Education And Debate

Exposing the abuse of Chinese orphans

BMJ 1996; 312 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.312.7029.495 (Published 24 February 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;312:495
  1. Peter Kandela, chairman, Physicians for Human Rights (UK)a
  1. a 29 Greenlands Road, Staines, Middlesex TW18 4LR

    In January, Human Rights Watch/Asia published evidence of horrific maltreatment of children in the Shanghai Children's Welfare Institute.1 The publicity led to widespread public indignation in the West and calls for pressure to be put on the Chinese government to improve conditions for such children. This exposure was the result of the efforts of a Chinese physician, Dr Zhang Shuyun, who assembled evidence from firsthand experience, and then escaped to bring the matter to world attention. Dr Zhang is currently in the United Kingdom and agreed to be interviewed to give a firsthand account of her work in the orphanage and her subsequent decision to leave China and expose the abuses she had observed.

    I met Dr Zhang while she was staying with friends in London. She was friendly and relaxed as she told me, through an interpreter, about her life in Shanghai and how she came to publicise the maltreatment of orphaned and disabled children.

    Dr Zhang was born in Shanghai in 1942 and grew up there. She studied medicine at the Beijing University School of Medical Sciences and since then her main specialty has been paediatrics, including research on aspects of hygiene. She also undertook research on people suffering from chronic lung disease, especially those working in the shipbuilding industry and exposed to asbestos.

    “I was anxious to go back and work again with children,” Dr Zhang told me. This ambition was realised in 1988 when she joined the Shanghai Children's Welfare Institute as a senior medical officer. This institution was originally founded by Catholic missionaries in 1912 and was maintained as a home for orphaned and abandoned children when the Communists came to power. In 1988 the government built a seven storey modern institute in the grounds of the …

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