R.I.P. Wang Shuping, China’s HIV whistleblower

Society & Culture

Photo credit: Hampstead Theatre

“Speaking out cost me my job, my marriage and my happiness at the time, but it also helped save the lives of thousands and thousands of people.”

—Wang Shuping

In the mid-1990s, a massive outbreak of HIV hit Henan Province, a landlocked and poor province of central China. The disease spread fast, the Washington Post says, because as many as 1 million destitute farmers sold their blood plasma to earn 50 yuan, or approximately $7.50, a “considerable windfall” at the time.

The woman who tried to stop the outbreak, Wáng Shūpíng 王淑平, died on September 21 at the age of 59. Here’s what you should know about the important Chinese medical whistleblower’s story, drawn from her account at Chinachange.org:

  • Wang was a hepatitis researcher who began her career in the mid 1980s.
  • In late 1991 and 1992, she discovered a hepatitis C outbreak in Henan, but her proposals to prevent cross contamination were vetoed by her station leaders because they “will increase costs.” Hepatitis C and AIDS have the same path of infection, so it was no surprise when she soon discovered an HIV/AIDS outbreak in the same region.
  • But: “I understood very well that [the officials] wanted me to keep it secret, because exposing the epidemic would botch their job evaluation as officials.”
  • She was later forced out of her clinical job in Henan by officials who feared losing their jobs over the HIV outbreak, and by 2001, fled to the U.S., where she remained in exile until her death.

However, the harassment from local officials who resented Wang’s reporting of the outbreak directly to Beijing never actually ended. As recently as earlier this month, the Guardian reported, Wang’s friends and family back in China were threatened in an attempt to stop a retelling of her story on stage at London’s Hampstead Theatre. It didn’t work. Some of Wang’s final words quoted in media were this: “Even after all this time, I will still not be silenced, even though I am deeply sad that this intimidation is happening yet again.”