responded that protein helps build the immune system.

Still, he has kept a high profile without drawing major ire from the government or sustained criticism from the nationalists. Some of that stems from China’s pride in quickly containing the coronavirus. Dr. Zhang, who played a role in that, has won a number of awards from official groups.

In watching his speeches, I found another key to his sustained appeal. In his impromptu speech at a national teaching award ceremony in September, he said the essence of education is acknowledging human dignity. Mr. Zhang appeals to the humanity of his audience and, by admitting his own foibles, shows the authorities and the public that he is merely human, too.

In one speech, he mentioned that some victims of avian flu had caught it from taking care of their infected loved ones, and that female patients were more likely to infect their doting mothers than their absent husbands. “At that moment,” he told the audience, “I lost faith in romantic love.”

said, “I would have worked on my deltoid.”

interview last June, a reporter asked him whether anybody had reminded him to be mindful of his status as an expert and the head of an expert government panel.

“People are smart,” he responded. “They know whether you’re telling them truth or lies.”

When he gets public accolades, he often uses the occasion to highlight his causes, like more funding for infectious-disease research and for increasing the public awareness of tuberculosis and hepatitis B, two of the most common infectious diseases in China.

He also talks about people who deserved more attention, like the women among the pandemic responders whose role has often taken a back seat to the men’s in the media. “Men are on camera more,” he said at a forum on the subject, “but women did more work.”

Then he turned to the female medical workers, and bowed.

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