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20 Ways to Use Tiger Balm

For most Chinese, Tiger Balm is a classic from grandmother’s cupboard. Reason enough for Sina News to publish a “20 ways to use Tiger Balm” on their Weibo account.

Manya Koetse

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For many, Tiger Balm is a childhood household item. But for those born after the 1990s, the little red tin is something they only know from their grandmother’s cupboard. Reason enough for Sina News to publish a “20 ways to use Tiger Balm” on their Weibo account, instantly turning it into a trending topic (#清凉油的20个用法#).

 

Update 2018: Also read our tips on how to use Tigerbalm by Chinese social media users here.

 

“For the majority of the post-1980 generation, tiger balm is part of their past,”   Sina writes: “But for many post 1990-ers and 00-ers, it’s a historical relic. Tiger balm has so many benefits – it is really a good thing from the past. It’s a jack of all trades!” Sina and other media have shared a list of the various ways to use tiger balm.

What is known as ‘tiger balm’ in most western countries is better known as ‘soothing balm’ (清凉油 qingliangyou) or ‘essential balm’ (风油精 fengyoujing) in China; a hot/cool and fragrant balm or oil containing menthol.

imageTiger balm, essential balm and soothing balm (picture by WhatsonWeibo).

The original Tiger Balm was developed in Birma in the 1870s, by the China-born herbalist Aw Chu Kin. Different to what the name suggest, Tiger Balm does not contain any ingredients related to the tiger. The balm, containing menthol, mint oil, clove bud oil, cajuput oil and camphor, was named after Aw’s son, whose name literally meant ‘Gentle Tiger’ (Aw Boon Haw, 胡文虎). He was the son who later inherited the recipe of the balm, and turned Tiger Balm into a household name together with his brother.

Apart from the original Tiger Balm (虎標萬金油) there are various brands available in China’s stores, available from drug stores to supermarkets. According to Sina Weibo, this top 20 list contains various ways to use this household classic.

Check out our top 20 list

(Please note that this original list was published by Chinese media. If you’re in doubt about tiger balm usages and/or allergies, consult a doctor before using.)

1. Stung by a mosquito? Tiger balm can help take away the itchiness by applying it directly to the sting.

2. Tiger balm is the perfect insect repellent, as mosquitos and wasps do not like its strong scent. Leave a tin of tiger balm in every corner of the (bed)room during summertime, and leave the lid open. Mosquito’s will not enter a room that reeks of tiger balm.

3. Wooden or bamboo furniture affected by bugs can benefit from treatment with tiger balm. Put some balm on every termite hole of the affected furniture, and they will die out.

4. For those with rheumatic pains, tiger balm can be used as a painkiller by applying it in the lower back area, legs, and directly on sore muscles and bones. Apply as many times as necessary.

5. You’ve been painting the house, and now there are paint stains all over your hands and arms that are not easy to remove by water. Put some tiger balm on a cloth and thoroughly wipe your skin with it. After a couple of minutes, the paint will start letting go, and you can easily pull it off.

6. Weibo suggests that a bad body odor can be cured by the longtime use of tiger balm. Regularly apply tiger balm to the body, the list suggests, and the bad body odors will disappear. You will reek of menthol instead.

7. Got diarrhea (拉肚子)? Rub some tiger balm in and around the navel area, and cover it with the palm of your hand for two or three minutes to let the hotness work on the belly. You can also rub a little bit of balm in between the tailbone and anal area for full effect, the list suggests.

8. The list also suggests to use tiger balm when your baby has an inflamed bottom. Applying tiger balm to the anal area is said to provide some soothing relief. (We are not sure about this one, please always first consult a doctor before applying this balm on babies!)

9. For the early signs of a soar throat, apply tiger balm around the neck area before sleeping. Generously rub it around the neck with the palm of your hand, and your throat will feel better in the morning.

10. Throbbing toothache may feel better after applying some tiger balm to it. Put some balm on a cloth, and rub it into the affected area around the tooth.

11. For mild burns: lightly apply the balm to the afflicted parts. It can help alleviate the pain and avoid blisters. The earlier the balm is applied, the better.

12. Corns and calluses on the feet may disappear after consistent use of tiger balm. Smear the balm directly on to the corn. The list, like this blog, suggests that the balm is warmed with a burning cigarette to improve the balm penetrate into the corn, and to repeat it every day, one to three times a day.

