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Monday, December 9, 2013

The Chinese Government's role in the HIV/AIDS Discourse and its Potential Effects to Protect People Living with HIV/AIDS

Qiao Congrui PhD Researcher Receptor Approach

I.           Introduction.

Although there are numerous studies on different dimensions in which anti-stigma campaigns are designed, i.e. intrapersonal, interpersonal, organizational, community and governmental levels, an important dimension has been somehow rarely visited-public discourse. The Chinese leadership is observably able to intervene effectively in the public sphere due to a stronger confidence that their people show in the government as well as a state-guided media system, thus rhetoric and measures on HIV/AIDS adopted by the Chinese leadership affects the societal environment where combats against the stigma associated to HIV/AIDS are carried out.

This paper offers an overview of a changing discourse on HIV/AIDS in China, based on analysis of documents applicable nationwide and reporting of a newspaper with the largest circulation called the People’s Daily. When examining the above-mentioned texts, the paper provides significant changes during the development of the HIV/AIDS discourse, and ends with proposals for taking the public HIV/AIDS discourse into consideration when anti-stigma campaigns oriented at various levels are launched. The paper further suggests that the cotemporary HIV/AIDS discourse should involve sexuality concept in order to develop a less pressuring culture that can benefit more affected individuals.

In the discourse where HIV/AIDS is de-moralized, a friendly environment should work in such a direction that encourages the public, including institutions, communities and society at large, to protect rights of the people living with HIV/AIDS.

1.         Hypothesis of this research

Study of government trust in China has indicated that a vertical dimension emerges when the object of trust is a multilevel, as Chinese people have varying confidence in local, regional and national governments.
Citizens of electoral democracies, e.g., the United States, Japan and Taiwan, tend to have weaker confidence in the federal/national government than in the local government. On the contrary, trust in central-level political institutions is more prevalent in authoritarian countries. In China, for instance, 30 to 60 percent of the population were observed to have stronger trust in the central government than in local government (Asian Barometer Surveys, 2002, 2008: Q008, Q014;).

Besides, though it is observed that the Chinese media are developing toward a non-politicalized direction, major media entities, in particular traditional ones, are still frequently intervened by the Communist Party of China (the CPC).
There are evidences that issues related to public interest are usually reported in a way in favor of the government decisions (e.g. HE, Qinglian, Frost over the Chinese media, 2006 edition.)

The hypothesis thus believes that legal instruments made by the central government of China and corresponding media reporting have a strong effect on public discourses including HIV/AIDS.

2.         Research methods
This paper is aimed to clarify the interaction between Chinese governmental role and the changing HIV/AIDS discourse in China. Based on the hypothesis interpreted above, the research will:
-          first examine legal documents made by the central government and media reporting that are direct relevant to the HIV/AIDS issue,
-          then analyze significant changes during the development of the HIV/AIDS discourse,
-          and finally try to elucidate factors that may work to protect people living with HIV/AIDS in China.

II.       Legal documents and media reporting on the HIV/AIDS.

1.         Origin of HIV/AIDS’ presence in China

HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination exist worldwide, although they manifest themselves differently across countries, cultures, communities and individuals. In China, public presence of HIV/AIDS can date back to 17 September 1985 when People’s Daily reported a protest against students living with HIV/AIDS who were to attend school in New York of the USA.

2.         Stigma from HIV/AIDS’ first presence in China

There are at least two noticeable points in the article above-mentioned which affected the base of public discourse of the HIV/AIDS.
First, HIV/AIDS was considered to be caused by morally-corrupted lifestyle back then, which can be illustrated by the Chinese translation of HIV/AIDS, meaning “love-breeding disease”.
Secondly, the article regarded the HIV/AIDS as a threat to the society, entitling Social problems brought about by “love-breeding disease”.

3.         Before 1996: legalized discrimination against HIV/AIDS

The first relevant legal document passed by the central-level government was enforced by the Ministry of Health on 3 January 1986, which read:
AIDS is a great danger, and a serious infectious diseases. It has become a public health problem of global concern. Recently, … the AIDS virus has been introduced into China. Governments at all levels must pay intense attention to this desease.

In addition to naming HIV/AIDS as a clear threat to the society, there are other forms of discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS reflected by a few more legal documents valid until the late 1990s.
A guideline on family insurance from the People's Bank of China in 1994 regulated in article 4 that:
Due to the following causes of death or disability of the insured, the insurer is free from liability: suicide, alcoholism, criminal acts or AIDS.

4.         Since 1996: a demoralizing description of HIV/AIDS

It took ten years for the central government to consider HIV/AIDS not as a morally-corrupted disease and categorize HIV/AIDS into the same class to which Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C belongs.
This change can be traced back to April 1996 when the Ministry of Health passed a regulation to strengthen four kinds of in vitro immunodiagnostic reagents. A national education campaign on how HIV/AIDS can be spread was also introduced by a few ministries in 1998 which clearly explains three infectious ways: sexual contact, blood and mother to child transmission.

5.         2004 to present: “a victim group”

The AIDS Day of 2004 saw a significant change from the central government when the former President HU Jintao visited a child named Wei and a senior named Ji at the You An Hospital in Beijing, where people with AIDS are treated. Hu encouraged them to get better with no concerns, “our government and society will support you”.
A regulation from the Ministry of Health distributed nationwide in 2005 January reiterated the importance of a welfare policy for people with HIV/ADIS, called “Four Frees and One Care” calling governments at all levels to carry out the policy to provide the people with HIV/AIDS with free antiviral drugs, free HIV antibody screening test, free PMTCT drugs and baby detection reagents, free compulsory education, as well as financial fuding for AIDS patients and their families.

III.    Findings.

1.         Temporary research inspirations.

There are two main findings that grow visible during the research.
First, there is a significant change in the HIV/AIDS discourse in the early 2000s when the governments started to admit its flawed policies to have encouraged people to sell blood and thus the people with HIV/AIDS became portrayed as victims rather than morally-corrupted groups.
Secondly, both state media and market-oriented media have showed a coincident process during which the focus of HIV/AIDS turns from consequences of a Capitalism lifestyle to possible measures that can be taken to help the affected population.

2.         Implications to protect people with HIV/AIDS.

Considering China’s political environment where governments are playing an overwhelming role in the public sphere and China’s media system that is supposed to provide a consistency with governments at different levels, positive attitudes and practice regarding HIV/AIDS adopted by the Chinese governments may provide more accessible remedy as well as more friendly communities for those affected people.
In short, these exists a bright possibility that a powerful presence of Chinese governments in China can be made a good use of to promote rights of HIV/AIDS population.

Guest Post by Qiao Congrui (Qiao is a PhD Researcher on the Receptor Approach at the School of Human Rights Research, Utrecht) (Speaking notes for the Seminar on “Relying on culture to protect human rights: the combat against HIV/AIDS and the stigma associated with it”)

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