A 21-year-old college student from China has died after receiving ineffective treatments that he found online using China’s largest search engine, Baidu. China’s state run media is accusing the Internet giant of putting profits first.
Last month, Wei Zexi died from synovial sarcoma, a rare form of soft tissue cancer that affects the tissues in mainly the legs, arms, and torso. Wei had undergone treatments in other hospitals, however his condition did not improve. He turned to Baidu to help search for a cure, which led him to the Second Hospital of the Armed Police Corp.
Wei went to the hospital and spent a total of 200,000 yuan ($30,000 USD) borrowed from friends and relatives for treatment. It reportedly involved using cells produced by the patient’s immune system to fight the illness, and was a research collaboration with the Stanford medical school, which was later reported to be a lie.
According to Chinese media when Wei Zexi was alive, he wrote a post on question-and-answer website Zhihu, a Chinese equivalent of Quora, detailing what he had experienced and said the effectiveness of the specific treatment he received has been contested in foreign countries.
On April 12, 2016, Wei, a computer science major at Xidian University in Shaanxi province, died.
Chinese netizens are angry that Baidu is misleading the public and they are questioning its advertisements and human intervention, which result in marketing fraud. Some experts further believe that the Chinese Internet regulators intentionally shield Google so Baidu can dominate. According to China.org.cn:
Before Wei’s death, he also had posted about his experience on the Q&A website Zhihu, calling the treatment useless and criticizing Baidu’s paid listing practice.
Paid listing is an internet advertising model used to direct traffic to websites. The system, under which an advertiser pays a search engine for each time an ad is clicked, has long been a major source of revenue for Baidu.
Compared with other search engines such as Google, which clearly marks search results that are advertisements with a color label, Baidu’s paid listing results do not have clear labels.
Instead, they are marked by two small, gray characters denoting the listing as a paid promotion.
The rising of ‘Putian Line’
Media investigation also found that the hospital that treated Wei appears to be a public hospital, but actually had the oncology and many other important departments outsourced from a private medical group called “Putian Line,” which is made up by people with an uncertain medical background.
How did the Putian Department get started?
According to an article on Hong Kong East Network, when the former Communist State Councilor Chen Zhili was in charge of medical care, many reforms from the Ministry of Public Health were beneficial to Putian Line and many public hospitals signed a contract with Putian Line.
According to the Xinhua News Agency, Fujian channel reported in 2014, that the then General Counsel of Putian, was no one other than Chen Zhili. Many foreign media disclosed that Chen had an unusual personal relationship with Jiang Zemin.
Armed police hospitals
The Armed Police Hospital, where Wei was treated, in theory, was under the dual management of the “Planning Commission” and the “Armed Forces Logistics,” but the mainland media reports that local health departments cannot control armed police hospital and the army — which needs to be loyal to the party only, so it is in fact a non-regulated area.
Foreign media observed that the military hospital outsourced ENT and other insignificant departments for profit, but organ transplantation and other subjects were firmly held within the military and armed police system. In March this year, Xi Jinping said that in the next three years, all armed forces and paid services will come to a halt — he is mainly referring to armed military hospitals.