During the first week of September 2013, netizens feverishly follow the trial and verdict of Chinese official Yang Dacai, who was sentenced to 14 years in prison for bribery and possession of assets of unclear origin. Mr. Yang, former head of the Shaanxi Provincial Bureau of Work Safety, is not the first Chinese official scrutinized for fraudulent conduct. Multiple party officials have recently been investigated or tried for corruption; Bo Xilai’s case received worldwide attention and top officials Jiang Jiemin and Zhou Yongkang are both facing serious corruption inquiries. Chinese fraudulent officials have become a dominant news topic – is this the result of the Party’s anti-corruption campaign, have these cases suddenly become more prevalent or is there another way to explain the ample media coverage of China’s corrupt comrades?
The downfall of Yang Dacai began in August 2012 when he was visiting the site of a serious traffic accident that killed 36 people and was photographed smiling at the scene (Wertime 2012). The picture triggered heated online reactions, leading to a mass investigation into the name and background of this ‘smiling official’.
Numerous pictures of Mr. Yang were shared amongst netizens, who soon noticed that the official was wearing various expensive watches on eleven different occasions, some with an estimated value of 400,000 RMB (about 65,000 dollar). Although Mr. Yang maintained he bought these with his own salary, the general opinion was that he could have never acquired them with his servant’s salary. The online unrest soon led to an official probe into Mr. Yang’s affairs and his dismissal in September 2012 (Taylor 2012).
Fighting anti-corruption has been on the agenda of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for decades. The commission tasked with fighting corruption in the Party, the CDIC (Central Disciplinary Inspection Commission), has been an integral part of the CCP since 1949. The main problem of this organ has always been that the CDIC monitors abuses within the Party, while it is a part of the Communist Party structure itself. Being intertwined with the social and political networks of the CCP, it could barely be called an independent and objective monitor. Since 2007, an additional organ was established: the NCPB (National Corruption Prevention Bureau). Because of the limited success of the CDIC, the NCPB’s main task was not the prosecution but the prevention of corruption. But due to the strong bureaucratic anti-corruption organization within the Party, the NCPB is also not able to carry out its tasks independently, making it less effective (Becker 2008, 287-288).
President Xi Jinping has made anti-corruption central to his policy since he came to power. As Jamil Anderlini (Financial Times 2013) points out, this policy is no different from that of his predecessors, such as Hu Jintao, who also focused on anti-corruption to little avail. Beijing professor Hu Xingdou comments on Xi Jinping’s recent endeavors : “This is an unprecedented effort to crack down corruption,and the level of officials getting investigated is getting higher and higher” (Hatton 2013).Why would Xi Jinping’s attempts be more successful those of previous leaders?
The key to this question does not necessarily lie within the CDIC, the NCPB or Xi Jinping, nor is it proven that there are more cases of corruption now than in the past. The answer can be found in China’s social media. In 2003, China’s popular media source Baidu Xinwen had 11.900 news items on anti-corruption. Not even a decade later, this number has become over twenty times as high; 246.000 articles on anti-corruption in 2010 (Doyon 2013, 74). This number is related to online platforms such as Sina Weibo, and the corruption awareness within these Chinese online communities. Netizens do not only read about cases of corruption, they are actually playing an active role in fighting it. The case of ‘smiling official’ and ‘Brother Watch’ Yang Dacai is the perfect illustration of this contemporary phenomenon: Weibo and other social media platforms played a crucial role in the exposure of Mr. Yang’s fraudulent affairs. The increasing awareness of corruption cases on the Internet and microblogs actually forces the Party leadership to act on these problems. As Doyon (2013) explains: “(..) the Internet helps to widen and speed up the anticorruption fight in a system where press freedom is circumscribed. In particular, it helps correct weaknesses in the Party’s anticorruption campaigns that stem from the lack of autonomy of discipline inspection commissions (..)” (75).
The question remains if Xi Jinping’s campaign will indeed be more successful – his reasons for focusing on fighting corruption might not come from principle but from a need for popular support. Weibo has become an anti-corruption watchdog, and this requires a new type of interaction between the netizens who issue such information and the CCP’s internal mechanisms (Anderlini 2013; Doyon 2013, 74). The route that the CCP chooses to take in this will be essential for the battle against corruption and the communication between the Party and the people in general. One Chinese blogger, publishing on SOH Network, is certain about the meaning of Weibo’s new role in anti-corruption: “(..) corrupt official Yang Dacai has fallen from grace due to the power of Internet. This is a reflection of the awakening of citizens; the Internet is China’s savior.” One thing is sure: Yang Dacai and those who follow in his footsteps might smile at first, but will not have the last laugh.
– by Manya Koetse
Anderlini, Jamil. 2013. “Xi Jinping’s crackdown on China corruption follows well-worn path.” Financial Times, September 4. http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/2bc8c1c2-1565-11e3-b519-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2e3NoTu8q
Becker, Jeffrey. 2008. “Tackling Corruption at its Source The National Corruption Prevention Bureau.” Journal of Chinese Political Science 13(3): 287.
