Gao Yaojie

by Jessica from San Diego

Dr. Gao Yaojie (buzzfeed)
Dr. Gao Yaojie (buzzfeed)

"In 2000, I went to a village. As I passed a narrow lane, I heard a child shouting, 'Mama, come down; mama, come down.' When I went into the house, I saw the child's mother had hanged herself. The little child did not know his mother had already died; he was pulling her foot and kept calling his mother to come down from where she was. The mother found out she was HIV-positive not long before; her husband had previously died of AIDS and they have wasted all their money to fake doctors. This kind of story is everywhere in all the AIDS villages in Henan province" (Yaojie). In spite of many possible challenges along the way, it is situations like these that drive AIDS activist Dr. Gao Yaojie to spare no effort in the fight for AIDS awareness and accountability. Born in the Shandong Province in 1927, Dr. Gao shouldered the busy occupation of an obstetrician and gynecologist around the time of the Cultural Revolution. Saving countless lives with successful operations every day, she kept busy up until the day of her retirement. After her first encounter with an AIDS patient, she began investigating the cause of a previously unheard of HIV outbreak. Dr. Gao's inquiry led her to contaminated mobile blood banks that reused needles and mixed contaminated blood. Soon enough, Dr. Gao began traversing the countryside, providing free medical consultations and speaking out against the blood trade that had flourished in China. Because the blood banks were supported by the government, officials attempted to silence her. However, she continued to gather research and presented information to the public. Since then, Dr. Gao has received multitude of prestigious awards such as the Ramon Magsaysay Award for public service in 2003, the "Global Leadership Award, Women Changing Our World" by the Vital Voices Global Partnership in 2007, "The Heinz R. Pagels Human Rights of Scientists Award" by the New York Academy of Sciences in 2007, and more. Despite such positive recognition, she ended up fleeing China due to the overhanging threat of enraged government officials, and now continues to write books and memoirs from a small apartment in Harlem, New York. Dr. Gao accomplished countless great feats in the hospital, in the villages, and on paper. However, her headstrong mindset and moral values carried her through. Undeterred by challenges and tragedies lain before her, she never let up, and never will. Dr. Gao Yaojie's dedicated hard work, selfless ambitions, and dauntless perseverance elevate her beyond being just an ordinary doctor to being the inspiring humanitarian she acts as today.

Dr. Gao (buzzfeed)
Dr. Gao (buzzfeed)

Dr. Gao never ceased to display dedication and hard work through tough times of life and uphill battle of her crusade for AIDS victims. Recounting the beginning of her campaign for the victims of AIDS in a response to receiving the Ramon Magsaysay Award, Dr. Gao expresses: "I was worried about the situation and what was going to happen, but I had no power, no money. So I started to write; I printed some materials on AIDS. I went to railway stations, public squares, and crowded streets, to offer them to people. The first year, I printed and distributed more than 500,000 copies. I also often went to the countryside where I have seen that in most of the AIDS villages, people were dying without care by the government" (Yaojie). Not one to sit still, it is admirable of such a woman to defy odds, and to best the constricting idea only being one person. With a vision and the will to carry it out, she did whatever was within her power to make a difference, and that demonstrates true heroism through a tough grind. Someone who exemplifies true devotion must also possess the will to labor for it, which is something that she perfectly exhibits. Furthermore, her endeavor towards helping children also proved her heroism. Dr. Gao took in orphans that sought refuge, and tirelessly worked until she had helped over 160 AIDS orphans secure a new place to stay. From village to village, she held infected infants in her own arms to erase any misconceptions about HIV being utterly contagious. Not to mention, she preached lectures to students at schools and universities, aware of the importance of the future generation (FlorCruz). All these acts of single-handed labor and adherence to her cause are just a medium in which she conveys her love and compassion towards others. To be able to trek between villages, visit countless schools, and search for new homes just out of a commitment; she truly awe-inspires. If Hercules has strength, and Batman has his utility belt- Dr. Gao Yaojie has her education, skills, and unending patience. However, it is the will to work hard that breathes true power into all of these abilities.

Dr. Gao's ambitions and virtues expressed great selflessness throughout her life in concern for others. Of course, at the time of her active crusade for AIDS awareness, her compassion for others left no room for selfishness: "Throughout the years of her AIDS work, Gao spent a good deal of her own money to print HIV/AIDS materials to educate the public... She also trekked around the countryside of Henan Province to distribute her pamphlets in villages where people were in the dark about the disease. She brought comfort to the villages hit hard by HIV/AIDS, bringing food, clothing, medicine, and cash to AIDS patients and their families. She provided support for the children of deceased AIDS patients, and even brought some children into her own home" (FlorCruz). Yaojie truly demonstrates love and complete altruism when she tirelessly expresses concern for others by even welcoming them into her own home. "Bringing comfort" does not even begin to describe the impact she had on the lives of innocents affected by AIDS. Notwithstanding how she had already concluded physically roaming through villages, she did not allow her self-sacrifice and benevolence did not end there: "I am in my eighties,' she told The Pulse. 'I don't care about my life. 'But I do care about the evidence concerning the AIDS plague in China. 'My priority now is not to go back to China. 'The most important thing is to leave the evidence, the material, for posterity. Otherwise no one will know the truth'" ("China's 'AIDS Granny' Living in Exile in New York following Tireless Crusade to Expose Blood-selling Scandal"). Her work advances far beyond herself in her constant caring for others, Keeping posterity as a priority is a true sign of being selfless and bearing the bigger picture in mind. Living a life for others is a much more fulfilling life than living for oneself. Dr. Gao's unselfish ethics directed her to be the heroic humanitarian she is today.

