henan Province as she. In 2001, she moved to the U.S. by herself, leaving behind her young daughter and husband, and eventually became a U.S. citizen and continued her medical research work. She remarried in 2005. She never returned to China because she said she “did not feel safe.”
“I ran into huge troubles, which involved the power and money against the lives of the poor and the powerless. I made the decision to stand up for innocent people who were infected by the severe HCV and HIV viruses. I didn’t concern myself with my own fate. This is the first rule as a doctor,” Wang said in a recent interview.
On Sept. 21, she died of a heart attack while hiking in Utah with friends and second husband Gary Christensen. She was 59.
An anonymous, partisan federal employee in Washington, D.C., blew the whistle on a presidential diplomatic phone call in 2019 resulted in a namby-pamby impeachment “inquiry.” A doctor in central China blew the whistle on shoddy government practices and saved thousands of lives. Whistleblowers are not created equal!
by Greg Hugh
In the spirit of full disclosure and complete transparency, I am letting you know that I am writing this as a proud grandfather By Greg Hugh
after several staff writers had schedule conflicts. This is an article about Lauren Hugh’s career development and ultimately decided that I was actually the most qualified to write about her. Naturally, I need to refrain from being overly biased in reporting the facts here since there is a good possibility that some of this material may make it into a future issue of Playbill!
Lauren’s first exposure in the spotlight occurred when she was only 2 years old -- she appeared in an ad for Huggies Diapers (See front page) and ironically, she was posed sitting at a piano, an instrument she learned to play later. Her grandmother Linda (my wife), had heard about a casting call for models, so Lauren’s mother, Patty, took her for an audition and she was selected. Did Kimberly-Clark have a premonition of Lauren’s future?
Looking back on her childhood, Lauren along with her older sister Megan, loved to put on shows and perform since they always had a captive audience, their family. While she may have enjoyed an average childhood raised in the western suburbs of Minneapolis, she managed to earn a black belt in Tae Kwon Do classes she took with her father, Brian. Because she loved to sing, her mother decided to enroll her into the Chanhassen Dinner Theater (CDT) summer musical theatre camp when she was only 8 years old. At first, Lauren resisted; but now admits that had she not gone to those camps, she would probably not be in theatre today.
By Greg Hugh
Although only 17 years old, Andrew Moy has been performing in local theater since he was 8 years old. Moy is now starring in his 10th play at the Stages Theatre in Hopkins. “Shrek the Musical” is a rousing fairy tale adventure of an ogre-turned-unlikely-hero who galumphs onto the main stage. This Tony Award-winning musical is based on the Oscar-winning DreamWorks Animation film. A wise-cracking donkey, a feisty princess, a short-tempered villain, a cookie with an attitude and dozens of fairy tale misfits stir up the kind of muddled mayhem that calls for a real hero. Fortunately, Shrek is on his way!
By Greg Hugh
What does a child adopted from China by an American couple experience as they grow up in the U.S.? The idea for this article was proposed by Ming Tchou, founder of the Chinese Heritage Foundation, whose mission is to preserve and promote, through grant making, the understanding of Chinese history, culture, and heritage among all Minnesotans. Tchou thought it would be interesting to get a perspective from such a child, so she and I selected Summer Ahern to be the subject of this article
Summer was adopted by Will and Beth Ahern, residents of Chanhassen, in 1999 when she was 15 months old.
May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, a month that celebrates and pays tribute to the contributions generations of Asian Pacific Americans have made to American history, sciences and culture.
Like most commemorative months, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month originated in 1978 when Congress passed a law directing the president to issue a proclamation designating the week beginning on May 4, 1979, as Asian Pacific American Heritage Week. On March 28, 1979, President Jimmy Carter issued Presidential Proclamation 4650, which highlighted the significant role Asian Pacific Americans have contributed to American society.