Witness to History

Weihong Song

The odds may be smaller than winning the lottery, but Weihong Song’s selection to the 12th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) is anything but chance. Song was one of only 39 invitees from 24 countries – chosen from more than 50 million eligible overseas Chinese expats – to participate in one of China’s most anticipated political gatherings in recent history.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” recalls Song, who is UBC’s Special Advisor to President Stephen Toope on China. “Simply amazing.” Raised in the southwestern province of Sichuan, the UBC psychiatry professor and Canada Research Chair in Alzheimer’s Disease was one of the first Chinese nationals to go to medical school after the infamous Cultural Revolution – at age 14. He recently received China’s highest honour for foreign experts – the Friendship Award and was elected Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Science.

There were no elaborate flower arrangements, no lavish banquets, no alcohol served.

The CPPCC, similar to the upper house or senate in the western system, has approximately 2,200 members from various officially sanctioned political parties, ethnic, religious and other special interest groups. It was held last month in conjunction with the National People’s Congress, which saw the election of the country’s president and premier – an occasion that has only happened once before.

“It was really a changing of the guard,” says Song, who witnessed the election and swearing in of President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. There was a palpable atmosphere of change in the air and the message from the top – reduce pollution, minimize waste and close the gap between the rich and the poor – was loud and clear, says Song.

“There were no elaborate flower arrangements, no lavish banquets, no alcohol served. We were given refillable water bottles to use for the duration of the conference. It felt like times have changed,” says Song, who emigrated from China 23 years ago.

Seizing the rare opportunity, Song made an appeal for investment in Alzheimer’s research. “There are over 200 million people over the age of 60 in China,” Song told the CPPCC. “Research will not only benefit the Chinese but people around the world.”

(First published in UBC Reports, April 3)

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One comment

  1. Doug Johnstone says:

    It is very unfortunate that Dr Song chose to legitimize the government of a brutal repressive state. I doubt that Dr Song mentioned the deplorable human rights record of the PRC and the disregard for individual political rights or the rule of law while being wined and dined by the Communist Party. I would have thought that a professor, a Special Advisor and Canada Council Chair would realize the positive impact of his refusal to attend such a sham political event. Perhaps Dr Song would feel more comfortable in the PRC than in Canada?

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