China,  Democracy

The Death of Xia Chensen

In September, I wrote about abortion policy in China after receiving a matter-of-fact e-mail from my Jiangsu correspondent about her booking in for an abortion just as I might for dental treatment.

Now she has told me of a mini-riot in her city after a local child died during treatment at Zhangjiagang Hospital Number 1. Five year old Xia Chensen was admitted on 28 November with suspected gastroenteritis, and prescribed an intravenous drip.

Within minutes, he deteriorated and slipped into unconsciousness. Despite immediate emergency treatment, he died shortly afterward.

Following a traditional seven day period of mourning, Xia Chensen’s parents and a group of local inhabitants staged an impromptu vigil outside the hospital. What was initially a peaceful demonstration was countered immediately by riot Police (shown above), and clashes resulted in which the hospital building was stormed and considerable damage inflicted, as hundreds more local inhabitants arrived.

The New York Times discussed in August growing discontent amongst the Chinese public towards hospital staff. Maybe Andy Newman would defend the authorities’ deploying riot squads against a vigil in which the most dangerous weapon would have been thorns on flowers being laid in memory of Xia Chensen, but sometimes lethal violence has been inflicted on hospital staff as some six thousand are attacked each year.

Previously, rudimentary but free medical care was provided to all Chinese. With the opening of a market economy, this has been removed and now impoverished families may spend all their savings seeking distant health care.

The NY Times suggests this creates unrealistic expectations, and my correspondent would agree. Her discomfort, like that of many, is towards the immediately defensive attitude of the authorities initial claims that a rent-a-mob was hired by Xia Chesen’s parents: two low-level graduates who had little to no family and social links in the city.

With social networking sites such as Facebook and YouTube blocked, and heavy monitoring of of permitted traffic, Chinese Internet users will seek other ways to share English-language views as I see on the Wikipedia entry for Zhangjiagang has a les-than-objective comment on Xia Chesen’s death.

On Sunday November 28th of 2010, a boy of 5 years, Xia Chenshen, died at People’s Hospital No. 1 after receiving a lethal IV. Ignored by medical personnel refusing to provide explanations, the father of the child wrote his story on the Internet, which was visited 300,000 times on the Tianya forum. On the seventh day after the death of Xia Chensen, a crowd of at least a thousand people gathered spontaneously in front of the People’s Hospital No. 1. According to the South China Morning Post, when this peaceful vigil was interrupted by the police, the scene degenerated. Witnesses said people were beaten by police and arrested. This case illustrates the problems of an unequal health care system, which exasperates part of the population.

Four hospital staff – the Vice President of the hospital, Director of pediatrics as well as the doctor and a pharmacist involved with Xia Chesen’s treatment – have been suspended.

Brutal, and no doubt capable of extreme repressive violence if ever their hold on power genuinely were threatened, the Chinese Communist Party continues to show concessions to public outrage. A recent fire at a Shanghai residential building caused by construction work, in which 58 occupants died resulted in a personal visit from Premier Wen Jiabao to offset claims of official indifference.

A similar recent case of attempted official denial followed by public apologies occurred following the hit-and-run killing of Xiaofeng Chen, a 20 year old student at Hebei University in Baoding. The driver quickly was apprehended by campus security, who were drunkenly taunted that, as the son of Li Gang (a local Police commander), he was immune from prosecution.

Initial attempts to prove him right were confounded by postings to the Chinese-language Tianya web-forum. Although it is unclear whether his son will face prosecution, Li Gang was subjected to public rustication in which he repudiated his son’s actions, and paid compensation to Xiaofeng Chen’s family.