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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.

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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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2 Comments

2 Comments

  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

The “Final Round Players” of China’s Covid Outbreak

Those who still haven’t had Covid have made it to the “finals,” but it’s not always easy to stay positive about still testing negative.

Manya Koetse

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This Chinese Lunar New Year period, as millions of people are traveling across the country, Hangzhou Daily (杭州日报) posted a video on Weibo of a 13-year-old boy dressed in full protective clothing at the Hangzhou train station.

The young man told the reporter that he was on his way to visit his grandparents for the Chinese New Year. When asked why he was dressed in protective clothing from head to toe, he answered: “Because I haven’t had Covid yet.”

According to the video posted by Hangzhou Daily, the boy has made it to the “Final Rounds” (决赛圈) as he has managed to stay Covid-negative at a time when so many people have already been infected with Covid-19 (#挺进决赛圈的男孩穿防护服坐火车#).

Since China ‘optimized’ the last stringent measures of its ‘Zero Covid’ policy back in early December – including an end to mandatory mass testing, – a wave of Covid infections spread across the country. The number of infections and emergency department visits reportedly reached its peak in late December of 2022 and in early January of 2023.

According to Wu Zunyou (@吴尊友ChinaCDC), chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center of Disease Control and Prevention, 80 percent of China’s population has now been infected with Covid (“这一波疫情已经使得全国约80%的人感染过”).

As it is getting rarer to come across someone who has not had Covid yet, travelers dressed in full hazmat suits and protective gear are bound to stand out. “So many people on the train, and there are still two people in the crowd wearing protective clothing,” one Weibo user from Guangdong wrote. Others also post photos on social media of some of the few travelers still fully dressed in protective gear.

One blogger photographed a child wearing protective clothing at Chongqing West Station on Jan. 24, calling the protective attire “exaggerated,” and wondering how the child was supposed to go to the toilet.

Photo posted on Weibo by @杨品-光线摄影学院 on Jan 24., 2023.

Traveler wearing protective clothing at Hangzhou East Station, photo by @百鸣老屈.

Hangzhou Daily is not the only media outlet dubbing those who managed to stay negative “final round players” (决赛圈选手). In early January, Beijing Daily (北京日报​​​​) and People’s Daily (人民日报) also published a short article using the same phrase. In the article, the Beijing expert physician Dr. Li Dong (李侗) answered some questions about the so-called ‘finalists.’

According to Dr. Li Dong, some of the people who claim to have managed to stay ‘Covid free’ were never infected due to protective measures. But there are also those who may have actually had Covid-19 without realizing it, as they barely had any symptoms or were completely asymptomatic.

“Final round players, protect yourself!” one Weibo commenter writes: “Who else has managed to reach these finals?”

“As a ‘final player,’ I finally went out to eat and visit the shopping mall today. I’ll have to wait and see if I reach the championship level. If I haven’t caught [Covid], I can go on and lead a normal life; if I did catch it, I’ll need to wait a while, and will also be able to lead a normal life.”

Other persons who did not have Covid yet also share on social media that they went out for the first time during this Spring Festival period: “I cautiously went out and saw my first movie in 2023, Wandering Earth II, I picked a morning screening so that the cinema is not so crowded yet.”

Now that the Covid infections in China have peaked and the number of infected critically ill patients is quickly dropping, the fears over catching Covid are also seemingly fading among those who were not yet infected.

But some people who have not had Covid yet are still being careful, especially if it concerns elderly family members. It’s not always easy to stay positive about still testing negative – also for loved ones who did previously have Covid and want to protect their family.

One Fujian-based social media user writes: “I recovered from Covid and I’m spending the Spring Festival with three ‘final round players.’ We’ve been stuck inside the house for days. I’ve been looking at the lanterns and the lights in the neighborhood, watching them from the balcony, and I really wanted to go down and see.”

“Looking at WeChat Moments, all my friends are out traveling, but my family still hasn’t had Covid and we’re afraid to go out,” another netizen writes: “It’s sad to celebrate the New Year without going out. Guess we’re final-round players now, let’s hope it brings good things.”

Meanwhile, the group of ‘finalists’ is still shrinking. One Weibo user from Guangxi wrote: “I’ve left the finalist circle. It’s only been two days since I returned to my hometown and I’m already infected.”

