Diabetes is not the be-all and end-all of my story, neither is it the only topic that has occupied my mind and actions in the past few years. Since my diagnosis and subsequent reversing of my diabetes, many times I have been asked whether I regret my earlier life choices. “If you could go back in time,” friends ask me, “what would you change?”
It’s a complicated question, even if it is purely hypothetical.
If I had not come to Canada, I might not have experienced the stress and suffocating tension of unemployment in 2012. This stress would not have led to my diabetes. And I might have achieved great things in my homeland, just as some of my fellow schoolmates have done. And if I hadn't been busy day and night after starting my own business, then this stress and excessive fatigue would not have contributed to my diagnosis.
I was asked this question in a car on February 20, 2016. The specific date sticks in my mind because I was driving from Vancouver to Seattle to take part in a demonstration in support of the Chinese American police officer Peter Liang.
An old Chinese Canadian friend of mine and I were in the same car travelling for 3 hours over 290 kilometres. While we were discussing Peter Liang's experience, suddenly my friend turned to me and asked if I regretted the decisions that had brought me to this point. Without waiting for my reply, he went on to explain that if it was the case that my diabetes had been reversed, and so I wasn’t in bad health, then he preferred the person I was today.
In his opinion, my experience was worthwhile because I had changed for the better. I used to be a difficult person to deal with, but now I was willing to help people, which made me nicer to be around. Hearing what he said, I blushed with embarrassment. But he was right: we were on our way to help a stranger together. I had really been a totally different person before I had diabetes.
In February 2016, it had been less than a year and a half since I had reversed my diabetes. Although my related indicators were completely normal, I was not sure whether I really had worked a miracle. After all, one and a half years wasn’t really long enough to draw any conclusions for chronic disease. So firstly, I told him that I was in good condition now, but I could not say for sure that I had recovered completely. If my indicators were still normal after five years, then it would mean I had really done it.
But his question really moved me. Had I changed so much? Looking back now, it is clear to me that, although there was uncertainty over my illness, the me sitting in that car in 2016 had a very different state of mind than me from 2012. It really came back to why we were in that car.
Peter Liang's case is very simple. He is a Chinese American and former police officer in New York City. One day in November 2014, when he and his partner were patrolling in an apartment building in Brooklyn, his pistol suddenly went off. The bullet ricocheted off the wall, hitting Akai Gurley who was on a lower floor and causing his death. It was a double tragedy. Peter Liang faced five charges, including manslaughter. The jury of the case ruled on February 11, 2016, and found him guilty of all charges. He faced a maximum sentence of 15 years.
By itself, although an unfortunate incident, this case doesn’t seem special. The problem was that African Americans had been protesting against police violence for several months in many places around the United States when this incident happened.
In August 2014, Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African American from Ferguson, Missouri, was shot dead by a white police officer, leading to a nationwide protest. In December that same year, an African American man was held by the throat and suffocated by a police officer in New York. There were many similar incidents involving white police officers and black citizens, and none of the police officers involved was prosecuted. Peter Liang was the first police officer in New York to be prosecuted and convicted of involuntary manslaughter on duty since 2005.
The racial discrimination and police violence that African Americans face is ongoing. With many recent examples, including May 2020, when George Floyd was held to the ground and suffocated by a police officer. Whilst standing as the beacon of democracy and freedom for the world, the United States has not been able to solve its chronic problem of racial discrimination and police violence.
Similarly, as ethnic minorities, most Chinese Americans understand and sympathize with the African Americans who have fallen victim to police violence. However, it is obvious that in Peter Liang's case, white Americans could not fundamentally solve the problem, and so needed to appease African American anger by scapegoating a Chinese American.
Laws are open to manipulation by those with power and influence. When I was trying to prove my diabetes-reversing treatment, I saw clearly that many things are not so complicated. It's just some evil backstage manipulator with ulterior motives trying to confuse right and wrong for their own agenda
Peter Liang's case caused a great sensation in Canada and the United States. On February 20, tens of thousands of Chinese Americans and other Asian Americans held protests in many cities in the United States, including New York, San Francisco, Washington, Seattle and Philadelphia.
The friend sitting next to me in the car had not believed that I would come with him to Seattle. Our busy lives had let us drift apart, and in his memory, I was indifferent to other people's affairs. I would never have gone against my own interests, even if it would have benefited the whole world.
Why would I sacrifice so much time to fight for the rights of a person I didn't even know?
But I had changed. From my diabetes diagnosis to the miraculous reversal of my condition, my outlook on life and values had changed so much that even I was surprised. How did I change from someone who only cared about my own happiness to someone who was willing to share happiness with others and help even those I didn’t know?
I couldn’t explain my psychological changes to him because, to tell the truth, I was not completely clear about them myself. Unlike diabetes, psychological changes cannot be monitored based on indicators. I didn’t really want to talk too much about it, in case he thought I was preaching at him.
As for whether I regret coming to Canada or whether I regret starting my business, I think I can answer his question. I have no regrets at all.
If I hadn't come to Canada in 1997, I might even be in a better financial position than I am now. After all, in the past 20 years, China has developed in leaps and bounds. Compared with Canada, China's economy is stronger and arguably provides much better opportunities for individuals.
