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China and Covid19

Chinese Tourists Travel Abroad Again after ‘Zero Covid,’ but Restrictions on Passengers from China Draw Outrage

China opens its gates while other countries introduce travel restrictions on Chinese passengers. Authorities have condemned the measures.




With China lifting blockades on foreign travel, there’s a post-zero-Covid itch to travel. But while many countries say they welcome Chinese tourists, they also implement restrictions on passengers coming from China. On Chinese social media, people respond to these restrictions with anger, fuelled by media reports describing the rules as a form of foreign revenge and discrimination.

Just as China reopened its borders to quarantine-free travel on 8 January, many foreign countries restarted their tourism marketing campaign for Chinese travelers. As China will resume issuing passports for tourism travel, many Chinese are expected to go abroad again after three years of stringent Covid measures.

On the Chinese social media platform Weibo, where many foreign embassies and tourism boards are also active, countries from all over the world have recently started to post photos and videos to promote local attractions and to celebrate the reopening of China’s borders after three long years.

The Weibo account of Spain’s National Tourism Administration (@西班牙国家旅游局) listed the country’s most famous attractions, writing: “For three whole years, Spain has been eagerly waiting for you!” (“整整三年,西班牙终于等到你”). The Israel Tourist Office (@以色列旅游局) also wrote on Weibo: “Let’s travel again, we will see you in Israel!” (“再次启程吧,以色列与你不见不散!”).

“Where would you like to go?” Chinese media outlet People’s Daily wrote, introducing the hashtag “Many Countries Send out Posts to Welcome Chinese Tourists to Come Visit and Travel” (#多国发微博欢迎中国游客到访旅游#), which has since received over 15 million views. In its post, People’s Daily listed the many different countries’ tourists boards trying their best to catch the attention of Chinese netizens, including the boards of France, Thailand, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Portugal, Austria, and Switzerland, which have all sent out welcoming message to Chinese tourists.

Examples of foreign Weibo accounts promoting their countries (France, Thailand) as the perfect travel destination.

Other Chinese mainstream media presented these welcoming messages as a sign of recognition of China’s Covid policy and its economic recovery from the pandemic.

On January 8th, The Paper (澎湃新闻) published a Weibo post with the hashtag “Many Countries Happy to Welcome Chinese Tourists” (#多国乐见并欢迎中国游客#), stating that China’s revision of its Covid-19 policy has been positively received internationally as it will bring a strong economic recovery that will also boost global economy.

Meanwhile, however, many Chinese netizens do not seem very excited about recent travel invitations from various countries.

Although some Weibo users expressed excitement about being able to travel abroad again, many viewed the China-targeted tourism promotion as a need for Chinese travelers’ money. One commenter wrote: “Let me translate this for you: ‘Foreign countries: Friends from China! We need you to come and develop our economies!'”

Moreover, people criticize some of these countries for lacking sincerity in actually welcoming Chinese tourists. Without waiving visas, these invitations seem like blank checks, especially when arranging a visa for some of these countries is not so easy for Chinese travelers.

Another user replied: “None of them are waiving visa requirements, they want to make money but are not sincere. We’re better off traveling within China.”

‘Discriminatory’ Entry Restrictions on China

Despite the many countries welcoming Chinese travelers, the severity of China’s Covid outbreak has recently led them to impose travel restrictions for passengers from China. Foreign authorities expressed concerns that the number of Covid-positive inbound travelers might impact their own national epidemic situation.

Some countries, such as the U.S., UK, and India, require a mandatory negative Covid-19 test result within 48 or 72 hours before departure for travelers from China. Others, like Japan and Italy, require testing upon arrival and quarantine for those who test positive. South Korea raised the bar for Chinese tourists by requiring a negative Covid test before boarding, another after landing, and quarantine for positive passengers. South Korea also temporarily suspended short-term visas for Chinese nationals. Morroco has even decided to ban entry to all travelers from mainland China from entering the border.

Many Chinese netizens responded to the new restrictions with resentment and anger, partly fuelled by Chinese media reports describing the rules as a form of foreign revenge, discrimination against the Chinese, and political conspiracy.

Using the hashtag “Some Countries’ Newly Imposed Rules Treat Chinese Travelers Differently” (#部分国家新规区别对待中国旅客#), The Paper (澎湃新闻) listed the travel restrictions imposed by the EU, Japan, South-Korea, and Morocco in detail, commenting that Morocco’s banning of Chinese tourists lacks scientific evidence and is purposely targeting Chinese nationals.

