Every now and then the real face of this ‘harmonious society’ is being exposed. Like in this article from the South China Morning Post.
Clutching a grimy tote bag filled with legal documents and photos of her executed son, Meng Zhaoping is trying to argue her way past a security guard at the provincial court for the second day in a row.
All she wants is an audience with a court officer, she says, her voice echoing down the hallways of the building in Xian . All she has are two questions. Why was her son put to death? And what happened to his body?
The answer to the first question is in the charge sheet: he knifed a man to death in a brawl. The second answer, she is convinced, lies in a much-criticised mainland practice – taking organs from executed prisoners for transplant surgery.
“Let me talk to someone! Give me justice!” shouted Ms Meng as the guard blocked her way. Ever since her son was convicted and executed in January 2005, Ms Meng has been searching for an explanation. She never saw his body. His corpse, tagged No 207, was put in a hospital van and taken to a crematorium.
By then, Ms Meng believes, the body was stripped of its organs. “It would be unbelievably cruel to take his organs. It’s the final insult,” she said later, riding a public bus to yet another government office, lines of fatigue etched around her eyes.
She has no direct evidence to back her belief, but the secrecy in which Beijing has shrouded the issue has long bred suspicions, with foreign medical and human rights groups saying it is opaque, profit-driven, and indifferent to medical ethics. What’s new is that these critics are being joined by ordinary mainland citizens such as Ms Meng, a 53-year-old apple farmer from the fringe of the Gobi Desert.
For more than two years, Ms Meng has made a dozen trips to the capital of Shaanxi province , borrowing money for the 46-hour train trip from the family farm. She has journeyed even farther, to Beijing, seeking central government intervention.
Each time she has been shunted among government agencies. In March, she said, officials in her hometown of Kuitun prevented her from leaving. “Ordinary people like us are like ants. The system just steps on them and destroys them,” she said. Much of the furore surrounds the alleged use of organs – mostly kidneys, livers and corneas – from executed prisoners who may not have given their permission. Critics argue that death row prisoners are not free to consent and may feel compelled to become donors, violating personal, religious or cultural beliefs.
Although few involved in the mainland’s transplant trade, from doctors to government ministers, talk openly about it, Beijing has begun to respond to criticism.
Twice in the past two years, Vice-Health Minister Huang Jiefu has publicly acknowledged that the mainland routinely removes organs from executed prisoners for transplants – but only with prior consent. (Yeah, right. I can imagine how that process goes)
This month the State Council, the nation’s cabinet, formalised Health Ministry rules issued last year that ban the sale of organs and require donors to supply written permission. But the regulations, which come into effect next week, do not mention prisoners.
Outside the prison population, voluntary organ donations are rare. China’s Confucian heritage holds that the body be kept intact out of respect for parents and ancestors. (Isn’t Confucianism a great way to justify the fact that you are a selfish egocentric cunt?) Health officials say the country faces a severe organ shortage, estimating that 1.5 million people need transplants on the mainland each year, and that only about 10,000 operations are carried out. The Health Ministry last week issued a call for people to become donors and ease pressure on the transplant programme.
But the mainland’s high number of executions – at least 1,770 people in 2005, according to Amnesty International – means organs could be readily available. Wealthy Chinese and foreigners are willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Brokers stand ready to arrange transplants in weeks rather than the months or years it often takes in the west. The situation has raised the question of whether the mainland might be executing prisoners to stock the organ market?
“There’s a clear demand, and where there’s a demand, there’s a market,” said Henk Bekedam, head of the World Health Organisation’s China office. “This is a market that needs to be very strongly regulated in order to guide it properly.”
Earlier this year, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said that “the use of organs from executed people is done very prudently”.
“We have relevant rules and regulations requiring the written consent of the individual donor and the ratification of relevant health departments and courts,” Ms Jiang said. “The policy of the Chinese government is very strict.”
In the case of Ms Meng’s son, city and court officials in Xian did not respond to repeated fax and telephone requests for details. The Health Ministry refused to answer a faxed inquiry, referring all questions to its website, which only provides general health information and never goes into specific cases.
