The Last Hero of Tiananmen

In 2004, after revealing the truth about SARS in China, military doctor Jiang Yanyong went public with his experience treating victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Journalist Philip Pan describes this effort–and the price Jiang paid–in his book “Out of Mao’s Shadow: The Struggle for the Soul of the New China.” The passage on Jiang is reprinted in the New Republic. An excerpt:

. . . . Jiang knew that SARS was a dangerous disease and that a major epidemic could be in the works in Beijing. “As a doctor,” he later told me, “I felt I had a duty to tell the truth.” He e-mailed the state press, and eventually, when nothing happened, he sent the e-mails on to friends, who relayed them to the foreign press. Soon, the world knew of China’s SARS epidemic.

Faced with condemnation abroad and growing skepticism at home, the new president and party leader, Hu Jintao, decided the cover-up was no longer tenable and ordered an end to the lies. But, even as the government worked to contain the epidemic, Jiang felt a pang of guilt. The SARS cover-up was not the first time he had to decide whether to keep quiet about party wrongdoing. He had confronted a similar choice after the Tiananmen massacre. At the time, he believed he had acted honorably. But now, as the public praised his integrity and hailed him as the “honest doctor” who exposed the SARS cover-up, those feelings of shame and remorse were stronger than ever. If one person speaking truth to power could change history, as he had shown in the SARS crisis, then why had he remained quiet for so long about Tiananmen? Although Jiang had escaped serious punishment after speaking out on SARS, he knew there were great risks to speaking out again. But he had gained a measure of fame and political capital, and he resolved to use it on behalf of the victims of Tiananmen and their families.


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