13. Tiger balm is an excellent remedy against headaches. Rub some tiger balm on both temples and reapply if necessary. Be careful not to get the balm in your eyes.

14. When you got a cold and have a stuffed nose, it might help to put some balm right underneath and around the nostrils to let your nose clear up.

15. If you get carsick or seasick easily, moisten the lips with some balm to prevent nausea.

16. Just as tiger balm might help when suffering from diarrhea, it might also help with constipation. Rub some balm around the belly area to ease the stomach.

17. German soccer players have discovered that applying some balm to your chest and calves can help to alleviate the pain associated with fast running.

18. Tiger balm can also be useful when removing the remnants of stickers; rub some in, and you can peel it right off (as also suggested by Vision Times).

19. For those suffering from cold feet in winter, tiger balm might be the solution. Rub the cream into the feet to help stimulate and improve circulation.

20. Bye bye bad smells! Freshen those stinky sneakers and shoes by putting some open packages of tiger balm where you keep your shoes.

Out of Tiger Balm or still not have it in your cupboard. You can order Tiger Balm online from various places:

Buy here:
Tiger Balm White Ointment HR Pain Relief 30g (Big Size)


By Manya Koetse

©2015 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Dian

    August 4, 2015 at 5:26 pm

    Thank you for sharing this. However, I am pretty sure you mean 拉肚子 instead of 辣肚子 in the 7th way. As a native Mandarin speaker, I don’t think I have ever heard of hot stomach…

    • Manya Koetse

      Manya Koetse

      August 4, 2015 at 5:31 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Dian, it has been adjusted!

  2. Avatar

    Brenna

    May 2, 2016 at 9:56 pm

    Do not put under your nose! I tried it the other night because I saw this, it burned so bad. I had to rub it off my face!

    • Avatar

      Jill

      June 14, 2016 at 6:05 pm

      Hello Brenna,
      My 70 yr old aunt turned me onto Tiger Balm when I started getting horrible migraines 2 years ago. I now put very very little across my forehead, down the bridge of my nose and a tiny bit (so little) under my nose. It does take a few seconds to get used to the smell but it’s not a horrible smell. And I’m sorry it burned you, but I’ve never had it burn me. The only times I’d heard someone say it burned some was when they used too much in one area. I literally swipe my finger over the top of the balm and spread it where I need it. I never actually take a scoop or any solid part of the balm (that too me is too much). I hope this helps and you try it again in the future. It really has worked for me and I continue to tell others about it.

  3. Avatar

    Gavan

    May 20, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    Thank you for useful sharing, so I guess someone want to know more about use tiger balm as directed on label http://balmtiger.com you can have a look it.

  4. Avatar

    Shahpaar

    July 16, 2016 at 8:00 am

    I jokingly refer to it as my best friend. I suffer from headaches and terrible migraines, and Tiger Balm does wonders. I rub it on my temples, forehead, bridge of my nose and around my nostrils. I have been using it almost 29 years, and for me it’s a miracle worker with my pain.

  5. Avatar

    Yasmin

    August 6, 2016 at 7:28 pm

    Hey, I’m about to buy 1 from Aliexpress. I remember the one in the 80’s was dark color but this 1 today is yellow. Is this the same item as the 80’s?

  6. Avatar

    Gilly

    September 8, 2016 at 10:20 pm

    I have just bought some of this today from a cheap shop. It cost 98 pence for 2 jars. I used to use zambuk so I am hoping this is as good.

  7. Avatar

    Andrea Wood

    October 23, 2016 at 5:38 pm

    I have been using Tiger Balm on sore joints and bones. The pain is decreasing, but whatever is wrong seems to be coming out of my skin in the form of redness and blisters. Do you have any idea what would have been wrong for this to be happening? I assumed that I was just having an allergic reaction at first, but then I noticed that I have no skin problem where I accidentally (later on purpose for testing) where there is no pain, but MAJOR reaction where I feel that deep pain. Any ideas what is happening?

    • Avatar

      Kim

      December 28, 2016 at 11:53 pm

      Hi, did you get shingles? Just a thought

  8. Avatar

    Babar

    October 24, 2016 at 1:50 pm

    i know ppl who eat this , they put it in hot coffee or tea, i was shocked every time , i barely can smell it

  9. Avatar

    henock

    December 21, 2016 at 8:10 pm

    What happen if I used the cream on my face

  10. Avatar

    Anna Estruch

    January 19, 2017 at 10:02 pm

    Is this product good for nail fungus?