The Paper also criticized the U.S. restrictions as “only targeting tourists from China,” and condemned U.S. politicians and media for continuously fabricating the risk of virus mutation and spreading lies about the lack of transparency in China regarding the outbreak.

Social media users also say the new restrictions are discriminating against Chinese, and some call them a “humiliation.”

One Weibo user posted screenshots of a New York Times article in Chinese by author Frankie Huang titled “America’s Covid Test Requirement for Chinese Travelers Is a Farce” (“针对中国的旅行限制是一场闹剧“) (English version). The Weibo user quotes and highlights the article’s argument that the restriction targeting travelers from China is “a policy of racism.” In the article, the author suggests that the U.S. travel restrictions for passengers from China perpetuates “centuries-old tropes of Asians as the “diseased other” and the notion that the coronavirus is, in fact, the “China virus.””

Chinese Travelers Receive “Humiliating Treatment” in South Korea

Other social media users tie the discussion around the restrictions on travelers from China to a broader human rights debate, such as in a recent article titled “Chinese Travelers Received Humiliating Treatment in South Korea: Receive Yellow Cards Which Must Be Hung Around Neck” (“中国旅客遭韩国侮辱性对待:被发放黄色识别牌,要求必须套脖子上”).

In the article, the author, associate professor Wang Jin (王晋) from the Middle Eastern Studies department of Xibei University, accuses South Korea of violating human rights and treating people as “criminals” by only giving Chinese travelers yellow tags to hang around their necks upon landing. This ‘yellow card’ topic also became a much-discussed one on Weibo (#赴韩中国游客一下飞机就被挂黄牌#).

Yellow card given to Chinese passengers landing in South Korea (image via Wang Jin).

The author also condemns practices such as charging fees for Covid-19 testing & quarantine and reducing flights from China for being “disrespectful” and “intentionally thwarting normal cross-border interactions.” In their replies, netizens also echo the author’s argument and condemn high testing fees, uncomfortable quarantine hotels, and violation of Chinese travelers’ privacy.

Some recent viral videos on Chinese social media showed Chinese travelers undergoing isolation after arriving into Jeju Island, with some of them claiming they had gone on a hunger strike to protest the circumstances of their isolation.

Some see the restrictions that are now implemented internationally as ammunition for counterarguments against those who have been advocating for China’s opening up and supporting foreign countries’ normalization of Covid-19. Under a Weibo post introducing the restriction imposed by Japan, Weibo users flooded the comment session with mockeries such as “sure, foreign countries do not need testing right?”
One popular Weibo comment suggested that the supporters of China ending its Covid restrictions should “bring their A4” [referring to the blank paper protests] to travel overseas.

In China’s current online media discourse surrounding the travel restrictions for Chinese travelers, there is not much reflection from authors on China’s own stringent measures over the past three years and the difficulties experienced by Chinese citizens to exit and enter mainland borders.

A few Weibo commenters, however, do remind others of China’s very recent zero Covid past, including the strict and sometimes complex entry requirements with green codes letter of commitment, recovery documents for those who had Covid, CT scans, and (14+7) quarantine.

On other social media platforms, there are also more discussions which do not necessarily echo mainstream media narratives.

Underneath an article by CCTV News titled “Hypocritical! Some Countries Argued China Should Open Up, Yet Now Restrict Chinese from Coming In” (“虚伪!某些嚷嚷着要中国“放开”的国家,现在却限制起中国人来了”), one comment suggested that “it is not always viable to criticize others; we should self-reflect to progress.” A screenshot of the comment sections shared on Zhihu showed that more voices demanded self-reflection, but that the comment section had been censored.

An Eye for an Eye: China Halts Travel Visas for South Korea & Japan

On January 10th, the two top trending topics on Weibo both related to Chinese authorities suspending short-term visa issuance for visitors from Japan and South Korea. The measure was announced by the Chinese embassies in both countries on Tuesday.

During a regular press conference on Tuesday, China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) responded to a question about the suspension of visas, saying: “It is really regrettable that a few countries ignore scientific facts and their own actual epidemic situation, yet insist on implementing discriminatory entry restrictions against China, something which China resolutely opposes and we will [therefore] take reciprocal measures.”

On Weibo, a hashtag related to the press conference also became top trending (#外交部回应暂停签发韩公民赴华短期签证#) and many applauded the measures. One blogger noted: “We welcome every good friend, but we will not show lenience for those who are not good friends.”

