TLA friend and colleague Jeff Brown of China Rising Punto Press offers excerpts from an article written by Xiong Lei regarding U.S. collection of genetic material in Chiina. A medical journalist with China Daily, Xiong has written numerous times on this topic. Find a collection of her articles at the Alliance for Human Research Protection. ~ Ed.
Xiong Lei’s exposé is long and detailed and I encourage you read it via Dennis Etler’s Facebook link. It makes for devastating evidence. However, if you have time constraints, I went through it to glean critical highlights, below. What is clear is that for almost ten years, in the 1990s, before SARS, Harvard ran amok in Central China, collecting DNA samples from unwitting rural folk and there were no controls in place to keep it from all being sent back to the United States.
One Harvard study alone in 1993 screened 200,000 Chinese. It’s easy to get DNA via skin scrapes or throat swabs from trusting volunteers, and a shipping box can hold tens of thousands of tissue samples at a time.
If you read the whole exposé, there have been lies upon lies and cover-ups on both the US and Chinese sides. For the prior, it is to deny criminal conduct. For the latter, the authorities in Anhui Province, where all the genetic theft took place, finally realized they had been duped by Harvard and with such a huge loss of face – humiliation even – they are covering over their tracks. ~ Jeff Brown
Jeff Brown's extracts of the expose (in Mandarin) by Xiong Lei: Review of Harvard’s Genetic Hunt in Anhui, with the first paragraph setting the tone:
The immorality of the US constitutional system should also be investigated. For example, the National Institutes of Health, known for its rigorous auditing, why would one person be responsible for so many projects? At Harvard University, where Xu Xiping is, the earliest millennium company that invested in the project, is there no responsibility? Some people blame the Chinese partners for not seriously implementing the relevant ethical rules. I propose that launching and funding these genetic projects are not these Chinese partners. This is a research project funded and led by the United States. The question is not whether these Chinese staffs perform poorly. The question is why US funding agencies allow these unqualified partners to participate in such research (emphasis mine).
When we drove from Hefei to Anqing to Yuexi, we just wanted to hear for ourselves whether the farmers who had given blood samples knew whether they were “contributing” to an international cooperation project.
… The farmer, his wife, and two daughters participated in two “medical examinations” in November 1996 and March 1997. Each of them had two health cards issued that year. One recorded the examination on November 5, 1996. The items included cardiopulmonary function, blood pressure, etc., and blood was drawn.
The other one was recorded on March 10, 1997. The second check also took blood, more than the first, but “I don’t know how much.” He said,
“The arm reached into the curtain through a small hole, and the doctor was behind the curtain and was invisible.” (emphasis mine).
… Their family all said very positively that no one had seen or read the informed consent form, nor did they know about the cooperation with Harvard.
… We asked the professor who funded the survey. He said that the money was given by the Ministry of Health and the World Bank for a rural health talent training project. I told him that the World Bank’s projects are documented. The professor immediately changed his mind and said that he did not remember where the money came from, because “it did not cost much.” How much is “not much spent”? He said, “I don’t remember”.
… Back in Beijing, we asked the Beijing Representative Office of the World Bank. The answer is that the World Bank has never funded health projects in China that require blood tests.
… According to internationally accepted bioethical guidelines, participation in human biomedical research must be approved by the individual, and consent is based on knowledge. Informed content includes both the research purpose, method, and research project, such as who funds and benefits the research-related situation, as well as the interests and rights of the participants.
… But Harvard’s genetic project in Anhui completely ignored these principles.
… On May 14, 2002, when Harvard University President Summers gave a speech at Peking University to answer students’ questions, he publicly acknowledged that the human body research conducted by Harvard University in rural China in Anhui was “not only wrong but also extremely wrong.”
