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November 16, 2005

310 dead from bird flu in China?

Thanks to the reader who supplied the link to iFlu.org: 310 dead from bird flu in China? It's a remarkable story. The question is whether it's true or not.

First, some background. Last spring and summer Boxun News was the source of remarkable information from China's Qinghai Lake. Dr. Henry Niman of Recombinomics was using computer translations of Boxun's news stories, which included transcripts from Chinese-language bulletin boards.

These accounts suggested a raging epidemic of avian flu in the region of Qinghai Lake, with a presumably successful suppression of the story by Chinese authorities. (Machine translation, alas, also made the reports sound like something from the I Qing.)

Boxun is hard to assess as a reliable source. It's a news service run out of the US by Chinese dissidents, some of them refugees from the Tiananmen Square events of 1989. While they might well have access to domestic Chinese online communications, they might equally want to discredit the Beijing government by any means possible.

By the end of the summer Boxun seemed to have lost interest in avian flu. I still check it fairly often, but most of its recent English-language translations have to do with specific dissidents and with problems in Burma (Myanmar).

I still don't know whether to trust Boxun or not. You'd think that if they were just out to whip up anti-Beijing feeling, they'd have leaned hard on H5N1 as a topic that scares a lot of westerners who honestly don't care about Myanmar. Instead, they've ignored H5N1—at least in their English-language items, a small fraction of what they post.

I'm also surprised and a little shocked that, with all the Chinese speakers in the world outside China, we have so little access to the Chinese Internet—including translations of Boxun news stories. The anglocentric nature of the Internet is a real disadvantage here.

Given the number of western journalists, teachers, tourists, and business persons in China today, it's also surprising that such a story (310 avian-flu deaths!) could go unnoticed until Boxun got around to reporting it.

The story may well be true. But for now I'm sticking with the Scottish verdict: "Not proven."

Posted by dymaxion at November 16, 2005 01:10 PM

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