The online discussions of the recent news developments also led to many posts containing anti-Korean and anti-Japanese sentiments.

Meanwhile, Thailand has been highlighted in these discussions for the way in which the country has truly welcomed Chinese tourists. Not only did Thai authorities not require any Covid tests or vaccination proof, Cabinet ministers even came to Bangkok’s airport to personally welcome Chinese tourists with flowers and gifts.

A banner warmly welcoming Chinese visitors to Thailand.

“The most welcoming country for us is Thailand,” one blogger wrote, with one Weibo user from Jilin replying: “Why would we want to go to South Korea or Japan at all? To buy things so that we can boost their economy? They’re not worth it.”

By Zilan Qian and Manya Koetse


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  1. Avatar

    SM AM

    January 14, 2023 at 3:50 am

    To my knowledge all tourist visa holders and even a few higher classes of visa holders are still indefinitely banned from entering China.

  2. Avatar

    harry lee

    January 25, 2023 at 9:51 am

    a ban is different from inhumane treatment. Chinese border controls applied to everyone, even their own citizens. the healthcare authorities in UK, Australia and eu (in the case of Italy) all advised against implementing discriminatory measures because such measures are useless. initially, Australia and uk didn’t have requirements for Chinese travelers. they changed their minds last minute. covid testing is absurdly expensive in south korea.

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China and Covid19

Repurposing China’s Abandoned Nucleic Acid Booths: 10 Innovative Transformations

Abandoned nucleic acid booths are getting a second life through these new initiatives.

Manya Koetse



During the pandemic, nucleic acid testing booths in Chinese cities were primarily focused on maintaining physical distance. Now, empty booths are being repurposed to bring people together, serving as new spaces to serve the community and promote social engagement.

Just months ago, nucleic acid testing booths were the most lively spots of some Chinese cities. During the 2022 Shanghai summer, for example, there were massive queues in front of the city’s nucleic acid booths, as people needed a negative PCR test no older than 72 hours for accessing public transport, going to work, or visiting markets and malls.

The word ‘hésuān tíng‘ (核酸亭), nucleic acid booth (also:核酸采样小屋), became a part of China’s pandemic lexicon, just like hésuān dìtú (核酸地图), the nucleic acid test map lauched in May 2022 that would show where you can get a nucleic test.

Example of nucleic acid test map.

During Halloween parties in Shanghai in 2022, some people even came dressed up as nucleic test booths – although local authorities could not appreciate the creative costume.

Halloween 2022: dressed up as nucliec acid booths. Via @manyapan twitter.

In December 2022, along with the announced changed rules in China’s ‘zero Covid’ approach, nucleic acid booths were suddenly left dismantled and empty.

With many cities spending millions to set up these booths in central locations, the question soon arose: what should they do with the abandoned booths?

This question also relates to who actually owns them, since the ownership is mixed. Some booths were purchased by authorities, others were bought by companies, and there are also local communities owning their own testing booths. Depending on the contracts and legal implications, not all booths are able to get a new function or be removed yet (Worker’s Daily).

In Tianjin, a total of 266 nucleic acid booths located in Jinghai District were listed for public acquisition earlier this month, and they were acquired for 4.78 million yuan (US$683.300) by a local food and beverage company which will transform the booths into convenience service points, selling snacks or providing other services.

Tianjin is not the only city where old nucleic acid testing booths are being repurposed. While some booths have been discarded, some companies and/or local governments – in cooperation with local communities – have demonstrated creativity by transforming the booths into new landmarks. Since the start of 2023, different cities and districts across China have already begun to repurpose testing booths. Here, we will explore ten different way in which China’s abandoned nucleic test booths get a second chance at a meaningful existence.


1: Pharmacy/Medical Booths

Via ‘copyquan’ republished on Sohu.

Blogger ‘copyquan’ recently explored various ways in which abandoned PCR testing points are being repurposed.

One way in which they are used is as small pharmacies or as medical service points for local residents (居民医疗点). Alleviating the strain on hospitals and pharmacies, this was one of the earliest ways in which the booths were repurposed back in December of 2022 and January of 2023.

Chongqing, Tianjin, and Suzhou were among earlier cities where some testing booths were transformed into convenient medical facilities.


2: Market Stalls

Market stalls instead of nucliec acid testing booths. Image via Sina.