    • Avatar

      Theresa

      February 16, 2017 at 10:16 pm

      Anna it is good for nail fungus. Unfortunately the nail will turn color and you have to wait for the nail to grow out but it does work for fungus. Tea tree oil actually works best for nail fungus and no discoloration.

  11. Avatar

    Bert

    April 6, 2017 at 1:01 pm

    I had someone tell me to put the balm on the tops of my feet to help with sleep. Fall asleep faster and sleep more solid. ??
    I’m combing the internet to find anything on this one and so far, not finding anything. I used some of the self stick pads a while back for tennis/golfers elbow. Only thing that helped with the pain. I keep them in supply. Going to put them on the top of my feet tonight. For better sleep, I’ll try anything.

  12. Avatar

    Manuel

    April 17, 2017 at 8:58 am

    Really good Article Manya, I guess I would add where you can buy some of these, if you are in Australia you can check http://www.tiger-balm.com.au

  13. Avatar

    Missy

    July 3, 2017 at 5:45 am

    I recently burned my arm with an industrial steamer. Some of the skin has broken open. It’s very sore. My doctor said to keep it moist all the time. A&D ointment or Vaseline. A friend was overseas and burnt his calf on a motorcycle and a premed student in a restaurant gave him tiger balm and he said it healed it in 5 days. But the ingredients sound like it would burn an open wound.

    • Avatar

      Katby

      July 6, 2017 at 5:15 am

      My daughter had an insect bite in Thailand a couple of months ago that went bad and was told to put tiger balm on it….3 days and it was better. I use it on midge bites here in UK as I get a bad reaction to them and it is amazing stuff.

  14. Avatar

    Xolani

    April 12, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    Hi
    Does this product Tiger balm helped when you have a problem with early ejaculation?
    If is yes please explain to me how and when. someone told me that I should rubbed my penis it will help. please reply on my email address.

    Thank you looking forward to your responds

    kinds as
    Xolani

  15. Avatar

    Tiger Balm

    May 18, 2018 at 11:01 am

    Hi Manya, it is indeed an inspiring article to show what advantages the Tiger Balm can do for us in our everyday life. Many people are just aware of the regular usage of muscle pain and against flu related issues, but very view people actually know that it is the grandparents secret weapon against so many things at home. The
    Tiger Balm Uses are far beyond ones imagination. All the best, Sunisa 🙂

  16. Avatar

    Ryan

    June 24, 2018 at 11:37 am

    What is the difference between the red and the white??
    I’ve only used the red and I know it is AMAZING for Burns, headaches, and Grandpa’s sore legs, joints and muscles from RA. HES HOOKED! lol. Wasn’t sure if the white would be better for his pain relief?

  17. Avatar

    Erica

    August 14, 2019 at 6:30 pm

    i put this on a milk burn after I read this article. Boy was that a mistake. It burned and swelled up. Please do not put this on any wound.

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China and Covid19

Chengdu City-Wide ‘Lockdown’ Sparks Panic Buying and Worries

Chengdu’s ‘lockdown’ is called ‘staying at home.’

Manya Koetse

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“All Chengdu Residents are to Stay Home from 6pm Today” (#成都今日18时起全体居民原则居家#) is the hashtag that is trending on Weibo today, receiving over 670 million clicks by Thursdaynight.

In light of rising Covid cases in the city of Chengdu, Sichuan Province, the local Epidemic Prevention and Control authorities announced mass testing campaigns in the city starting from 1-4 September and ordered people to stay at home.

Over the past seven days, the city reported a total of 606 new positive cases, almost one-third of all the newly reported cases in mainland China this week.

Local supermarkets saw an increase in shoppers coming to stock up on groceries since August 29, when rumors about an upcoming lockdown started spreading like wildfire.

Although authorities warned people not to “stock up blindly” (#成都官方说不必盲目囤积生活物资#), panic buying was visible across the city, with many images going viral on WeChat showing people stocking up on meat, vegetables, condoms, and even live chickens.

