Beida Prof needs to take elementary school science class

17 November 2010
Many people in China are talking about China’s first employment discrimination lawsuit based on the prospective employee’s AIDS status. The plaintiff, known by his pseudonym Xiao Wu, filed an anti-discrimination lawsuit in the Yingjiang District Court in Anqing on 26 August after the Anqing education department denied him a teaching position because he was HIV positive. The court formally accepted the case on Monday August 30, but the court ruled against him on 12 November. Xiao Wu, however, plans to appeal.

A recent Global Times article noted that the Xiao Wu and his lawyer’s case seemed to be on firm legal footing:

The laws that Xiao Wu and his attorney referred to are the Employment Promotion Act which states in the Article 30 that employers must not reject a candidate for employment only because he or she may be carrying a virus of an infectious diseases.

They also referred to the AIDS Prevention and Control Regulations stating that employers are not permitted to discriminate against HIV carriers, AIDS patients and their relatives. These regulations also stress the right of HIV carriers and AIDS patients to be married, employed and receive education.

However, not all were in agreement. The GT quoted a certain professor Sun from Peking University who:

…agreed with the education bureau, saying that the immunity of students under 18 may not be strong enough to resist the virus, and the working environment could also reduce the teacher’s immunity – thus increasing the risk of developing AIDS.

…Sun also disagrees that Xiao Wu was the victim of discrimination – and he called for individuals to show social responsibility rather than only care about their own rights.

Reading this article, I could help but recall my days as a young boy in elementary school in the United States. It was the late 1980’s, and for a period of time, the whole US was captivated by the brave fight that Ryan White led against discrimination and social stigma for those with HIV/AIDS. White, a hemophiliac, contracted the disease through a blood transfusion. When White went public with his HIV status, he was banned from school. However, he bravely led a public campaign to educate the public about how one can and can’t contract HIV/AIDS. Yes, you can get it through unsafe sexual contact or through used needles, but not through regular hand-to-hand contact, coughing, using the same water bottle…etc. White eventually became friends with numerous celebrities like Elton John and Michael Jackson – who wrote the touching song “Gone Too Soon” about White’s death. Fortunately Ryan White left a tremendously positive legacy: his courage to lead a public campaign helped educate millions of young kids like him.

For me, this GT article rekindled not only the battle Ryan White waged − and won − more than twenty years ago, but also some of the happy memories about my elementary school teachers and classmates discussing White’s journey. For a young person, there’s no easier way to learn about complex topics than through real life people active in one’s society.

One can’t help but wonder: how is it that Xiao Wu lost such a clear cut case of discrimination? And how was such a potentially valuable “teachable moment” lost?

As an observer of China, one almost hopes that Xiao Wu simply lost because the government wouldn’t want to pay any extra costs for medicine, or that the courts were simply afraid or unable to rule in his favour. However, comments like Sun’s – clearly at odds with the scientific consensus and common knowledge – make one wonder if overall scientific illiteracy isn’t the key factor. As the Hepatitis B carriers support group Yirenping has shown in a recent report, widespread ignorance is one of the main barriers towards equality for carriers of Hepatitis B. Of course, one cannot really blame the Chinese public per se, since education levels have gone from minimal to advanced in only the last few decades. That’s why it’s crucial that China’s media and educational authorities get the facts right.

Professor Sun at Beida should either go back to elementary school or he should be fired for the embarrassment he’s caused to one of China’s finest institutions.
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