In Suzhou, Jiangsu province, the local government transformed vacant nucleic acid booths into market stalls for the Spring Festival in January 2022, offering them free of charge to businesses to sell local products, snacks, and traditional New Year goods.

The idea was not just meant as a way for small businesses to conveniently sell to local residents, it was also meant as a way to attract more shoppers and promote other businesses in the neighborhood.


3: Community Service Center

Small grid community center in Shizhuang Village, image via Sohu.

Some residential areas have transformed their local nucleic acid testing booths into community service centers, offering all kinds of convenient services to neighborhood residents.

These little station are called wǎnggé yìzhàn (网格驿站) or “grid service stations,” and they can serve as small community centers where residents can get various kinds of care and support.


4: “Refuel” Stations

In February of this year, 100 idle nucleic acid sampling booths were transformed into so-called “Rider Refuel Stations” (骑士加油站) in Zhejiang’s Pinghu. Although it initially sounds like a place where delivery riders can fill up their fuel tanks, it is actually meant as a place where they themselves can recharge.

Delivery riders and other outdoor workers can come to the ‘refuel’ station to drink some water or tea, warm their hands, warm up some food and take a quick nap.


5: Free Libraries

image via sohu.

In various Chinese cities, abandoned nucleic acid booths have been transformed into little free libraries where people can grab some books to read, donate or return other books, and sit down for some reading.

Changzhou is one of the places where you’ll find such “drifting bookstores” (漂流书屋) (see video), but similar initiatives have also been launched in other places, including Suzhou.


6: Study Space

Photos via Copyquan’s article on Sohu.

Another innovative way in which old testing points are being repurposed is by turning them into places where students can sit together to study. The so-called “Let’s Study Space” (一间习吧), fully airconditioned, are opened from 8 in the morning until 22:00 at night.

Students – or any citizens who would like a nice place to study – can make online reservations with their ID cards and scan a QR code to enter the study rooms.

There are currently ten study booths in Anji, and the popular project is an initiative by the Anji County Library in Zhejiang (see video).


7: Beer Kiosk

Hoegaarden beer shop, image via Creative Adquan.

Changing an old nucleic acid testing booth into a beer bar is a marketing initiative by the Shanghai McCann ad agency for the Belgium beer brand Hoegaarden.

The idea behind the bar is to celebrate a new spring after the pandemic. The ad agency has revamped a total of six formr nucleic acid booths into small Hoegaarden ‘beer gardens.’


8: Police Box

In Taizhou City, Jiangsu Province, authorities have repurposed old testing booths and transformed them into ‘police boxes’ (警务岗亭) to enhance security and improve the visibility of city police among the public.

Currently, a total of eight vacant nucleic acid booths have been renovated into modern police stations, serving as key points for police presence and interaction with the community.


9: Lottery Ticket Booths

Image via The Paper

Some nucleic acid booths have now been turned into small shops selling lottery tickets for the China Welfare Lottery. One such place turning the kiosks into lottery shops is Songjiang in Shanghai.

Using the booths like this is a win-win situation: they are placed in central locations so it is more convenient for locals to get their lottery tickets, and on the other hand, the sales also help the community, as the profits are used for welfare projects, including care for the elderly.


10: Mini Fire Stations

Micro fire stations, images via ZjNews.

Some communities decided that it would be useful to repurpose the testing points and turn them into mini fire kiosks, just allowing enough space for the necessary equipment to quickly respond to fire emergencies.

Want to read more about the end of ‘zero Covid’ in China? Check our other articles here.

By Manya Koetse,

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China and Covid19

The Hottest Place in China: How Zibo Became a Popular Tourist Destination and an Online Hit

There are even special Zibo BBQ trains now. This is how Zibo barbecue suddenly became the hottest meal of the country.

Manya Koetse



The old industrial city of Zibo treated students well during their zero Covid quarantine. This spring, they came back to celebrate the city. Their enthusiasm and social media posts were so contagious that the entire country now wants a taste of Zibo barbecue.

In central Shandong province, bordering the provincial capital Jinan to the west, you will find the city of Zibo (淄博). With its 4.7 million inhabitants, the old industrial and mining city was not exactly known as a trendy tourist destination. But that has all changed now. Everybody is talking about Zibo.

For the upcoming May 1st holiday, hotel bookings in Zibo went up 800% compared to 2019, making it one of the most popular destinations in Shandong. The city has especially attracted online attention since March of 2023, with hashtags and hot searches peaking over the previous week.