… I noticed that the people who came to Anhui to investigate in the United States were their own professors at the Harvard School of Public Health, who had organized violation programs, not third parties. And someone told me that it was Xu Xiping who led and accompanied them in the investigation. Since Beijing had not lifted the ban during the SARS period, I could not go out, so I sent an email to one of the Harvard investigators, the director of the ethics committee of the Harvard School of Public Health, and asked if he spoke Chinese? Can he communicate directly with Anhui farmers in Chinese? If not, who is his translator? Who arranged his visit to China? What sampling sites has he been to? How did he know that the informed consent was signed by the research subject at the time of the research? How independent is his investigation? However, instead of answering these questions, he forwarded my email to a spokesperson for the Harvard School of Public Health. The spokesperson only sent me a statement that Harvard School of Public Health issued on May 30 after the U.S. government investigation was over, and did not answer any questions I asked.
… The farmer we looked for was a clue from insiders. He was 55 years old in 2003. He told us that one morning in the fall of 1995, the “come up” called him to the town health center for a “medical examination.” They let go of their work and went because it was said that the “medical examination” was for farmers and “you don’t need money to treat you if you are sick.” This is a good thing for the peasant who usually “looks at no money to buy medicines” and has to wait until he can’t bear to take a slice when he can’t bear it. They have 4 sons and take two sons to a “medical examination” as required. Because they had no money to take a car, they walked more than ten miles and rushed to the town health center. After getting a free lunch, they started to check in the afternoon. They recalled that at the same time, there were 20 or 30 people from other villages. Among the 30-odd households in their village group, they were the only ones who were called to participate in the “medical examination”. During the “checkup” they took their temperature and took blood. The inspector then asked the farmer to open his mouth and sprayed a “fog-like” thing into his mouth, making him say “ah”. He didn’t know what it was, and no one told them what the inhalation of this medicine would do and what risks it might pose. He remembered that the thing “was packed in a plastic bottle, like a mosquito repellent,” “‘Ah,’ after three or four shots, he was out of breath, as if he were dead.”
Afraid, he rushed to rescue, “hang water (infusion)”, “fill oxygen.” None of the doctors who performed the examinations were local and spoke in different accents. But neither of them could tell where they came from. The peasant “received his anger” until the middle of the night. After that, no one cares about him anymore. The next day, the couple left without question and left the hospital. They found a free ride home because “there is no more money” and the 200 yuan given to them “was spent on rescue.” During the rescue, a doctor promised to send them medicine later, but they “did not see the medicine to this day.” Since then, they have never seen the doctors who performed the examinations, and no one has told them the results of the “medical examination.” Both husbands and wives are illiterate. They said that they had never seen or heard the “informed consent” before or after the “medical examination”, nor had they signed or pressed a fingerprint on such a document. They don’t even know who their blood samples were given to.
The village doctor was random when we arrived at Zongyang. He was 52 years old and had been a village doctor for more than 30 years. He made it clear that he knew that the (above) “checkup” was done “for a genetic study at Harvard University,” but he couldn’t say the name of the project. He said, “At that time, we were asked to inform the farmers to” check the body “to see what caused the asthma.” He was certain that he “said for treatment, but then did not.”
He said he was not without doubt about the project. He said, “When I heard that this was an American project, I thought about it, and I was afraid there was something famous here.” However, he “rejected this question because it was led by a government organization.” So, he didn’t speak out the doubt in his heart.
According to requirements, he registered the list and simple information of people with asthma in the village and their family members, about “a dozen”. Then he accompanied the villagers who participated in the “medical examination” to the county epidemic prevention station. After the “transfer” list, he left, so he did not know the process of “medical examination”. No one told him or any of the peasants inspected what procedures were in place, nor did they tell them the results of the “physical examination”.
He and these farmers have not seen or heard the “informed consent”, let alone know that blood samples will be sent to the United States. No one mentioned it afterwards, he said. “It’s nothing.” But he hopes to “understand them” and “let us all know what is going on.”
… We cannot count on the US government to uphold justice for Chinese farmers and seriously implement bioethics. I just want to show that we Chinese are not without doubt about the genetic projects that your American institutions have done in China. The kind of seemingly serious investigations you have done on the problems with these projects are actually cut-scene investigations, and we Chinese are not unnoticed. If you want to cover up these problems, then we will spread them to the whole world.