With courageous persistence, Dr. Gao fought against all odds, unhindered by obstacles through thick and thin. Even with the worst enemies at her back, giving up was not an option: "Her charity exposed the local governments who weren't doing their jobs properly, as well as a government that were covering up the truth of what was happening to their people. She began being followed and maintains that her phone was tapped for years. In one particular AIDS village, Dr Yaojie learned the mayor had put a 500 yuan ($82) bounty on her head, with any villager who caught her entitled to the money. But she was their savior. 'They didn't even try to catch me - they didn't want to turn me in,' Dr Yaojie said" ("China's 'AIDS Granny' Living in Exile in New York following Tireless Crusade to Expose Blood-selling Scandal"). With the government attempting to put her down for exposing the blood banks, obstacles became inevitable for Dr. Gao; yet she held fast. Her support from the villagers carried her through, and because it allowed her to make progress in her work- she would gain even more support in a perpetual cycle. Nonetheless, even the seemingly all-powerful government does not compare to the inescapable obstacles of passing time and old age that she overcame. Written in her memoir, "My AIDS Prevention Journey", it states: "During my long survey trips and during my travels to visit people living with AIDS, I suffered many hardships. On March 29, 2001, at 5:00am I set out from the Zhengzhou train station.... I didn't get to Shangcai until 8:00pm that evening, having spent over nine hours on the road. This was very tiring on my septuagenarian plus body...." Even aged and past her prime, Dr. Gao would stop at nothing until she could rescue people in need. She is not held back by restraints and conditions. To achieve her goals, she does whatever it takes, whenever it takes, in whichever way possible. Whether it was corruption or the autumn of life, she beat the odds and remained relentless and faithful to her cause.

Dedication, magnanimous virtues, and courageous tenacity differentiate Dr. Gao from being any other old doctor, and being the uplifting and impacting altruist that she is today. With unending determination, she found the strength to labor day after day- all while keeping selfless values and remaining steadfast in her goals. From long days and nights at the hospital, to campaigning across the countryside, to her current home in New York, she has helped others since the beginning and will see it through to the end. What inspires is not just what she has accomplished, but how she accomplished it and the kind of mindset she accomplished it with. "In my should not live simply for himself or herself but should think of others. An owl is born to eat mice, and a dragonfly is born to eat mosquitoes. Man should be also born to do something. I think everyone should pay for society, instead of gaining benefits by doing harm to the public or others...The ordinary people in a state have a responsibility for its rise and fall" (FlorCruz) "'Luckily I am still clear in the mind, or I could have been fooled by the government into speaking for them, telling untrue tales'" (Yardley). These quotes from telephone interviews are able to demonstrate criteria that designate her as a hero, just through simple statements. As someone who is aspiring to become a medical student, I have been enlightened by Dr. Gao Yaojie because she has shown me not only the great capabilities of a female doctor, but how much more humans in general are capable of if they open up their heart and soul for something they believe in. Ever since the day I stumbled upon her story, I have been reminded that the medical field not only includes acts of science, but acts of love too. This is the reason why numerous people around the world keep pushing through Sisyphean days of school and work, and this is the reason why I won't stop until I can realize that same, strong sense of compassion. All humanitarians strive for a world where heartbreaking images, such as suicide and orphaned children, do not have to happen again. "For Dr. Gao, it is all plain and simple. 'All I want is to let one less person become infected, one less person to die'" (FlorCruz).


Works Cited

Beach, Sophie. "Compassionate Determination." Home. Human RIghts in China, 22 Apr. 2001. Web. 20 Mar. 2014. .

DAILY MAIL REPORTER. "China's 'AIDS Granny' Living in Exile in New York following Tireless Crusade to Expose Blood-selling Scandal." Daily Mail. Associated Newspapers Ltd, 1 Dec. 2013. Web. 18 Mar. 2014. .

FlorCruz, Jamie. "Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation - Awardees." RMAF. Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2014. .

Gao, Yaojie. "My AIDS Prevention Journey." Human Rights in China. Trans. David Cowhig. Human Rights in China 2013, 1 May 2001. Web. 20 Mar. 2014. .

Gao, Yaojie. "Response." Ramon Magsaysay Award Presentation Ceremonies. Manila. 31 Aug. 2003. RMAF. Web. 20 Mar. 2014. .


Yardley, Jim. "China Covers Up AIDS Doctor's Detention." The New York Times. The New York Times, 15 Feb. 2007. Web. 17 Mar. 2014. <>. 

Page created on 5/6/2014 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 5/13/2020 6:13:58 AM

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Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation - Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation honors greatness of spirit and transformative leadership in Asia
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