But I don't regret it. As an ancient Chinese saying goes, if a man in the morning hears the right way, he may die in the evening without regret. In Canada, I have become a helpful and kind person because of the setbacks I experienced. To be honest, I think the price I paid is worth it.
On that day, at the assembly site, we held up a placard with the words "judicial justice", "no scapegoating", and "accident is not a crime" on it. We distributed a petition demanding that Peter Liang be given a lighter sentence.
We all emerged with a sense of happiness at helping others, which I had never experienced before 2014. That kind of happiness cannot be obtained through making or spending money, or from fame and achievements.
So if I was to go back in time to change myself, I would choose the time of my university graduation, or maybe before I graduated. And the thing I would change? My selfishness. In retrospect, this was what made me constantly unhappy until I was 46 years old.
No one is born to be self-centred. During our school years in China, myself and my fellow students were taught to be noble, pure of heart and moral people. These demands and their slogans, like seeds, are buried in everyone's heart. Some people may face great difficulties, or a heavy mental blow, causing their seed to die.
But for other people, their seed hibernates. It seems dead due to the hustle and bustle of the world and the busyness of life. It will take a great shock - salvation from God, the Sanskrit voice of Buddha, or the unforgettable help offered by an ordinary person, to awaken their seed. Just like ephedra in the desert, even if it has been dormant for 20 years, it will still germinate when it rains.
I think I may be one of those people. At some point during my time in college that seed of mine went into hibernation. If I could go back in time, I would go back to that exact moment and stop the hibernation.
The protest march in Seattle began with a three-minute moment of silence in tribute to Akai Gurley and all those who had died in the violent conflicts between American police and African Americans.
About 20 African Americans also demonstrated near the protest site in New York, demanding that Peter Liang be sent to prison. In addition, Gurley's girlfriend Melissa Butler filed a civil lawsuit against Peter Liang and the New York City government for a claim of US$200,000.
Ken Thompson, the Brooklyn district attorney in charge of prosecuting Peter Liang, stressed in an exclusive interview with the American Chinese media "SinoVision" in New York that the case "was based on the evidence presented by the court" and "had nothing to do with politics or similar cases in other parts of the country".
At that time, things did not look good for Office Liang. There was much worry and concern among the Chinese community at the rally, so after returning to Canada, I started a WeChat group amongst our community to continue to assist with the case.
Deng Hong, a Chinese American lawyer, believed that the best course of action for our community was to "respect justice" on the one hand, and to voice their opinion on the other so that the related prosecutors and judges could "feel the indignation of the community of foreign citizens of Chinese origin".
Henry Chang-Yu Lee, an international forensic expert, said that in view of the current progress of the case, what Peter Liang needed most now was "to find a good lawyer and some good experts to appeal".
When I was still in China it was common to say that the overseas Chinese are divided. I had believed it for a long time. In 2016 I came to realize that unity has nothing to do with the Chinese nationality but is simply an individual choice.
Besides officer Peter Liang's case, I have been involved in similar campaigns. For example, we donated money and translation services to Sherry Chen, a Tsinghua alumna. I also offered voluntary translation help for Chinese American Zhao Weiwu's case in the United States. I have stayed in contact with her daughter as the case developed, in order to fight for justice in her situation.
During the Trump administration, there were many cases of Chinese scholars who had fallen foul of the administration’s anti-China program. My friends and I in the Chinese community worked to campaign and support each of them.
Returning to the case of officer Peter Liang, on April 19, 2016, the Brooklyn high court ordered that he should serve five years' probation and complete 800 hours of community service, without serving time behind bars. At the same time, the judge downgraded the previous charge of second-degree manslaughter to criminally negligent homicide.
Our protest had worked and we had won. Even in the face of strong vested interests, we can still win through unity. This is just as relevant a lesson when we talk about the treatment solutions available for diabetes.
As far as the treatment solutions for diabetes are concerned, there are also shady deals unknown to the public, with vested interests making decisions based on money. These interests are unconcerned with what is best for you and me, but instead, only focus on how to line their own pockets.
After I quickly returned to a normal blood sugar level through my focus on a low-carb diet, I started to pay attention to how diabetes impacts our society. I realized that there are so many people with diabetes who need so much medicine, withstand so much pain receiving routine treatments, and bear such a heavy financial burden. This is not only a personal problem of every diabetic but also a social problem when you consider the millions of people affected. This is a heavy burden for China as a country, and even for a developed country like the United States, this problem cannot be underestimated.
In the past few years, I have achieved modest success in my career. Even in 2020 when the economy shrank, I did well. While staying very grateful, I can live a low-key life. I am not interested in luxury houses and cars. After all the twists and turns that I have experienced in my life, glory and wealth is just as transient as fleeting clouds to me. My greatest wish is just to stay away from the hustle and bustle of the world and to have a peaceful mind and quiet life. However, the suffering that diabetes is causing for so many people around the world won't let me sit by and watch.
In the United States, the average annual cost of medical care for each diabetic patient is more than US$16,000. There are more than 400 million diabetic patients across the world,