Book prize eases pain for Aids doctor
Thomas Chan and Ng Tze-wei
An 85-year-old activist whose banned book about the mainland Aids epidemic has just won the Hong Kong Book Prize says the award will help ensure that 'the painful and angry voices of millions of those affected by Aids on the mainland are not buried and silenced'.
Gao Yaojie said the book, China's Aids Plague: 10,000 Letters, which has been twice banned on the mainland, would not have been written had the authorities there not forced her into it by covering up the epidemic.
The retired gynaecologist, who fled to the United States in 2009 a year after the memoir was first published, won for the revised edition, which also deals with her self-imposed exile and the events that led to it.
'I'm very happy ... This book has been banned twice on the mainland. I never thought it would win a prize,' Gao said.
As she was unable to travel because of ill health, the prize was collected on her behalf by fellow Aids activist To Chung.
Another banned book, Yu Jie's China's Best Actor: Wen Jiabao made it to the semi-finals, which adjudicators said illustrated the freedoms enjoyed by the Hong Kong publishing industry.
Accepting the award for Gao, To said the author 'feels sorry about the book being banned as people are unable to understand the Aids problem on the mainland'.
In a pre-recorded acceptance speech, Gao expressed deep gratitude to the organisers and publisher Ming Pao - and also 'thanked' the mainland authorities for banning the book, 'which helped it attract instant popularity'.
Gao said the end of the tragedy was not yet in sight.
'Those who got rich from blood, the plasma economy, and caused the spread of Aids, have still not been punished by law,' she said.
Already retired, Gao met her first Aids patient by chance in 1996, and for the next 13 years she visited hundreds of villages all over the country, concluding that blood contamination was the real cause of the spread of the disease, not sex and drugs as the government claimed. Her dogged pursuit of the cause attracted severe criticism from the government and resulted in strained relations between her and her children.
'If, in the mid-90s, an Aids patient had not accidentally came into my life, or if Chinese society was normal and such things were been taken care of by a responsible government department, why would I be running around for this?' she said. 'I would have been a normal retiree at home playing with my grandchildren.'
The shortlisting of the two banned books for an award run by government bodies - RTHK and the Leisure and Cultural Services Department - caused intense debate among mainland web users.
But Dr Wong Yin-lee, a member of the selection panel and a history professor at the Baptist University, said yesterday: 'The results show the cultural diversity in the city's publishing sector, and that people are free to express their opinions.'
Other winning publications included a translated version of Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong by Alice Poon, and a book on the history and role of the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals, by prominent historian Dr Joseph Ting Sun-pao.