Zhong Nanshan Meets Sun Zhigang

What is this about?  Who are these people?

First, the case file on Zhong Nanshan (钟南山) at Southcn.com:

Zhong Nanshan was propelled into the public eye in a way he wished had never happened.  For years a leading Chinese specialist in respiratory diseases, Zhong was well known among his peers, but the outbreak of SARS has turned him into a household name across the country. ...

Zhong was one of a limited number of doctors informed of the disease from the moment the first few cases were reported through the inner medical network in Guangdong.  He and his colleagues had been engaged in combating it for more than a month before he appeared at the press conference in Guangzhou.

During that time Zhong witnessed how it had spread from a single patient to the doctors, nurses and others who had close contact with the infected man.  The patient, from the Heyuan County of Guangdong, was admitted into the Centre for Respiratory Diseases in Guangdong in early December last year. After being treated for one month as a pneumonia case, far from improving, the patient's condition worsened. Mystified by the illness, it was then Zhong and his colleagues realized something unusual about their "pneumonia" patient.  Although experiencing difficulty in breathing, he did not have a high temperature, as is typical with pneumonia. It was also realized that his lungs were hardening, leading to ever serious breathing difficulties.  "His lungs were as hard as plastic, which is unseen in regular pneumonia or even cases related to symptoms of other unidentified pneumonia," Zhong recalled.

The usual treatment with antibiotics also had no effect and it was only after the patient was given intravenous injections of corticosteroid (steroid hormone produced by the cortex of the adrenal glands) that his condition began to respond.  "We were very surprised at its effect," said Zhong.  But worst surprises were soon to follow as doctors and nurses who had had close contact with the patient fell ill with the same disease, one after another.  The infected man's relatives and the ambulance driver who brought him to hospital were also found to have caught the virus, taking the then total number of infections to eight.

Zhong began to realize that he and his colleagues were facing an apparently highly infectious, unknown disease. Similar cases were reported in Zhongshan, another city in Guangdong. He was invited by the provincial Bureau of Health to lead an expert team to investigate the incidences, which by then had reached 30.  Those inquiries suggested the cases concerned the same type of disease, which Zhong described as "atypical pneumonia" in the subsequent report on his findings.  "Some symptoms of the disease are similar to those of pneumonia and they may be confused with each other at first glance," explained Zhong. "But they are not."  The patient they admitted in December was later identified as the second such case in Guangdong, with the first traced to the city of Foshan.  The number of cases rose sharply in Guangzhou in late January and continued in coming weeks. Deaths were being reported daily, driving local residents into a state of near panic by early February.

Zhong was appointed by the provincial government as head of the expert task force to direct all the province's hospitals handling of the disease.  The Centre for Respiratory Diseases, of which he is director, admitted the patients with very serious conditions. Zhong not only saw new patients brought in each day, but also noticed, to his dismay, that his colleagues were becoming infected whilst treating their patients.  Fourteen doctors and nurses at the centre have, to date, fallen to SARS infection, Zhong said, and this in spite of stringent preventive measures.

He spoke of a doctor who became infected whilst treating a dying patient. Within three days that doctor and two nurses had fallen ill, none of whom have yet fully recovered.  "They are my colleagues and friends," said Zhong. "I feel great pain seeing them suffer. They do it knowing the great risk of being infected, but none of them has quit in the face of the threat."  Neither has Zhong, who examines every patient admitted to the centre.  His medical knowledge and first hand experience makes him well aware of the danger posed by SARS. Throughout he has refused to compromise his professional integrity by concealing the facts or by making misleading remarks about the disease.

He voiced his concerns over the possibility of a SARS outbreak in other regions at a conference in Beijing in early March, when Beijing was thought to be free from the disease.  He also expressed his reservations when Zhang Wenkang, the sacked former Minister of Health, erroneously announced at a press conference early this month that only 12 cases of SARS had been found in Beijing and that the disease had been "brought under control."  Zhong challenged these official remarks at another conference held a week later, arguing that the disease had not yet been effectively controlled in medical terms.  "How can you bring the disease under control when you don't know its cause?" he told that forum.

