What does the downfall of Zhang Biqing, a self-proclaimed doctor, say about China’s credulous elite?

Perhaps that the nation’s 'ideological vanguard’ have been overtaken by the masses

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 August, 2013, 4:53pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 August, 2013, 2:08pm

The downfall of Zhang Biqing, owner of the now famous rooftop villa, certainly raised a lot of questions in the minds of Beijingers after they read Wednesday’s morning papers.

How could the self-declared "national medical treasure" maintain a two-storey villa on top of a residential compound in Beijing for years without questions being asked by the city government?, asked the Beijing News on its front-page.

How could he practice medicine without a licence? How could he get away with allegedly beating up a neighbour who complained about the structure? And what is his affiliation with a para-medical clinic chain?

Zhang’s story has long gone political. The villa on top of a residential compound has become a metaphor for the immunity of China’s modern-day Rasputins, exploiting the ill-defined boundaries of Chinese traditional medicine.

Necromancers have embarrassed Communist Party cadres as some of them seem to continue to be receptive to the “feudal practises” the party meant to ostracise. Like Mao’s belief in his qi, or spirit, documented in Doctor Li Zhisui’s memoirs, recent revelations on micro-blogs reminded the Chinese public of its leaders’ continuing penchant for wizardry interpretations of Chinese medicine.

Just last month, Qigong master Wang Lin’s "Wang Palace" in Jiangxi and his blatantly illegal hunting rifles appeared online along with photos with national leaders and celebrities, including Hong Kong’s former chief executive Donald Tsang, politburo member Jia Qinglin and relatives of former president Hu Jintao. Revelations about his dubious skills led to Wang’s hasty departure to Hong Kong.

In 2010, Beijing’s diet guru Zhang Wuben’s temple-like residence south of the Olympic Stadium was torn down and he was prosecuted. The self-proclaimed Peking University doctor had sold prescribed mung beans as cure for just about everything. By the time he was sacked, he was booked out for appointments until 2012.

Like Wang Lin, claims that he had "treated" national leaders helped in mung bean sales and shielded him from legitimate questions of propriety. No wonder then that rooftop villa owner Zhang used his first interview to say that he was "not Zhang Wuben, nor Wang Lin".

Zhang is trying to turn his public perception from that of a well-connected conman to that of a grass-roots doctor from more egalitarian times in Chinese history.

"The media say I only have primary school education," he told Beijing News on Wednesday. "They say I am [only] a barefoot doctor, but can a barefoot doctor not advance his studies?," he asked.

By now, however, his downfall seems unavoidable. The city said on Tuesday that he had 15 days to tear down his villa. Local trade regulators said they were investigating the Qijingtang chain of clinics for medical malpractice.

Zhang denied that he owned the traditional Chinese medicine chain, it only sold his products, he told the Beijing Times.

What mattered was that Beijing’s residents didn’t look to pre-enlightened authorities for truth, but to the nation’s media outlets and its often irritating, but deeply moralistic, social media talking heads.

Likewise, on Wednesday evening, a group of residents stuck a red banner to Zhang’s residential compound that reads like a metaphor for the nation: "We resolutely support the large media outlets in revealing this residential compound’s illegal structures."