How did Zibo become such an online sensation, especially among China’s young travelers? The city’s hit status is widely discussed on Chinese social media apps these days. The emergence of such an overnight sensation is usually the result of various factors coming together at the right time, and this is also the case with the hype surrounding Zibo.

Zibo Barbecue

Its appealing barbecue culture is the first and main reason why Zibo is so hot nowadays. The city has been known for its barbecue restaurants for years, and creating a thriving open-air BBQ entertainment environment is also something the local authorities have invested in. They are publicizing Zibo as an ambassador city for “Friendly Shandong” (“好客山东”), the slogan the province uses to promote its image and boost tourism.

The Zibo BBQ experience includes every table having its own small stove and it has that ‘do it yourself’ factor that hotpot-style dinners also have: when the skewers are served, the diners have to grill them themselves and then wrap them in thin pancakes, usually with spring onions.

Zibo barbecue, images via social media.

As one of its tourism promotion initiatives, Zibo has set up special tourist trains and dedicated BBQ bus routes to attract groups of tourists and boost local tourism after the pandemic years. Train ticket sales for May 1st already doubled that of Spring Festival, and tickets for the Beijing South-Zibo route sold out online within a minute the moment they became available.

A Kind City in Difficult Times

Another reason for Zibo’s sudden fame was suggested by some Chinese netizens (including the popular @地瓜熊老六), who said that Zibo played a special role during China’s zero-Covid policy.

Zibo first went trending after a group of students from Jinan went there in March of this year. They came to Zibo because this was where they apparently were quarantined for a while during Covid, and they were well taken care of during their stay.

According to one Zibo local, the students also celebrated their last night in Zibo at the time with a major BBQ feast.

It is said that the students from Jinan wanted to go back to Zibo at this time and spend time there as a way to thank the city – not knowing they would start a viral sensation.

Power of TikTok

Douyin, the Chinese TikTok app, is also at the heart of Zibo’s recent success.

As reported by 36kr, Zibo first became a hot topic on Douyin in early March, when the videos of the initial groups of students taking the high-speed train to Zibo to eat barbecue went viral.

In April, Zibo again hit the hot trending lists on Douyin after one vlogger tried out ten different food stalls in the city and found that they all gave him the right portions or even gave him some extra food for free, reinforcing the idea that Zibo is a hospitable city.

What followed was a snowball effect, from Douyin to Xiaohongshu to Weibo, with videos showing Zibo diners singing together while eating and having a good time spreading all over social media, only increasing the appeal of the city. “Zibo is just all over my timeline,” some commenters wrote on April 15.

Crazy Travel after Covid

According to the Chinese media platform DT Finance (DT财经), Zibo is a destination that especially resonates with Chinese students who have new wishes when it comes to traveling.

Especially during the pandemic and China’s stringent Covid measures, many people have spent a lot of time indoors, quarantined, locked down, and/or unable to travel. Now that spring is here, people want to seize the moment and go out and enjoy their leisure time. This also means that instead of planning longer holidays well in advance, people book shorter, last-minute trips.

Social media pics of Zibo trips.

This is also one of the reasons why Zibo is especially popular among students from Shandong, who can hop on a train, reach their destination, and find themselves enjoying a beer and barbecue within a matter of hours.

Stories from Zibo

In light of the craze surrounding Zibo, there are various stories emerging from the thriving city that only add to its charm. For example, there are many videos showing the lively scenes around BBQ restaurants which went viral.

One visitor needed to catch his train but still wanted a taste of Zibo BBQ, so one female shop owner hurried things along and made sure he got his Zibo dinner (#淄博老板娘为赶高铁小伙1v1烤串#).

Then there was a 95-year-old veteran who visited the Zibo BBQ scene and his visit also made its rounds on social media (#95岁老兵体验淄博烧烤被围观#).

Another trending hashtag is about Zibo’s music events (#淄博音乐节#), about some of the planned events and (rock) concerts taking place in Zibo in late April and early May. “Zibo’s cultural tourism office really understand how to do it,” various commenters wrote, praising how Zibo is not just known for its barbecue restaurants but also for its lively music scene.

Then there are the videos showing an entire crowd singing ‘happy birthday’ because one person is celebrating their birthday.

All in all, it’s clear that Zibo did something right. Especially in these times when so many cities across China are doing all they can to promote their town as a tourist destination (read all about it here), Zibo has proven that consistency is key to success: stay kind, be reliable, but most of all, keep the barbecue hot.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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