The former director of Shanghai’s largest orphanage acknowledged Monday that perhaps one-fifth or more of the orphans under his care died in 1989 because “that year was very cold and we had no electricity.” But he denied charges that some orphans had been deliberately singled out for maltreatment and death.
The revelation was made as Chinese officials opened the doors to the large state-run orphanage here and put on display for foreign journalists hundreds of well-fed children in what appeared to be a healthy and nurturing environment.
With this display, the officials were seeking to defend themselves from charges by a New York-based human rights organization that thousands of orphans here and in China’s 66 other state-run orphanages are dying each year from deliberate starvation and neglect.
After a day of countercharges and damage control by Communist Party officials it was clear that the story of alarmingly high death rates and wretched conditions in recent years was proven to be true.
But an independent assessment of the more serious charge of deliberate starvation, which the New York-based group, Human Rights Watch, based on hundreds of medical case studies from the Shanghai orphanage, was still not possible. And Chinese officials declined to give a detailed accounting of the mortality in the country’s orphanages.
At a news conference that followed Monday’s tour, Han Weicheng, the deputy director of the city’s Civil Affairs Bureau, acknowledged that high orphan mortality rates plagued the institution when he was director during the late 1980s and early 1990s. He said the number of deaths in the institution, which has had a constant population of about 500 children, reached 20 percent or more, compared with 3 to 4 percent today.
He said the reasons included the high percentage of severely handicapped orphans who arrived in poor health and a generally high incidence of disease in the orphan population. In addition, he acknowledged that such factors as freezing cold conditions inside the orphanage could have been a factor in the poor health of the children.
“Some of these children have diseases where they can’t eat, they can’t digest food,” Han said. “Some have malformations of the brain and these children can’t live too long.”
But Han categorically denied the allegations of a former staff physician who worked under him and who has charged that the Shanghai orphanage systematically singled out orphans for “summary resolution,” or death, by withholding food or medical care from them.
“This is sheer fabrication,” he said.
The physician claims to have documented the unnatural deaths of well over 1,000 children.