Nearly three years ago, I sat down for an interview with David Tian, entrepreneur and the founder of “Chinese Americans For Trump,” who is responsible for mobilizing massive groups of Chinese Americans on WeChat in support of President Donald Trump during the 2016 election.
The group is famous for placing Trump billboards in over a dozen states and flying aerial banners in over 32 cities during Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
While he remains a Trump supporter, Tian recently revealed to NextShark that he’s scaled back on politics and now dedicates his life volunteering at schools located in rural China as well as orphanages in Tibet.
“I’m not interested in U.S. politics anymore,” Tian said as we caught up over the phone. “I felt like it was my duty as a human being to dedicate my life to help others. When I found out that rural areas in China lack certain teaching staff, I went on with other volunteers to try to solve this problem.”
Tian, who declined to reveal his age and said he’s in his “30s”, had no particular plans to help with the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in China. However, that quickly changed while he was on a flight back to Los Angeles from Shanghai when he got a distressing WeChat message from a friend in Wuhan.
“There was a shortage of masks in hospital and she asked my help in finding more,” he said.
Tian immediately started messaging friends and colleagues on WeChat. Within minutes, he formed a WeChat group and started adding friends to ask them for help. What began as a gesture to help a friend grew into a movement to recruit people who could donate money and supplies as well as volunteer to deliver the items to hospitals in Wuhan.
“We now have 20 different WeChat groups, totaling around 5,000 members,” Tian said.
Tian estimates that he’s helped recruit nearly 5,000 volunteers in Wuhan. However, as the situation escalated, the numbers have dwindled to less than 300 volunteers, with less than 20 helping out full-time, according to Tian. He says the falling numbers are a result of some volunteers contracting the virus, leading to the suspension of the entire operation for the volunteer group for safety measures. Other volunteers quit simply because they feared for their own safety.
“The Chinese Red Cross has completely f—ed up. A lot of people died because of them. Their management in Wuhan — it’s a big f— up,” Tian said referring to China’s Red Cross being scrutinized for not promptly delivering medical supplies to hospitals. “If they gave out all the medical supplies on time, they could’ve prevent a lot of deaths. So our job, was to do their jobs.”
Tian spent weeks trying to purchase a flight to Wuhan, he wanted to go and volunteer as a driver to deliver supplies to hospitals. This is arguably one of the most dangerous jobs since they risk many opportunities for contamination.
“They kept cancelling my flights! The next flight available for purchase I found was over $12,000. I can’t afford that!” Tian said in frustration.
With coronavirus cases in China reportedly leveling out in the last week, Tian has now turned his attention to helping victims in America. This week, he invited me over to a warehouse in LA County to meet with two gentlemen who have donated money for supplies.
He presented two large packages in front of me, revealing several 3M N95 masks and hazmat suits. The packages were supposed to go to Wuhan weeks ago as previous donations spread globally.
“This was rejected by China because they thought we were planning on selling them at a markup,” Tian claimed. “People have been trying to do that and profit off of the pandemic.”
It was like looking at a gold mine. High-quality masks, or any masks for that matter, are hard to come by at the moment.
But there was more. Just as I finished taking photos of the boxes, a truck pulled up with another shipment.
“OMG, I’ve been waiting for these forever!” Tian yelled as he rushed over to the truck to grab the packages.
Apparently, these packages were delayed and he had been waiting for them. He quickly celebrated as soon as he put the package down.
Inside were 10,000 additional masks, which appeared lower quality than the boxes before.
“The problem with them is that they are not FDA approved, it’s acceptable in Europe and China, but not America,” he said. “However, given that some hospitals are lacking supplies, it will be up to them to use the masks at their own risk.”
Tian and his friends stack up the boxes. He takes out a few signs in Chinese and tapes them onto each box.
“Supplies for America, love is borderless,” he translated.
Trump caused quite a stir this week after consistently calling COVID-19 as the “Chinese Virus.” A Washington Post photographer recently took a photo revealing he crossed out “Corona” and replaced it with “Chinese” in his press briefing notes. This has angered many Asian Americans as it further perpetuates the recent influx of attacks on people of Asian descent.
“I believe that it’s uncalled for the Chinese government to say that American troops brought the virus to China. However, I also don’t believe Coronavirus has a nationality,” Tian said.
Putting politics aside, Tian’s help couldn’t have come at a better time. Healthcare workers all over the country are on short supply of masks and are asking people to donate, according to Vox. The CDC has recommended that healthcare workers use a bandana or scarf as a “last resort” if masks are nowhere to be found, according to Business Insider.
Now, with the virus spreading all over the U.S., Tian hopes to replicate the same success recruiting volunteers in America that he had in China. Two days ago, he formed a WeChat group and began asking people to find and add health workers in California who needs masks in their facility. He also added me so I can see how he runs his operations.
Within minutes, there were 10 members, a mix of volunteers and people claiming to be hospital workers. It didn’t take long before the requests started pouring in, with the most in California. As of this writing, he’s recruited 208 members into the group. 90% of them are hospital workers putting in requests.
“Seventy-seven hospitals across California have put in a request. We are making confirmation with those hospitals, then we are going to decide which hospitals to donate them to,” he said. “I want to give it to hospitals that need them the most.”
Tian says he has 40,000 more masks coming from China, but they are currently stuck in Ontario Airport in customs. He is currently reaching out to Congresswoman Norma Torres, a Democrat who represents California’s 35th congressional district for help in getting them released. He has also partnered up with Phillip Chen, a Republican politician and member of the California State Assembly, to distribute to hospitals throughout California, which has more than 1,300 confirmed cases of coronavirus so far, according to the LA Times.
“I want to thank Mr. Wang and our great business leaders for helping to secure thousands of face masks and medical supplies to help protect our first responders so they can continue to save lives,” Assemblyman Philip Chen told NextShark in a statement. “And a big thank you to the volunteers who have been contacting hospitals throughout California to assess their medical needs.”
“Some Americans couldn’t find masks in stores and they point their fingers at Chinese Americans for buying all the masks to donate to China.” David Tian said, “I want to donate to American healthcare workers because I want to show other Americans that Chinese Americans are not selfish people, we understand what it means to give and take. I am proud to be Chinese American.”