One of the netizens who first started the rumor of Chengdu locking down on August 29 was detained by Chengdu police the next day for “provoking trouble.” The person, whose social media ID was ‘Tropical Rainforest’ (热带雨林), received a 15-day sentence and a fine of 1000 yuan ($145).

Some memes circulated about the incident, saying that the social media user sparked “the August 29th Tropical Rainforest Shopping Festival.”

“The 8.29 Tropical Rainforest Shopping Festival” meme.

“Tropical Rainforest told us to start lining up.”

But just two days later, the rumors seemed to hold truth after all when the authorities announced the 4-day stay-at-home order. Families can still send one person out once per day for groceries.

The word ‘lockdown,’ however, was not used by authorities and the hashtag “Chengdu Lockdown” (#成都封城#) was also taken offline at the time of writing. “Ah, so it was all just rumors after all! This is not a lockdown, this is just ‘staying at home,'” some commenters wrote.

“Stay at home is just another word for lockdown,” others wrote, although others suggested that this kind of measure was far more relaxed than an actual strict lockdown.

There were also those who were confused: “On the one hand they’re telling us to do mass testing and go outside, on the other hand they’re telling us to remain at home and stay inside.”

During the night of September 1st, the hashtag “Chengdu Nucleic Acid System Collapses” (#成都核酸系统崩了#) also attracted attention online, as the system registering the nucleic acid tests allegedly could not handle the peak. “I’ve been standing in line for over two hours,” some people wrote, complaining about long testing queues that seemed neverending.

Weibo users also shared their worries about the epidemic situation in Chengdu and how long these measures would last. Previously, the ‘phased lockdown’ of Shanghai was only supposed to last for five days but ended up lasting two months.

“Great, I don’t have any rice, no oil, no noodles, all I have is a bag of nuts and some candies,” one commenter wrote.

A recurring comment on Chinese social media said: “Ah, when will this epidemic ever end?” “I just hope the lockdown will be soon lifted.”

Also read our update here: Second Day of Lockdown in Chengdu

Read more about China and Covid-19 here.

By Manya Koetse and Miranda Barnes

 

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China and Covid19

Fangcang Diaries: China’s Makeshift Covid Hospitals, from Wuhan to the Future

Fangcang hospitals are here to stay as long as China sticks to its current zero-Covid path.

Manya Koetse

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By mid 2020, many thought Fangcang, China’s Covid-19 makeshift hospitals, had become a thing of the past. Instead, they have become a part of the country’s future. Through the course of the pandemic, perceptions of China’s ‘square cabin’ Covid hospitals have drastically changed. Chinese social media users get a glimpse of life inside the Fangcang hospitals thanks to patients’ online diaries, videos, and photos.

 
This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, original publication in German by Goethe Institut China, visit Yi Magazin: Fangcang ohne Ende: Chinas Covid-Krankenhäuser damals und heute.
 

In February of 2020, the impressive construction of two enormous emergency field hospitals in Covid-stricken Wuhan captured the world’s attention. The Huoshenshan and Leishenshan Hospitals were constructed in a matter of days and combined they could take in 2,500 patients. The construction process was live-streamed by state media and sped-up drone footage of a large empty field transforming into a fully functioning hospital received millions of clicks around the internet.

Along with mass-testing and local lockdowns, the so-called ‘Fangcang’ shelter hospitals are seen as a key solution in ‘fighting Covid-19 the Chinese way’ to alleviate the pressure on public hospitals and lower Covid-19 mortality rates by quarantining and treating patients with confirmed infections.

Within a matter of 2,5 years, Fangcang emerged as a novel concept on China’s coronavirus battleground and then became a part of everyday life in a zero Covid society. Here, we will zoom in on China’s Fangcang phenomenon and changes in the public’s perceptions of it.

 

MORE THAN MASH: THE NOVEL FANGCANG CONCEPT

 

Fāngcāng (方舱) literally means ‘square cabin,’ referring to a modular or prefabricated mobile cabin hospital. Although the concept of an emergency field hospital or makeshift hospital is not new, Fangcang hospitals are labeled as a “novel public health concept” due to their specific use during China’s Covid crisis (Chen et al 2020).