The fourth issue of the American Journal of Bioethics in 2004 published a letter from an internationally renowned biological and medical ethicist to the editor of the journal, condemning Harvard’s human genetic research project in Anhui as contrary to bioethical principles. The seven well-known ethicists from Australia, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and Switzerland said in their letter that Harvard’s research in rural Anhui involves environmental and occupational diseases, genetic-environment interactions, genetic diseases, population genetics, reproduction Health, asthma, and chronic respiratory disorders. These studies have not been approved by ethical review, informed consent has not been obtained, and Chinese genetic sample providers are unlikely to benefit. They expressed deep concern that such a well-known institution and research of this nature, with funding from the National Institutes of Health, could escape rigorous ethical review … A German ethicist told me that this is the first time that the international ethics community has expressed public concern about (such) the matter and condemned the relevant institutions.
After SARS, Tong Zeng published a book in October 2003: “The Last Line of Defense: Thoughts on the Loss of Chinese Genes.” Based on the fact that some US scientific research institutions have hunted Chinese genetic samples since the 1990s, and combined with the phenomenon that Chinese are particularly susceptible to SARS virus [note: 96% of all global SARS deaths were ethnic Chinese and to date, 99.9% of global Covid-19 deaths are ethnic Chinese], he put forward a hypothesis: SARS may be a genetic weapon against the Chinese. As a result, he was verbally abused. In response, Tong Zeng said: “I just proposed a possibility. I have the right to doubt.”
… Although many experts say that these two viruses (SARS and Covid-19) are not directly related (although they have been traced to a bat) [note: US DARPA has been using bat viruses to develop bioweapons], as a layman I can also see that these two viruses have one feature in common: they both target our lungs, targeting our respiratory system, making us suffocate.
I personally think that the questions raised by Tong Zeng are indeed very important. The Chinese should remain vigilant. Scientific research certainly needs evidence. However, problems like genetic weapons can only be doubted if evidence is available. It is too late.
China ’s first “Regulations on the Management of Human Genetic Resources”, which came into effect on July 1, 2019, clearly stipulates that the collection, preservation, utilization, and external provision of human genetic resources in China must not endanger China’s public health, national security, and public interests. In line with ethical principles, protect the legitimate rights and interests of resource providers. The regulations specifically stipulate that foreign organizations, individuals, and institutions established or actually controlled by them shall not collect or deposit human genetic resources in China, or provide human genetic resources outside China.
According to this regulation, those Harvard projects can no longer be carried out in China. But think about how many genetic samples Harvard took away from us, especially samples of asthma genes, shouldn’t we investigate: where did they end up? What’s it for? Relevant research institutions in the United States should not explain to farmers in Anhui, who provided blood samples to us?
JEFF J. BROWN, Editor, China Rising, and Senior Editor & China Correspondent, Dispatch from Beijing, The GreJeff J. Brown is a geopolitical analyst, journalist, lecturer and the author of The China Trilogy. It consists of 44 Days Backpacking in China – The Middle Kingdom in the 21st Century, with the United States, Europe and the Fate of the World in Its Looking Glass (2013); Punto Press released China Rising – Capitalist Roads, Socialist Destinations (2016); and BIG Red Book on China (2020). As well, he published a textbook, Doctor WriteRead’s Treasure Trove to Great English (2015). Jeff is a Senior Editor & China Correspondent for The Greanville Post, where he keeps a column, Dispatch from Beijing and is a Global Opinion Leader at 21st Century. He also writes a column for The Saker, called the Moscow-Beijing Express. Jeff writes, interviews and podcasts on his own program, China Rising Radio Sinoland, which is also available on YouTube, Stitcher Radio, iTunes, Ivoox and RUvid. Guests have included Ramsey Clark, James Bradley, Moti Nissani, Godfree Roberts, Hiroyuki Hamada, The Saker and many others.
Jeff is an esteemed colleague and a regular at the Lifeboat.