In the bustling metropolis of Beijing, where modernity and ancient traditions collide, one man has transcended his role as an investigative journalist to become a crusader for the rights and well-being of China’s pneumoconiosis-afflicted migrant workers.
Wang Keqin, chairman of the Beijing Da Ai Qing Chen Foundation, initiated the “Da Ai Qing Chen” campaign in 2011, marking the beginning of an inspiring journey to address a deeply entrenched social problem.
As one of the most renowned investigative journalists in China, Wang has always been a tireless advocate for human rights. Throughout his career, he used his pen as a weapon to expose corruption, discrimination, and the exploitation of the vulnerable.
As Wang transitioned from investigative journalism to philanthropy, his commitment to fairness and justice remained unwavering. He explains, “my core values and beliefs have not changed: advocating for individuals, preserving their dignity and rights, and ensuring that everyone is treated fairly and justly.”
His past as an investigative journalist empowered him to present the unadulterated truth to the world, thereby upholding social justice. In his philanthropic endeavors, he channels his passion into concrete, systematic actions aimed at transforming the fate of pneumoconiosis-afflicted migrant workers and creating a more compassionate, egalitarian society.
Pneumoconiosis, a formidable problem with grave implications
Pneumoconiosis accounts for an astounding 90 percent of all occupational diseases among 132 categories. The sufferers are primarily farmers, creating a distinctive demographic of occupational disease patients.
With a mortality rate of 22 percent, it is a particularly lethal disease frequently causing sufferers severe health and financial consequences. In a national survey conducted in 2020, the average monthly income of a migrant worker sufferer was just 392 yuan ($61). Medical expenses alone consumed 77 percent of a sufferer’s annual household income.
The disease predominantly affects middle-aged workers, leading to a domino effect – the illness of parents leads to their children dropping out of school, elderly family members left without care, and the rise of “widow villages” across China. In comparison to many other economic challenges, pneumoconiosis stands out as a life-and-death issue.
The heart of the problem: policy gaps
Pneumoconiosis sufferers in China fall victim to a fundamental policy gap, rooted in the diagnostic system for occupational diseases. This system, as stipulated by law, requires three conditions for diagnosing pneumoconiosis: a labor contract, evidence of a history of exposure to dust, and, ideally, and that the diagnosis and certification should be requested by the employer.
However, extensive nationwide research conducted over 12 years has uncovered a stark reality: fewer than 5 percent of migrant workers have formal employment contracts. And businesses rarely provide certifications of dust exposure history for afflicted farmers. Furthermore, companies were unwilling to assume responsibility or apply for diagnosis and certification on behalf of pneumoconiosis-afflicted farmers.
When these workers fall ill with pneumoconiosis, they can face a grim situation due to this policy gap. They are not eligible for urban medical insurance, and they remain excluded from rural medical support systems, leaving them stranded without care from either side.
As a result, pneumoconiosis not only represents a catastrophic personal tragedy for afflicted workers but also a looming public health crisis.
Additionally, there is a stark institutional inequality. Employees of some State-owned enterprises benefit from an array of provisions like free medical care, guaranteed wages and benefits, and life subsidies, and often end up living into their seventies and eighties.
A beacon of hope
With a deep sense of sympathy and concern for the six million pneumoconiosis-afflicted migrant workers, Wang Keqin initiated the “Da Ai Qing Chen” campaign. This monumental undertaking, consisting of 120 teams and over 13,000 volunteers nationwide, operates under the aegis of the Beijing Da Ai Qing Chen Public Welfare Foundation.
By the end of 2021, the campaign had extended medical assistance to pneumoconiosis-afflicted migrant workers over 9,300 times. Combined with funding and essential material support, it has made a significant difference to the lives of over 110,000 pneumoconiosis patients and their families.
Policy advocacy: systematic change for a better future
Wang Keqin’s philanthropic efforts extend far beyond providing immediate relief. They focus on systematic change by promoting comprehensive policies that safeguard the rights and well-being of pneumoconiosis-afflicted migrant workers.
In 2014, the organization released its first China Pneumoconiosis-Afflicted Migrant Workers (Survival Status) Survey Report, revealing the stark reality that six million pneumoconiosis-afflicted migrant workers were mostly deprived of formal recognition for their condition.
Each year, Da Ai Qing Chen continued to release vital publications, such as the Compilation of International Experiences in Pneumoconiosis Prevention and Control and the Report on the Current Situation of Pneumoconiosis in China to advocate for policy changes.
This persistent commitment helped lay the foundation for significant changes at the national level:
- In 2016, a collaboration between 10 national ministries culminated in the release of Opinions on Strengthening the Prevention and Control of Pneumoconiosis among Migrant Workers.
- In 2017, the National Pneumoconiosis Diagnosis and Treatment Expert Committee was established.
- In 2018, President Xi Jinping issued an important directive on the issue of pneumoconiosis-afflicted migrant workers.
- In 2019, 10 national ministries, including the National Health Commission, jointly created the “Action Plan for Pneumoconiosis Prevention and Control.”
- In 2020, a network of pneumoconiosis rehabilitation centers was introduced across China, bringing the total to 671 centers by 2021. These centers have been a boon for the treatment and recovery of pneumoconiosis patients.