On November 8, I managed to find the cell phone number of Xiao Dong, the head of China’s first gay clinic, surprisingly easily. He released his contact information on the Internet. Soon after I began the face-to-face conversation with him, I found out he used to be journalist, which immediately established a bond between us. I told him that the story was to be part of a feature in Beijing Review for World AIDS Day. In order to get Xiao Dong to help me interview a group of gay people who are HIV positive, I repeatedly emphasized I would respect all their privacy requirements. Without hesitation, Xiao Dong promised to help.
At 11 a.m. the next morning, Xiao Dong called to inform me that he had found the right persons and the interview could be at his home. I was elated with the news. When I got to Xiao Dong's place, my interviewees had already arrived. Predictably, the fact that I was a reporter made them nervousand they said very little t th beginning. It took about an hour of small talk before the icy atmosphere thawed and they began to open up about their lives.
During the interview, I kept telling myself that I was listening to their worries and pains as a friend rather than an onlooker. So the interview took the form of an interactive talk where I introduced them to the latest information on AIDS medical treatment and put forward suggestions for they may be of benefit to them. I felt they were moved by my sincerity, and didn’t refuse to answer a single question I asked throughout the interview. During the three-hour interview, several interviewees shed tears when they revealed their deepest emotions to me.
Although I have written several stories on AIDS before, I had never interviewed anyone living with HIV face to face, let alone gay people. I had fully prepared myself for refusal to the interview, but it turned out to be a fruitful and mind-opening experience. In retrospect, I realize how important it is for reporters to establish a friendly and equal relationship with their interviewees, whoever they are.
(translated by Li Li)
Note: On the eve of the 19th World AIDS Day on December 1, Beijing Review reporter Feng Jianhua interviewed male and female gays living with HIV who received physical checkups at the first gay clinic on the Chinese mainland. In China, gay people and those living with HIV/AIDS are still very much stigmatized by an often ignorant and harshly critical public. Feng's stories based on these interviews, Desperate to Live, AIDS Prevention Deepened, and “I don’t want to die alone”, were published in Issue 48, 2006 of Beijing Review. Judging by the feedback, they were well received by readers.