Some studies say that China’s Covid-19 Fangcang hospitals were modeled after emergency cabins used during the Wenchuan and Yushu earthquakes in 2008 and 2010 (Wang et al 2020, 2). According to the biggest Chinese-language online encyclopedia, Baidu Baike, the term actually comes from the United States, where the U.S. Army first started developing such cabins – Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals (MASH units) – in the early 1950s and used them during the Korean War. The Chinese Fangcang hospital, however, is not really the same and the concept was implemented for the first time in Wuhan in February 2020.

Aerial view of the American 46th MASH unit (photo by Robert L. Emanuele, published at https://bulletin.facs.org/)

In China, Fangcang hospitals are large, temporary hospitals for the isolation, treatment, and disease monitoring of Covid-19 patients with mild-to-moderate symptoms. By taking in and quarantining people who have tested positive for Covid-19, they are meant to reduce the transmission of the virus within households and communities, while also providing treatment to patients with mild symptoms (Fang et al 2020, 2). In doing so, they dramatically reduce the pressure on regular hospitals, which need their beds to solely treat patients with severe and critical conditions.

Construction of Huoshenshan Hospital, image via Sohu.com.

The 1,000-bed Huoshenshan Hospital (火神山医院) was constructed within a matter of days, starting on January 23, 2020, and ending on February 2. The first patients were admitted a day later. The construction of the 1,500 bed Leishenshan Hospital (雷神山医院) started on the 26th of January and was completed on 6 February 2020.

Many other Fangcang hospitals were not constructed like these shelter hospitals but were built by converting large (public) buildings such as exhibition centers, stadiums, or schools into healthcare facilities. In Wuhan, over a dozen more Fangcang hospitals were opened in February of 2020 to provide beds for Covid-19 patients before all being suspended on March 10 of that year when the crisis was under control.

 

FANGCANG ON SOCIAL MEDIA: A CHANGING IMAGE

 

In the early stages of the pandemic, Chinese social media users got a glimpse of life inside the Fangcang hospitals through official media videos and through footage and photos posted by people staying there. Up to the present day, patients share their quarantine experiences on social media using hashtags such as “Fangcang Diaries” (#方舱日记#).

Medical workers leading a dance exercise session for COVID-19 patients at a Fangcang in Wuhan, March 2020. Photo posted on Weibo (@滨州文旅).

In the Wuhan days, there were videos of patients dancing together inside the hospitals, with people cheering on the positivity of patients and the dedication of the healthcare workers.

Photo posted from a Wuhan Fangcang by Weibo user (@121314人生需要转折) on February 29, 2020.

One photo of a patient reading Francis Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order even went viral on Weibo. Many admired the patient for reading such heavy literature during his Fangcang stay and the man became famous overnight as ‘the invincible Wuhan-er.’

The Invincible Wuhan-er, see more here.

A young woman known as A Nian (阿念) also wrote on social media about her quarantine stay at one of Wuhan’s Fangcang hospitals in February of 2020. When her grandmother fell critically ill during her stay at the city’s Huoshenshan hospital, A Nian asked to be transferred to the same Fangcang so that she could take care of her. Despite having A Nian by her side, the grandmother passed away. A Nian’s experiences at the Wuhan Fangcang hospitals were eventually published in the book Wuhan Girl A Nian Diary (武汉女孩阿念日记). The book paints a picture of the Fangcang where resilience, warmth, and optimism dominate the overall atmosphere.

The Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan was a national war against the virus, and the Fangcang hospitals were described and represented as a necessary and praised tool within this united fight. The medical staff members working there were the heroes on the frontline, and many social media users honored and thanked them for their efforts.

After the shelter hospitals in Wuhan gradually closed, the social media focus shifted to how the Covid crisis became a pandemic and caused chaos in the rest of the world. By April of 2020, Wuhan had returned to a state of normalcy, and schools across the country reopened. When Huoshenshan and Leishenshan closed their doors, Fangcang soon seemed to become a thing of the past.

Although there were local outbreaks of Covid-19 in China throughout 2020 and 2021, the Fangcang hospitals did not really return to the public spotlight until Xi’an saw cases spike in late 2021 and early 2022, with the city becoming the epicenter of the biggest Covid outbreak and lockdown since Wuhan.

By January of 2022, the city of Xi’an had started to construct large sites for isolation of people who tested positive for Covid-19, in addition to designated hospitals. Besides ‘Fangcang,’ these were also called ‘Centralized Isolation Points’ (集中隔离点).

