The recently deceased 1990s Henan Province blood plasma collection — HIV epidemic whistle-blower Wang Shuping (of Zoukou, Henan), also known as Sunshine Christensen (of Salt Lake City, Utah) 王淑平 is a hero of the Chinese people. 中华民族英雄
A Chinese Joan of Arc Figure Yes but a Mother Teresa Too
A Joan of Arc figure but also a Mother Teresa too. Like the other Henan hero-physician Dr. Gao Yaojie 高耀洁 (also an exile, now living in New York City) Shuping in the middle 1990s would often travel circuits through some of Henan’s AIDS villages. She visited and revisited people suffering from HIV/AIDS, doing what she could for them as they developed a variety of problems as their AIDS progressed. Shuping often used her own savings for. She would tell me about these trips, sometimes showing me photos at our regular, discreet lunches we had at the time around Beijing. She also did an amazing underground longitudinal study of the progression of AIDS in Chinese country people. This reflected Shuping’s love for the most unfortunate and lowest status people in society – the suffering peasants of Henan, a vast Chinese province of about 100 million people.
Now it can be told: Shuping Wang, for several years was assistant to Zeng Yi, the chair of the PRC National Committee on HIV/AIDS, was also the single most important source for US Embassy Beijing reporting on China’s HIV epidemic. (I have kept quiet about until now since the PRC might decided to harass or even arrest Shuping if somehow she came within their reach) Wang Shuping provided rock-solid, highly sensitive internal information about the HIV epidemic and the Chinese leadership’s disappointingly weak response. That in turn seized the attention of the Clinton White House (esp VP Gore) and drove more US engagement with China on HIV/AIDS. In the late 1990s in Beijing, a contractor for the UK Department for International Development (DIFID) told me our Beijing reporting also helped propel UK engagement with China. This likely because the US and the UK share quite a bit of diplomatic reporting back home in our capitals.
Ten years ago another Chinese physician who had investigated HIV/AIDS among poor peasants in a Henan village told Science magazine that a journalist had written an article about his investigation in a Henan paper, I believe the Dajiangbao. He said he was astonished to see the article in English translation on the US Embassy webpage in english translation just two months later. Wang Shuping gave me the article, telling me it was very important. I translated it and put in on the US Embassy Environment, Science and Technology section webpage.
Another example of how Shuping helped point out the most reliable sources of information was the anonymous article “The Blood Wound“. Shuping said that both she and her friend Dr. Gao Yaojie found the article, a history of the HIV blood–borne HIV epidemic in Henan province, to be very trustworthy. So I translated it and circulated it widely.
During my years at US Embassy Beijing I translated and shared widely many articles on the HIV/AIDS epidemic with the idea that although my diplomatic reporting had a limited audience, I could in my own small way help increase pressure for things to move in the right direction. So I found I could help the international media reporting on HIV in CHina without violating State Department media rules this way. Nothing wrong with just sharting a translation from the Chinese media! Some of these articles are can be found on the Internet Archive at “Chinese medical journal articles, press in English“. Shuping helped me a great deal with her explanations and suggestions about what was important. Naturally I developed many other contacts and read widely in Chinese medical journals and the Chinese press. In my five years I always found Wang Shuping’s information completely reliable.
Some of the reports US Embassy Beijing put out on its website at the time can be found on the Internet Archive at https://web.archive.org/web/20010809150226fw_/http://www.usembassy-china.org.cn/english/sandt/sandtbak-hp.html#Health
Here is what Shuping said in a recent interview:
Whistle-blowing involves huge personal sacrifice: what motivated you to take such a step?
Actually, I didn’t think of it in that way at the time. I expected that quick action would be taken to address the problem with a sense of urgency. Being a medical doctor, my primary interest is to my patients and to the public, not to myself. I was given opportunities to alter my reports, and it became more and more clear that there would be consequences for not doing so. 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 Shuping’ s whistle-blowing report in translation: https://gaodawei.wordpress.com/2019/08/11/henan-1995-warning-of-coming-blood-donation-spread-hiv-epidemic/
September 2019 interview with Wang Shuping on BBC Radio Four’s The Women’s Hour https://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/news/2019/september/womans-hour-interviews-dr-shuping-wang-and-frances-ya-chu-cowhig/
A Cheerful Woman with an Outrageous Sense of Humor. Maybe that resilience made her heroism possible
Shuping was a most determined, relentlessly optimistic and most loving woman. Our appreciation for her accomplishments should not overshadow Shuping as a person. She chose the English name Sunshine Christensen for a reason. Perhaps her exuberance and love for the outrageous – sometimes half serious, sometimes making a point along the way – made possible the perseverance she had. As a ten-year old, she was the ‘spy daughter’ focus of a Cultural Revolution struggle session, later a persecuted whistle blower and a confidential informant of US Embassy Beijing so that the world would know (not merely for the sake of the world knowing, but so that public embarrassment about the AIDS cover-up would force the party-state to move in the right direction) and finally as a beloved researcher at the University of Utah and hiking enthusiast.
Getting a Little Help from Her Friends — Thank you, CDC for the Field Epidemiology Training Course!
Quite a few health professionals in China know Wang Shuping’s story. Very few in China, the US and elsewhere know that she got her epidemiological training from that three-month U.S. CDC Field Epidemiology training course offered in Beijing in 1988. Shuping couldn’t have stood up with rock-solid evidence that the HIV epidemic was coming without it. Talk about our US federal tax dollars at work! So Shuping Wang’s life was even more entwined with the United States than people realize.
And finally she became a U.S. citizen and a research worker at the University of Utah near her home in Salt Lake City where she lived with her daughter Samantha, husband Gary Christensen and their children David and Julie.
Loved Animals Too Take a Look at Her Cat Training Video
Shuping’s love extended to animals – she told me that she had to change her research assistant job because she had come to sympathize more and more with the lab rats and the mother lab rats defending their children. Her cat training video is on Youtube Siamese cat Billiy performs tricks https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wp9a6tNScOw&app=desktop
The Empty Chair
Shuping took up painting about five years ago. I felt so moved when I saw her painting position and nearly- finished painting in the basement of her home! A winter scene, with subjects including her family, neighbors and of course their pets and the family dog Bagel (white dog 白狗 baigou in Chinese turned into Bagel). Salt Lake City”s Mount Olympus is in the background. The painting was inspired by Grandma Moses’ “Sugaring Off” which you can see affixed above the painting.
Shuping’s Life Reminds me of Ted Kennedy’s Eulogy of his brother Senator Robert Kennedy
Shuping’s passing makes me think back to Senator Ted Kennedy’s wonderful eulogy of his brother back in 1968. It made a big impression back then when I watched it on television from Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.
One could say the same of Shuping.
“Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change. And I believe that in this generation those with the courage to enter the moral conflict will find themselves with companions in every corner of the globe.
“For the fortunate among us, there is the temptation to follow the easy and familiar paths of personal ambition and financial success so grandly spread before those who enjoy the privilege of education. But that is not the road history has marked out for us. Like it or not, we live in times of danger and uncertainty. But they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history.
“All of us will ultimately be judged, and as the years pass we will surely judge ourselves on the effort we have contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which our ideals and goals have shaped that event.
“*The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of new ideas and bold projects. Rather it will belong to those who can blend vision, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the ideals and great enterprises of American Society.
“* Our future may lie beyond our vision, but it is not completely beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle, that will determine our destiny. There is pride in that, even arrogance, but there is also experience and truth. In any event, it is the only way we can live.
“That is the way he lived. That is what he leaves us.
“My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.
“Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world.