By Manya Koetse 

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China and Covid19

Video Shows Real-Time “Departure” Information Board at Chinese Crematorium

From “cremation in process” to “cooling down,” the digital display shows the progress of the cremation to provide information to those waiting in the lobby. The crematorium ‘departure’ board strikes a chord with many.

Manya Koetse

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A video showing a live display screen announcing the names and status of the deceased at a Yunnan crematorium has been making its rounds on Chinese social media, from WeChat to Weibo, where one version of the video received over 1,7 million views.

Somewhat similar to a real-time platform departure display on train stations, the screen shows the waiting number of the deceased person, their name, gender, the name of the lounge/room (if any) for families, the name of the crematorium chamber, and the status of the cremation process. Below in the screen, it says “the final journey of a warm life” (温暖人生的最后旅程).

For example, the screen displays the names of a Mr. Chen and a Mr. Li; their bodies were in the process of being cremated (火化中), while other cremations were marked as “completed” (完成) or “cooling down” (降温中).

Through such a screen, located in the crematorium lobby, family members and loved ones can learn about the progress of the cremation of the deceased.

The video, recorded by a local on Jan. 7, received many comments. Among them, some people commented on the information board itself, while others simply expressed grief over those who died and the fragility of life. Many felt the display was confronting and it made them emotional.

“It makes me really sad that this how people’s lives end,” one commenter said, with another person replying that the display also shows you still need to wait in line even when you’re dead.

“I didn’t expect the screens [in the crematorium] to be like those in hospitals, where patients are waiting for their turn,” another Weibo user wrote. “It would be better if the names were hidden, like in the hospitals, to protect the privacy of the deceased,” another person replied.

Others shared their own experiences at funeral parlors also using such information screens.

Another ‘departure display’ at a Chinese crematorium, image shared by Weibo user.

“My grandfather passed away last September, and when we were at the undertaker’s, the display was also jumping from one name to the other and we could only comfort ourselves knowing that he was among those who lived a relatively long life.”

“Such a screen, it really makes me sad,” another commenter from Guangxi wrote, with others writing: “It’s distressing technology.”

Although the information screen at the crematorium is a novelty for many commenters, the phenomenon itself is not necessarily related to the Covid outbreak and the number of Covid-related deaths; some people share how they have seen them in crematoriums before, and funeral parlor businesses have used them to provide information to families since at least 2018.

According to an article published by Sohu News, more people – especially younger ones – have visited a funeral home for the first time in their lives recently due to the current Covid wave, also making it the first time for them to come across such a digital display.

The online video of such an information board has made an impact at a time when crematoriums are crowded and families report waiting for days to bury or cremate their loved ones, with especially a large number of elderly people dying due to Covid.

On Jan. 4, one social media user from Liaoning wrote:

I really suggest that the experts go to the crematoriums to take a look. There is no place to put the deceased, they’re parked outside in temporary containers, there’s no time left to hold a farewell ceremony and you can only directly cremate, and for those who were able to have a ceremony, they need to finish within ten minutes (..) At the funeral parlor’s big screen, there were eight names on every page, and there were ten pages for all the people in line that day, I stood there for half an hour and didn’t see the name of the person I was waiting for pop up anymore.”

As the video of the display in the crematorium travels around the internet, many commenters suggest that it is not necessarily the real-time ‘departure’ board itself that bothers them, but how it shows the harsh reality of death by listing the names of the deceased and their cremation status behind it. Perhaps it is the contrast between the technology of the digital display boards and the reality of the human vulnerability that it represents that strikes a chord with people.

One blogger who reposted the video on Jan. 13 wrote: “Life is short, cherish the present, let’s cherish what we have and love yourself, love your family, and love this world.” Among dozens of replies, some indicate that the video makes them feel uncomfortable.

Another commenter also wrote:

I just saw a video that showed an electronic display at a crematorium, rolling out the names of the deceased and the stage of the cremation. One name represents the ending of a life. And it just hit me, and my tears started flowing. I’m afraid of parting, I’m afraid of loss, I just want the people I love and who love me to stay by my side forever. I don’t want to leave. I’m afraid I’ll be alone one day, and that nobody will ever make me feel warm again.”

One person captured why the information board perhaps causes such unease: “The final moments that people still spent on this earth take place on the electronic screen in the memorial hall of the funeral home. Then, they are gone without a sound.”

 

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By Manya Koetse 
with contributions by Zilan Qian

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.

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