As later explained by Dr. Wu Jinglei, director of Shanghai Municipal Health Commission, Fangcang hospitals can also be used as ‘Isolation Points.’ The two are the same but using ‘Isolation Point’ instead of ‘Fangcang Hospital’ emphasizes the need to also isolate and observe patients who are asymptomatic at these health locations, besides treating those with mild-to-moderate symptoms. Later on, these locations also started to be referred to as ‘Fangcang Isolation Points’ (方舱隔离点) or ‘Isolation Fangcang’ (隔离方舱).

One story that attracted major attention on Chinese social media and indicated changing perceptions of the Fangcang phenomenon was the midnight eviction of residents of the Xi’an Mingde 8 Yingli community (明德八英里小区) in Xi’an. Just after midnight on January 1st of 2022, residents received news that they would be transferred by buses, and quarantined away from their compound due to new infections in their proximity.

Residents voiced their concerns on social media about the incident, saying they were unsure of where they were heading, and that they were put in buses together for hours until being driven off to a remote Fangcang without proper supplies. The term ‘bèi lāzǒu’ (被拉走) was used, ‘being dragged away.’

Old people, young children, and pregnant women were among those being taken away for quarantine without being provided with the things they needed, and without any measures to protect them against the dangers of infection. An image of an old man with a walking cane standing in line to be taken away for quarantine went viral online as many worried about his wellbeing. He was seemingly all alone and did not seem to have any luggage or food supplies with him.

Seeing photos of old buildings without proper facilities being turned into Fangcang, many residents wondered what the point of this kind of isolation was. One popular post by a Weibo user nicknamed ‘In Between Memories’ from January 2nd of 2022 said:

“I don’t understand why negative-tested families should be dragged away for isolation? Isn’t isolation at home also isolation? The Fangcang hospitals were built to focus on treating the mildly ill, separately from the seriously ill. But nowadays, after discovering one positive case, Xi’an wants to pull away the entire neighborhood to a centralized quarantine with poor conditions – even if everyone has already been in home quarantine for over a week. Is this all just so that Xi’an can say it has zero infections while ignoring the scientific basis that many families tested negative multiple times? While disregarding the special needs of families with elderly, young, sick, disabled, and pregnant people? Before transferring people, you never provided them with a policy basis, nor was there any warning or reminder given to the citizens of Xi’an that you would implement [this policy] on the spot in the middle of the night. Now that everyone is at risk, perhaps some will support this, hoping that there can be zero cases within the community in a time frame of three days. But there are more residents who are only worried that the next one to be dragged away will be them. After all, we will be taken away even if we stay well at home and test negative ten times for the nucleic acid test, what about the elderly and our children, what about our pets? No one cares, they only care about their hard target to clear the city of Covid within three days.”

Within three weeks of lockdown, Xi’an was the first city to have so many patients admitted to Isolation Points: nearly 50,000 people were isolated at 443 different Fangcang quarantine locations across Xi’an (Southern Weekend 2022).

January 5 2022, a Fangcang or Isolation Point with over 1000 separate isolations rooms is constructed in Baqiao District of Xi’an (Image via Renmin Shijue).

The fears of being taken away to Fangcang hospitals and Isolation Points also became a reality for Shanghai residents after an unprecedented Covid-19 spike in the city, starting in March of 2022. As the city entered a phased lockdown, photos and videos of a local quarantine site where babies and small children were kept in isolation – separated from their parents – went viral on Chinese social media.1

Not long after, patients at Fangcang hospitals started posting on social media about their experiences, complaining that there was a lack of basic supplies, that they were not given the medicine they needed, and that vulnerable patients were left to their own devices without proper care.

As the Covid-19 cases continued to spike throughout March and April, videos also started surfacing showing chaotic scenes at some Fangcang sites in Shanghai where patients were fighting over supplies such as blankets, water, and food, some crying when they were unable to get anything but some bottles of water – or nothing at all.

The apparent disorganization at quarantine facilities from the city’s Pudong to Minhang Districts triggered discussions on Chinese social media about why asymptomatic patients were taken off to these ill-equipped centralized Fangcang locations at all and why they were not allowed to isolate at home instead.

Chaotic situation at a quarantine location in Shanghai’s Pudong in early April 2022 (video).