Ms Meng said her son, Wu Zhenjiang, did not mention donating his organs in his five-page handwritten will, handed to her by court officials after he was executed by gunshot. It is the most common execution method on the mainland, although lethal injection is gaining ground. “It’s part of his body. It’s something he would have written in his will if he wanted to do it,” she said. One family from a village outside the northern port city of Qinhuangdao detailed the horror of seeing their executed son’s mutilated corpse.
“His right eye was gone and there was a 2cm cut on the eye socket. They say it was a gunshot,” Ri Chunfen and Ma Yujun wrote in a letter to the media. “We also found a long cut on his stomach which was sewn up. The court official finally admitted that a liver and two kidneys had been taken away.”
The account appears consistent with a report by Human Rights Watch, which quoted an unnamed former Shanghai police official as saying he witnessed the execution of a prisoner whose corneas were needed for a transplant. “In order to preserve the eyes, the prisoner was shot in the heart,” the New York-based rights group quoted the official as saying. “This is what happens. If they need the heart, the prisoner would be shot in the head instead.” (Practical little buggers, aren’t they?)
Foreigners who have had transplants on the mainland have become part of the uncomfortable debate over organs from executed prisoners.
Eric De Leon, a 51-year-old construction superintendent from San Mateo, California, received a liver transplant in Shanghai last year. He then found himself criticised by readers of his weblog and by a columnist for Real Clear Politics, a political website, for supporting the mainland’s organ trade.
Mr De Leon defended his actions, saying he was unaware of any controversy before his surgery. He said doctors told him the liver was from a 20-year-old heroin dealer killed in a border skirmish.
“I don’t think I did anything wrong,” Mr De Leon said. “If a person died just for me, I’d feel bad. But if a guy was a murderer or died in a motorcycle accident or a car accident and a liver came open, so be it.”
For Ms Meng, the issue also breaks down clearly. “All I want to know is what happened to my son,” she said. “I gave birth to him, I raised him. Why didn’t they let me see him one last time? Why didn’t they let me say just one word to him?”
Athletic and with a thick head of dark hair, Wu was a blood donor and a member of the youth league in Kuitun. He came to Xian in 2003 to study when he was 24, and worked part-time in an internet cafe to support himself and send money home.
One spring night in 2004, Wu refused entry to a group of men who didn’t want to pay for using the computers. The next day, they came back. A fight ensued, spilling onto the street, according to court documents Ms Meng read.
Wu, his face bloodied and his fingers broken, pulled a fruit knife – a gift from his mother – and stabbed wildly at his attackers. One man died and another three were injured.
Except for a brief court appearance in 2004, Ms Meng never saw or spoke to her son again. Court documents show he was convicted of causing intentional harm and executed on January 13, 2005.
She began her quest shortly after, and in August that year, she said she spoke to an elderly man outside a Xian government building who told her he was a retired judge and offered to help. He said her son’s body had likely been taken to a hospital for his organs. For 600 yuan he would help get her an audience with a court officer.
Ms Meng handed over half the amount – and never saw him again. But the seeds of doubt had been sown. Her suspicions hardened last year while in Beijing where she met a human rights activist.
On their January trip to Xian, Ms Meng and her 26-year-old daughter, Wu Junjie, rented a cramped, unheated room in a boarding house for 20 yuan a day. They can barely afford bus fare and live on noodles and apples from their orchard.
Wrapped up against the winter cold and bounced between city and provincial courts and lawyers’ offices, their frustration grows. “They’ve been kicking responsibility around like a ball. They’ve been kicking me from one department to another,” Ms Meng said.
At the Shaanxi Provincial High Court, Ms Meng and Ms Wu are asked to wait in the parking lot. Zhang Wei, a court official Ms Meng has met before, eventually comes out to talk to them. He listens to Ms Meng, who grows agitated and starts shouting and crying as she tries to explain her son’s case.
Three days after they arrive, ms Meng and her daughter go to one of the city’s main crematoriums. There workers tell them that Wu Zhenjiang’s body was brought in by a van from Xian Jiaotong University’s School of Medicine. It was tagged No 207.
At the kidney transplant centre at a hospital affiliated with the school, Ms Meng and Ms Wu meet an unidentified man puffing on a cigarette, who says he had a kidney transplanted there seven years ago from an executed prisoner. “How do I know? It’s an unspoken truth here,” he said. “If you have money, anything is possible.”
A hospital official who would give only his family name, Huang, insisted that all organs came from family members.