More than 100 HIV/Aids patients from Henan, where future premier Li Keqiang held senior government or Communist Party posts for six years, took to the streets of Beijing yesterday, calling on the party's new leadership to meet their demands for more attention and better care.
With red ribbons pinned to their overcoats to mark tomorrow's World Aids Day, they sang the national anthem as they marched down the city centre's Wangfujing Road and then on towards the Ministry of Civil Affairs, watched by police all the way.
The petitioners have tried to have their appeals heard by various government agencies for years without success, but their hope has been renewed by the party's leadership transition and recent remarks by Li. He has been hailed by the mainland media for showing concern and reaching out to the HIV/Aids community after an HIV patient in Tianjin was denied medical care.
Guo Jianshe, 53, an Aids patient from Anyang , Henan, said: "We want the government to listen to our appeals and give us hope to live on. We want the government to give us subsidies to compensate for the tragedy in the 1990s."
Guo and his wife sold blood in the 1990s because they were impoverished and contracted Aids through contamination at a blood donation station. His wife died three years ago, leaving him and two children behind.
"With HIV I lost the ability to work and I have no other income but the subsidy for a low-income family - a meagre 117 yuan (HK$144) a month. That's far from enough, even for us farmers," Guo said.
He said he wanted the government to provide them with a one-off compensation of 100,000 yuan and a monthly subsidy of 1,000 yuan.
The petitioners had only a hazy memory of Li's time in Henan, where he worked as deputy party secretary, governor and party secretary between 1998 and 2004. Some said he sounded genuine but past policies had not been strictly followed by local authorities.
But Aids activist Hu Jia said the Aids community should not pin too much hope on Li because "it was only a show" and it was under Li's rule that the province responded to the country's largest HIV/Aids epidemic with a crackdown on Aids activists and victims.
"Li did not play any constructive role in anti-Aids work during his rule in Henan and he is ultimately responsible for the crackdown on Aids activists back then," Hu said. "My first detention for Aids work actually happened in Henan."
He said Li was only following a tradition established in 2003 that saw either the president or premier show concern and shake hands with Aids patients ahead of World Aids Day.