Zhong's challenges were not confined to the underestimation of the severity of the disease, but also at those who might make hasty investigative conclusions concerning it.  When SARS cases peaked in late February in Guangdong, researchers at the Chinese Centre for Disease Prevention and Control announced they had detected the pathogen of SARS and identified it as a new type of chlamydia.  This discovery was quickly made public by the media and reported to the WHO.  But Zhong and other doctors in Guangdong questioned the finding. With their rich clinical experience of the disease, they believed SARS was much more likely to be caused by an unknown virus.

The family of bacteria called chlamydia can be contained by antibiotics, yet antibiotics have proved ineffectual against SARS.  Zhong and his Guangdong colleagues warned any treatment based on such a conclusion may have serious adverse consequences.  The doubts of Zhong and his colleagues proved well-founded when early this month, several laboratories across the world, working together, succeeded in pinpointing the SARS pathogen to a new coronavirus.  

Zhong and his colleagues, meanwhile, on April 12 also isolated the coronavirus from specimens taken from SARS patients.  Four days later, the WHO announced that the coronavirus alone is responsible for causing the typical symptoms of SARS.  With the SARS virus properly identified, attention can be focused on developing appropriate diagnostic measures, treatment and a vaccine. 

Next, the case file on Sun Zhigang (孫志剛) at The Global Journalist:

Sun Zhigang was arrested in 2003.  His only offense was failing to carry an ID card. Because the 27-year-old graphic designer had recently moved from central China to the bustling southern city of Guangzhou, he was considered a migrant and was therefore required by law to carry a temporary residence permit. But when local officials stopped him in March 2003, Sun did not have his residence card with him, and so he was treated as a vagrant and detained in a local repatriation center. Shortly after arriving at the center he was beaten to death. Sun’s story went unreported in the Chinese media for nearly a month.

The Southern Metropolitan Daily was finally able to break the news in late April when the SARS epidemic ushered in a relatively open environment of press freedom. At that time, SARS had been spreading through the country unannounced for months, and Chinese government agencies were dealing with the health disaster as they had dealt with other sensitive issues in the past — by covering it up for the sake of maintaining “social stability.” But when a military doctor revealed the extent of the outbreak to Western media in early April 2003, international pressure for full access to information was enormous. The Chinese government began to change its attitude. China’s media were allowed to update the number of new SARS cases daily, and Chinese people from all walks of life realized that only by knowing the truth could the epidemic be defeated and national stability be maintained.

Taking advantage of this sentiment, once the Southern Metropolitan Daily broke the story of Sun Zhigang’s death, the nation’s media began devoting enormous attention to the incident. This in turn led to substantial public discussion of the flaws of the repatriation system. Within two months, the State Council declared that the government would replace the system and rescind the regulation allowing police to detain people who failed to produce local residence permits.

This leads us up to this Southern Weekend article in which Zhong Nanshan meets Sun Zhigang.  This is dialectical materialism in which thesis+antithesis->synthesis(?), leaving neither sides happy.  This is a hugely controversial story on Internet forums right now.

(Southern Weekend)  Why was Zhong Nanshan's case solved so quickly?  By Fu Jianfeng (傅剑锋).  June 22, 2006.

(Security guards on a Guangzhou street)

(in translation)

Why was the academician's stolen computer returned safe and sound ten days later?  Were the "motorcycle robbers" acting "in collusion" with the police?

After Southern Daily reported the robbery case of academician Zhong Nanshan on June 14, netizens were full of doubts.

In the Southern Daily report, academician Zhong Nanshan who had contributed immensely towards fighting SARS and avian flu told the media at an infectious disease conference on June 13 that he was robbed of his laptop computer in Guangzhou last month but he was grateful that the police helped him find that computer in ten days' time.

