Jiang Yanyong, the former chief surgeon of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) General Hospital who exposed to the world the Chinese government’s cover-up of the 2003 SARS outbreak, has died at 91.
Jiang died at the PLA General Hospital on Saturday from pneumonia and other illnesses. While the other causes were not disclosed, a source who reportedly knows his family told South China Morning Post he contracted COVID-19 in January but did not indicate if his death was COVID-related.
News about his death and tributes were reportedly censored on Chinese social media. He is survived by his wife, Hua Zhongwei, and a son and daughter.
Jiang gained international fame in April 2003 after he exposed the cover-up by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) during the SARS outbreak that year.
His effort to expose the cover-up began after former Health Minister Zhang Wenkang claimed Beijing only recorded a dozen SARS-positive patients at the time. After consulting with his colleagues at PLA General Hospital, Jiang learned that at least 60 people had been admitted for SARS and seven people had already died.
Jiang reportedly reached out to local news outlets Phoenix Television and China Central Television, but the two companies ignored his message. Foreign media outlets picked up his story soon after it was leaked and published his full account.
After garnering international attention, Jiang was praised for saving several lives during the 2003 SARS outbreak, which infected over 8,000 people worldwide and killed 774.
His actions also resulted in the termination of Zhang and Beijing Mayor Meng Xuenong from their positions. The Chinese government also published the official tally of confirmed infection and suspected cases on April 20, 2003, which were over 300 and 400, respectively.
The CCP also rolled out strict containment measures to prevent the further spread of the virus, which had effective results.
“I felt I had to reveal what was happening, not just to save China, but to save the world,” Jiang said.
Jiang reportedly maintained his loyalty to the Communist Party
Aside from unveiling the cover-up, Jiang also stood up against the government the following year by challenging Beijing to acknowledge the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, in which thousands of protesters were killed.
Jiang said he was detained for nearly seven weeks for his actions as his family detailed that he was subjected to interrogation and indoctrination at the time. He was later put under intermittent house arrest and subsequently became a taboo topic in Chinese media.
Born in 1931 in Hangzhou, a city in eastern China’s Zhejiang province, Jiang studied medicine at Yanjing University in Beijing in 1949.
He later continued his studies at Peking Union Medical College before joining the army in 1954, where he held the rank of major general. He became the PLA General Hospital’s chief surgeon in 1987, a position he held for three decades before stepping down.
Jiang received several awards for his stance, including the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service in August 2004, which his daughter received on his behalf in Manila as he was barred from leaving China at the time.
He was also the recipient of the Heinz R. Pagels Human Rights of Scientists Award, which is given out by the New York Academy of Sciences, in September 2007. Jiang was also not given permission to leave the country for the award ceremony.