One Weibo user wrote in April 2022:

“They took us to an isolation site. If the conditions had just been a bit better, we’d be okay with it, but this is just unimaginable. These are the facts. Over 800 people have entered this facility since April 9, their ages varying from seventy or eighty years old to babies just a few months old. 1. Inside the factory building, there are plank beds without mattresses, there are no people to clean. 2. There is no supervisor, we need to fight over our food. 3. There are not enough supplies, not even enough toilet paper. 4. 80% of the toilets are clogged, there’s nobody to clean them. 5. There are no doctors and nobody to take care of patients with a fever. 6. There is no one to dispose of the garbage. 7. The weather’s hot, but there’s no place to shower or change clothes.”

Patients shared a photo of the toilets at one Pudong quarantine location (more here).

Stories also started coming out of patients being taken away to Isolation Points many days after they had first tested positive for Covid. By the time they were finally taken away for quarantine, they had recovered and tested negative for Covid-19, yet still had to go and stay together with patients testing positive.

To create more beds for patients, Shanghai opened China’s largest-ever Fangcang hospital on April 8 at the National Exhibition Convention Center. This Fangcang, built by the same people who had helped build Huoshenshan and Leishenshan in Wuhan, had a capacity of 50,000 beds for Covid-19 patients.

These bigger, modern, and central Fangcang locations are generally neat and orderly, providing regular meals and medicine, as well as offering various activities or even setting up classrooms for quarantined students.

But photos, footage, and online diaries posted on social media exposed the stark differences in living conditions between different Fangcang hospitals. By late April of 2022, patients staying at one Fangcang location in the city’s Putuo District – an office building converted into a makeshift hospital – complained about the crowded living conditions, the lack of washing rooms and showers, and the inadequate supply of food and drinking water. At other facilities, patients posted videos of water pouring into the building after heavy rain.

Wide-angle view of the Shanghai office buildings that have been converted to Fangcang hospitals (What’s on Weibo).

Inside the office converted into Fangcang, photo via Weibo.

From Wuhan in 2020 to Shanghai in 2022, the public perception of the Fangcang phenomenon in China changed dramatically. While it was initially seen as an effective, efficient, and celebrated response to the outbreak of Covid, many Shanghai-based residents, during the peak of the city’s Covid crisis, feared the Fangcang more than the virus itself, as stories about overcrowded, disorganized and unequipped facilities kept surfacing online.

 

THE FUTURE OF FANGCANG

 

By mid-May of 2022, after seeing over 60,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases in total, Shanghai retired half of its Fangcang locations due to rapidly declining cases. Nevertheless, the restrictions to keep Covid under control are still stringent.

As Chinese leadership remains adamant on sticking with its zero-Covid strategy, state media emphasize the need to uphold the mandatory quarantine system as part of this public health policy, which basically means the country will not opt to ‘live with the virus’ but instead will continue to implement strict measures to eliminate a Covid outbreak as fast as possible once it emerges.

Fangcang are here to stay as long as China stays on its current zero-Covid path. The country’s top epidemiologist Liang Wannian (梁万年) maintains that patients need to be isolated at a centralized location because they can be easily monitored and treated that way, while also minimizing the risks of them spreading the virus to others in their household or community.

In preparation for potential future outbreaks, cities across China are building new Fangcang or are improving existing ones. Authorities are making sure that the country is ready to manage more local outbreaks, avoiding messy Fangcang scenes like the ones in Xi’an or Shanghai.

On May 13, China’s National Health Commission called on all provinces to build or renovate city-level Fangcang hospitals, and to make sure they are equipped with electricity, ventilation systems, medical appliances, toilets, and washing facilities.

The country-wide Fangcang preparation plan is now in full swing. In Zhengzhou, for example, construction workers are building a new Fangcang from the ground up. The city of Zhoukou recently issued a promo video on Weibo showing off their local brand-new Fangcang location with 356 private rooms equipped with air disinfection systems, private showers, and free Wi-Fi. Meanwhile, Shanghai even introduced its first Fangcang location for pets.

Zhengzhou’s new Fangcang, construction work in mid-May 2022 (Weibo via @顶端新闻).

When it was announced that China would withdraw as the 2023 Asian Cup host due to the pandemic, netizens joked that the stadiums constructed for the sports event could now be turned into Fangcang instead.

