Feature story

On the frontline: Chinese star speaks out on AIDS

21 February 2006

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Wenli Jiang won China’s highly-revered ‘Flying Goddess Award’ for Best TV Actress in 1999. Her husband, Changwei Gu, is a cinematographer-turned-director, who won the Silver Bear at 2005 Berlin International Film Festival with Peacock. They have a 5 year-old son.
Photo by Xinhua.

The first time Chinese TV star Wenli Jiang took part in a public HIV prevention and awareness raising event, in 2003, she was decidedly nervous.

Standing on a temporary stage set up in the most popular shopping section in Beijing, she looked out at the shoppers, holding a sheaf of condoms in her hand.

Crowds started to form as passers by recognized Jiang, who shot to fame in China through a TV series called “Holding Hands” where she played a modern housewife disillusioned with her marriage.

“I felt quite embarrassed that first day,” said Jiang, “but the more I participated in these kinds of events, the more I got used to them and felt comfortable.”  So much so that in 2004, Jiang handed out 6,000 condoms in one hour in Bangkok’s red-light district with fellow Chinese actor Cunxin Pu.

A Leadership Council member of the UNAIDS-led Global Coalition on Women and AIDS – and the first female spokesperson in China’s HIV prevention campaign – Jiang explains why she is so committed to fighting AIDS and the stigma surrounding it.

“I feel a sense of responsibility to help people living with HIV, and call for the elimination of misunderstanding and discrimination against them,” said Jiang. She is especially interested in promoting the recognition of women and children’s rights.

Her interest in the AIDS response began in 2002 when she made a TV spot with a young boy living with HIV. “The first time I met the little boy living with HIV I felt so shocked and sympathetic. I had a strong desire to do something to make a difference.”

Now, Jiang is well-known for promoting awareness about HIV prevention in China. Her face can be found on HIV prevention posters in subway stations and along main streets in many Chinese cities, including the capital Beijing.

In February, 2004, Jiang joined fellow actress Emma Thompson and other celebrities and leading figures working to reduce the impact of AIDS on women and girls at the London launch of the UNAIDS-initiated Global Coalition on Women and AIDS.

“The London meeting was my turning point,” said Jiang, “I was captivated by the passion of the UNAIDS staff and other delegates from other 24 countries. I realized that besides just attending meetings and events, I could really move my commitment forward.”

In 2005, Jiang invited an 11-year-old child living with HIV from the Anhui province, to live with her family for a number of days. “I wish all children living with HIV could be free to go anywhere and do anything that they want without being discriminated against,” Jiang said.

UNAIDS Country Coordinator for China Joel Rehnstrom underlines the importance of Wenli Jiang’s involvement in the fight against AIDS for the country. "Celebrities such as actress Wenli Jiang play an important role in China in raising awareness about AIDS. By appearing in public with a person living with HIV, Wenli Jiang helps reduce fear, shame and stigma related to AIDS," he said

Wenli Jiang’s first book, entitled Wenli Talks about AIDS was published last December. All profits from this book will be donated to AIDS related organizations, said Jiang. “The book introduces basic information about AIDS, and shares my experiences as an HIV prevention activist with readers,” Jiang said. “I want to make readers aware – and then ignorance of AIDS cannot be used as an excuse.”

“My dream would be for everyone in China to volunteer as an AIDS activist,” said Jiang, “Please do tell your friends and relatives to keep away from drugs, use condoms and lead a healthy life,”

“My objective this year is to shoot a documentary about AIDS in China. Everything is being planned now,” she said excitedly, “it will be my directorial debut.”

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