SARS Whistleblower Under Heightened House Arrest, Suffering Memory Loss

February 11, 2020 Updated: February 12, 2020
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When people in China learned that the Chinese authorities tried to cover up the coronavirus outbreak and then silenced eight doctors who had informed their friends about the new pneumonia, they were reminded of Dr. Jiang Yanyong, who risked his life to expose China’s SARS coverup back in 2003.

Jiang is an 88-year-old retired military surgeon who worked at Beijing’s No. 301 Hospital. After working to expose the true numbers of SARS cases in China he was acclaimed as a SARS hero or SARS whistleblower.

Shortly after Dr. Li Wenliang, one of the eight coronavirus whistleblowers, passed away on Feb. 7, “Jiang Yanyong” became the most searched name on the Internet in China.

House Arrest and Tightened Surveillance

Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights & Democracy (ICHRD) recently revealed that since Feb. 7, the day Li Wenliang died, several plainclothes police officers have been guarding the front entrance of Jiang’s residence in Beijing.

He was placed under house arrest in March last year, after writing a letter to Chinese leader Xi Jinping demanding redress for the Chinese regime’s crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement in 1989.

When he tried to seek medical treatment for neurological deterioration on Apr. 8, 2019, the guard at his residential complex would not let him leave the building.

Jiang’s wife, Hua Zhongwei, told ICHRD on Feb. 7 that Jiang is currently recuperating at home after receiving medical treatment for pneumonia and is now in stable condition.

Hua told ICHRD that since 2004, Jiang has no personal freedom and cannot go abroad to visit his relatives, including his daughter who lives in California. When Jiang wanted to tour Hong Kong, he couldn’t get approval from the authorities to leave mainland China.

Hua said she felt very distressed and sorry about Li Wenliang’s death.

Severe Memory Loss

According to an exclusive report from the Guardian, a friend of Jiang disclosed that when Jiang was denied treatment in April last year, he was very angry. Later, he was given medication, which has resulted in severe memory loss.

Another friend said: “We haven’t seen him for a long time and can’t contact him. We heard his brain has been severely affected.”

The Chinese regime is known to routinely persecute prisoners of conscience by forcibly injecting drugs that damage the nervous system. The Guardian report did not say if Jiang’s friends suspect that Chinese authorities deliberately gave him harmful medication because he is considered to be a political dissident.

SARS Hero

When the SARS virus began spreading in China in late 2002 and early 2003, Chinese media were ordered to not report on the epidemic. On April 3, 2003, Zhang Wenkang, then China’s Minister of Health, held a press conference to announce that there were only 12 cases of SARS in Beijing, and that SARS “has been brought under effective control.” He encouraged foreigners to attend business meetings and expos in Beijing and Guangdong Province, saying that “Beijing is a safe place to live and visit” and “daily life in Guangdong is normal.”

The following day, Jiang emailed an 800-word letter to state broadcaster Chinese Central Television (CCTV) and Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV to report the much higher figures he collected. Jiang said he learned from medical staff in two of Beijing’s hospitals that there had been at least seven deaths and 106 cases of the disease. Although neither broadcaster published his letter, it was leaked to Western media outlets. A journalist from Time Magazine contacted Jiang on April 8 and published the numbers in his letter that same day.

“I simply couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Jiang wrote in his e-mail to Chinese media, “All the doctors and nurses who saw yesterday’s news were furious.”

His letter directly led to the sacking of Beijing’s mayor and the Minister of Health on April 21. Chinese authorities quickly assumed the role of “SARS hero,” actively identifying and quarantining suspected SARS cases, while keeping the real SARS hero, Dr. Jiang, out of the spotlight.

The authorities have also tried various methods to erase Jiang from people’s memory. For instance, they later granted the title “SARS hero” to Zhong Nanshan, who managed the SARS outbreak in 2003 by developing effective strategies to identify and isolate SARS patients.

In recent years, when Chinese state media publish articles about the SARS epidemic, there is absolutely no mention of Jiang, while Zhong is exalted as a national hero.

Zhong is currently the leading scientist of the National Health Commission expert panel for the novel coronavirus. Although he is well respected as a top medical expert in the country, Chinese netizens have questioned his moral integrity. Before the Chinese authorities finally admitted that the virus is spread between people, Zhong apparently helped the Chinese authorities downplay the severity of the contagion.