“The Fangcang will become a regular facility in the next few years,” some social media users commented. Others wrote: “This is good news. It’s better to be prepared for what’s coming,” and: “Better to prepare to build the Fangcang now than to prepare to build our future graves.”

Weibo user sharing photo from one Shanghai Fangcang (@路漫漫的碎碎念)

Generally, despite worries over a lack of medical care and supplies at facilities, many people do support the idea of their cities being prepared for an immediate Covid response once it’s necessary. “I don’t get why people are being negative about building new Fangcang,” one Weibo user from Hebei Province writes:

“People think that they should stay home if they get infected but want other people to quickly go away to a Fangcang hospital if they’re sick. Our little town is now also building a Fangcang, and I think it’s a good thing. Before, there were too many infections in the neighboring village, and they took them for isolation to the hotel in our city center and all stores in the vicinity had to close. (..) It was scary, people didn’t want to visit the center anymore. Now, they’re building a Fangcang at the town border, away from the people, and it’s a relief for all of us.”

Meanwhile, Fangcang patients keep sharing their journals online. “Today is day seven for me,” one Shanghai resident wrote on Weibo: “I finally had an egg for the first time here. I’ve been constipated all week (..) This morning, I heard I meet the conditions to be discharged [two negative tests in a row], but due to the lack of capacity I’m still waiting, and it might still take two or three more days before I get to go home.”

“It’s day twelve. I can’t wait until I’m released from ‘prison’,” one person wrote.

Kids playing inside a Shanghai Fangcang Isolation Point, pictured shared on Weibo.

“It’s my first night at the Fangcang,” one Weibo user writes in another online ‘Covid journal’: “There’s too much light and noise, and my dad and I took turns in waking up. Eventually, he decided to get up, thinking it was 5 am, until we discovered it was just past 2 am. I felt light-headed as I headed to the bathroom.”

One patient at another Shanghai Fangcang writes: “My stay at the Fangcang is better than I had expected. I am sleeping better than at home and don’t have to think about what I am going to eat. But there are many elderly people inside here, and I see them suffering. I’m not sure if this policy really helps them.” They also write: “I’d better record all of this. I think this is going to be an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

 

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

 

1 On April 6, 2022, Shanghai changed the policy and announced that parents can apply to accompany their children during central quarantine after signing an agreement, regardless of whether they’ve tested positive for the virus or not.

 

References (other sources linked to inside the text)

Chen, Simiao Chen, Zongjiu Zhang, Juntao Yang, Jian Wang, Xiaohui Zhai, Till Bärnighausen, Chen Wang. 2020. “Fangcang Shelter Hospitals: A Novel Concept for Responding to Public Health Emergencies.” The Lancet, April 2             https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30744-3/fulltext [May 12, 2022].

Fang, Dongpin, Shengjie Pan, Zaishang Li, Ting Yuan, Benran Jiang, Di Gan, Bai Sheng, Jing Han, Tao Wang, Zhongmin Liu. 2020. “Large-Scale Public Venues as Medical  Emergency Sites in Disasters: Lessons from COVID-19 and the Use of Fangcang Shelter Hospitals in Wuhan, China.” BMJ Global Health 5:  1-7.

Luo, Hanbin, Jiajing Liu, Chengqian Li, Ke Chen, Ming Zhang. 2020. “Ultra-Rapid Delivery of Specialty Field Hospitals To Combat COVID-19: Lessons Learned from the Leishenshan Hospital Project in Wuhan.” Automation in Construction 119 (103345):  1-10.

Southern Weekend 南方周末. 2022. “The Largest Centralized Quarantine: 49,678 People in  nearly One Month, What Has Xi’an Invested 最大规模集中隔离:近一月49678人,西安付出了什么” [In Chinese]. Sina News, January 13  https://news.sina.cn/2022-01-13/detail-ikyamrmz4934227.d.html [May 13].

Wang, Ke-Wei, Jie Gao, Xiao-Xiao Song, Jiang Huang, Hua Wang, Xiao-Long Wu, Qin-Fang Yuan, Xiao-Shan Li, Feng Cheng, Yang Cheng. 2020. “Fangcang Shelters Are a One  Health Approach for Responding to the Covid-19 Outbreak in Wuhan, China.” One Health 10 (100167): 1-6.

Featured image by Ama for Yi Magazin.

This text was written for Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.

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