So a certain theme arose at a number of popular BBS forums: "After academician Zhong Nanshan filed a police report, the police told their informers that this was a big case because it was academician Zhong's notebook computer that was stolen.  The gang of thieves was scared and returned the computer on the same day.  The police did not want the outside world to know that they were closely connected to the gang, and so they waited ten days before returning the computer to academician Zhong.  This proved that they spent lots of time and effort on the case and avoided any linkage between police and thieves."

In the face of these confusing accusations, a Xinhua netizen said: "The Guangdong police is obliged to disclose the process by which the case was solved in order to clear things up."

Our reporter therefore investigated how the case occurred and how it was solved.

Academician Zhong Nanshan told our reporter that on May 8th at around 8am, he walked from the Guangzhou Medical School's employee dormitory towards the school as usual, following People's Road North to enter the front gate of the school to go to work.  His chauffeur was waiting for him.

Usually, he carried his notebook computer in his right hand and his brief case in this left hand, which meant that the computer was facing the wall of the school.  "I don't know why but my left hand was holding the computer on that day," Zhong Nanshan recalled.  Thus, the notebook computer case was on the side of the street.

At that moment, a young person came over.  "He gently took the computer case.  I thought that he was helping me to carry the case," Zhong Nanshan recalled.  Previously, when Zhong Nanshan carried stuff across the campus, some respectful students sometimes rushed over to offer help: "Teacher Zhong, let me help you carry your stuff!"

But this young man did not appear to be one of his respectful student.  The young man picked up the computer case, hopped on a waiting motorcycle and fled.  "It was a robber!"  Zhong Nanshan then realized.  His chauffeur gave chase immediately.  The motorcycle gang sped away on the pedestrian walkway, then turned into a lane that was too narrow for cars to go through and disappeared.

According to a friend of Zhong Nanshan, the robbed professor went back to his home in a daze.  He lied down on the sofa and stared at the ceiling without a word.  This scared his wife.  But Zhong Nanshan denied that: "That was somewhat exaggerated.  But I was really feeling bad and discouraged."  On that afternoon, he was supposed to deliver a speech at a large conference and then he had to go to deliver another speech at a large conference in Macau the next week.  The texts of those speeches were stored on his laptop computer.  Worst yet, certain important scholarly research information was stored on that computer too.

So Zhong Nanshan had to prepare his speeches anew and also report the theft to the Guangzhou public security bureau.

This case quickly drew the attention of the Guangdong provincial and Guangzhou city officials.  Chinese Communist Central Politburo member and Guangdong province party secretary Zhang Dejiang ordered that the case "be solved quickly."

The case was not solved "on the next day" like certain netizens suggested, because a great deal of police manpower was expended.

According to informed police sources, the Guangzhou Public Security Bureau elite division set up a special case team which was directed by department head Li Jiecai along with two deputy directors of the Guangzhou city public security bureau.  On the day of the crime, they held two meetings of the commanders, investigators, plainclothes officers and interrogators to formulate a plan.

On the next day, the Guangzhou city military police and the elite division issued city-wide and district-wide alert bulletins to ask all units to look out for suspicious motorcycles as well as the stolen computer.  The Yuexiu district police began to investigate and analyze all motorcycle-based robberies and also drew 100 plainclothes officers to stake out 13 important locations and intercept suspicious vehicles and persons.

The Guangzhou city police also organized the Haizhu, Tianhe, Beiyun and Liwan district police stations to monitor all the secondhand electronic marts, computer marts and used good marts.

At the same time, the police offered a reward of 20,000 RMB to encourage tipsters.  Zhong Nanshan's computer was only worth 10,000 RMB plus.

On this, Zhong Nanshan said that the results of the works of a scientific technologist are all stored in the computer, including the data on new medicines in development.  "If any of those research projects results in a new medicine, that would be worth billions.  So it is too superficial to measure this in terms of money," said Zhong Nanshan.

Although Zhong Nanshan's computer was not immediate found, the Yuexiu police unexpectedly found 83 stolen mobile phones and 28 stolen notebook computers.  Some of their owners have been located already.

As for the details of how the motorcycle robbers were caught, it was completely not like the netizen scenario of "police-robber collusion."  This was a long story with many twists and turns.

The real development of the case occurred on May 9th, when the Yuexiu district plainclothes policemen arrested two members of the Yungyuan-based motorcycle gang.  They confessed that on May 8th, their compatriots Ah Lun and Ah Qi robbed four notebook computers.  Since this was the day when Zhong Nanshan was robbed, Ah Lun and Ah Qi naturally became major suspects.  From their communication records, the police also determined that Yungyuan-based Ah Ming and Ah Hua were the major fences for stolen goods.

After several days of investigation, the Guangzhou police arrested Ah Ming at noon on May 17th.  He confessed that Ah Hua bought a Fujitsu notebook computer, and that was Zhong Nanshan';s brand.

So the special case squad got Ah Ming to arrange for a meeting with Ah Hua, who was arrested and subsequently confessed that he bought that Fujitsu computer from Ah Qi for 7,000 RMB on May 8th and then resold it to a man named Zhu for an additional 400 RMB.

While the police was searching for the suspect named Zhu, a mysterious male called the 110 command center at 4am on May 18th and told them that the computer that the police was looking for is underneath a police car on Lianxin Road.  Academician Zhong Nanshan was able to identify that the computer was the one that he was robbed of on May 8th and the data had not been destroyed.

After the computer was retrieved, the special case squad did not stop in their efforts.  On the morning of May 19th, the special case squad arrested the suspected fence Zhu and found nine notebook computers.  Zhu confessed that he purchased that computer from Ah Hua for 7,400 RMB and then sold it for 7,600 RMB to the "Fat Guy" at the Tianhe Haizheng Used Computer City.  On the same day, the special case squad arrested the suspected robbers Ah Lun and Ah Qi in Yuanxia village, Beiyuan district.  They told the police how they committed the robbery and confirmed the testimony of the fence Ah Hua -- on that afternoon, they sold the computer to Ah Hua for 7,000 RMB and then split the take between them. ...

Medical expert and academician Zhong Nanshan who was robbed of his computer told our reporter: "I am not a legal expert.  But right now, as an ordinary citizen of Guangzhou, I want to tell you about my views on public security in Guangzhou, even if this may be amateurish."

He believes that the reason that public safety in Guangzhou is less than desirable is that there are not enough police officers.  "Guangzhou and Shenzhen have too many outsiders."  The other reason is that the Guangzhou street neighborhood committees have not supplemented Guangzhou public security in the manner of Shanghai and Beijing, where "unemployed vagrants" are monitored effectively by the people.  He sighed: "After so many sweeps, there are still many robbers.  The core of the problem is that these people have not been appropriately handled by the legal system.  I feel that they are too lightly punished, and that is why they are out of control!"

He also pointed out that the state of public security in Guangzhou is directly connected to the ineffective control of the unemployed vagrants: "Those people who steal and rob are just an inch away from the urban vagrants."  From this, he went on to say that when the detention system was in place, even though some people who should not have been detained were detained, I disagree with how that system was negated and demolished."  Back then, the detention system controlled the mobile population more effectively.  After the removal of that system, Guangzhou has not found an effective system since.

Based upon his own judgment, he offered a viewpoint that is different from that of the mainstream scholars: "In designing a legal system, how should we base it upon people?  We should base it upon the good people, and not upon the bad people.  Tolerating the enemy is cruelty against the people."  He called for severe procedures to improve public security in Guangzhou.  "There is no point in talking about anything else.  This is what you media should be calling for, and I am sure that the majority of the people would applaud it."


Our reporter asked a number of Guangzhou citizens for their opinions, and they disagreed with the experts whom they don't feel realize the actual circumstances.  The citizens are for severe punishment against street crimes such as robberies and thefts, even to the point of resuming the detention system in the short term.  "There are too many outsiders in Guangzhou.  When they cannot find employment, they resort to robberies and thefts.  Based upon the current penitentiary system, they are arrested for minor crimes, they spend a few days in jail, they are released and they resume the same old criminal activities."  A Guangzhou old-timer said, "I feel that we must adopt lightning action to stop them."