Doyon, Jerome. 2013. “A New Impetus for the Fight Against Corruption.” China Perspectives 2: 74-76.
Hatton, Celia. 2013. “How Real is China’s anti-corruption campaign?” BBC News, September 4. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-23945616
Sound of Hope. 2012. “表哥”杨达才落马 彰显网络反腐力量 [‘Brother Watch’ Yang Dacai falls from grace, manifesting the power of Internet in fighting corruption]” (In Chinese). Sound of Hope Network, September 22. http://soundofhope.org/node/286907
Taylor, Adam. 2012. “Chinese Official photographed smirking after a traffic accident that left 36 dead has been fired.” Business Insider, September 21. http://www.businessinsider.com/yang-dacai-fired-after-accident-smirk-2012-9
Wertime, David. 2012. “Did a Chinese safety official just get caught smiling (…)?” Tea Leaf Nation, August 27. http://www.tealeafnation.com/2012/08/did-a-chinese-safety-official-just-get-caught-smiling-at-a-horrific-accident-scene/
Over a Third of China’s Babies Are Delivered via C-Section – The National Health Commission Wants to Change That
Fear of pain is a major reason for nonmedical cesarian deliveries on maternal request.
In 2018 the percentage of deliveries by cesarean was 36.7% in mainland China, according to the latest Report on Women’s & Children’s Health (中国妇幼健康事业发展报告) that was launched by the National Health Commission on May 27.
This means that together with Hong Kong, Taiwan, Brazil, Egypt, and Turkey, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) now has the highest C-section rates in the world.
A World Health Organization report from 2010 estimated that 46% of Chinese babies were delivered via C-section. In 2017, another study found that this percentage was incorrect, although some urban and wealthier regions in China, such as Shanghai, did see C-section (CS) rates as a high as 68% (Black & Bhattacharya 2018, 1; McNeil 2017).
China’s CS rates have recently become a hot topic in Chinese newspapers and on social media. On May 27, the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China held a Beijing news conference in which Qin Geng (秦耕), the director, announced that more actions will be taken to encourage natural childbirth among Chinese women.
These actions will, among others, include stricter regulation of cesarian section operations and the provision of more support and pain relief for laboring women, as well as a higher hospital income for natural births. The National Health Comission hopes to significantly reduce the number of unneccesssary C-sections without medical indication in this way (Beijing News 2019; Caijing 2019).
Since 1985, the international healthcare community has considered 10-15% to be “the ideal rate” for C-sections, of which the highest percentage are those CS deliveries with medical indications that can actually save the lives of mothers and babies.
Although the worldwide rates for CS deliveries have increased throughout the years, there is no evidence for the benefits of nonmedically indicated C-sections for women or children, according to the World Health Organization.
This is not the first time Chinese authorities try to combat the country’s high CS rates. After reports by the World Health Organization from 2010 and 2015 pointing out the potential hazards of unnecessary C-sections, there have been various state efforts to reduce the number of nonmedical cesarian surgeries.
Besides the introduction of free prenatal education classes, these efforts included monitoring public hospital CS rates and removing bonuses or cutting portions of a hospital’s income once their CS rates reached a certain threshold (e.g. 40%) (Wang 2017, 3). These government initiatives seem to have had effect: the country’s C-section growth rates have slowed down, but were not decreasing yet.
Since the Chinese government announced an end to its one-child policy in 2015, lowering cesarean sections rates has become a more urgent matter, as Chinese couples are now allowed to have a second child.
Although various studies from mainland China and beyond challenge the idea that nonmedical C-sections are less ‘safe’ than vaginal births for single deliveries, this risk changes when a woman who previously had a CS section plans another pregnancy: multiple cesarean sections are associated with additional risks including CS scar rupture and abnormal placental invasion (Biler et al 2017, 1074; Black & Bhattacharya 2018, 2; Liu et al 2015, 817).
Why So Many C-sections in China?
But why does China have such a high cesarian delivery rate at all? Since the early 1990s, mainland China saw a more dramatic rise in CS rates than, for example, the USA; from less than 10% (with only 3.4% in 1988), China went to one of the highest in the world (Hellerstein 2011; Wolf 2018, 13).
The answer to why this is, is not so straightforward and relates to socio-economic changes as well as cultural factors that come into play.
One reason is that there is a general belief in the ‘safety’ of cesarian births that influence women’s choices for a (nonmedical and planned) C-section (Black & Bhattacharya 2017, 2).
An insightful study into this matter is that of researcher Eileen Wang (2017), who found that anxiety about giving birth and fear of pain is also a major reason for nonmedical cesarian deliveries on maternal request, especially considering that only a minority of Chinese women are given any form of pain relief during labor. Besides traditional concepts, this is also because China faces a shortage of anesthetists and because obstetricians are not always well-informed to prescribe other forms of pain medication (2017, 5).
As noted by Wang, epidurals are denied to laboring women not just because anesthesiologists are too busy, but also because of various other factors: different from a scheduled C-section on their agenda, they are not always available during nighttimes and in weekends to administer anesthesia to women in labor, do not have the time to monitor a patient for hours during labor (whereas a cesarean could be done in an hour), or were not even trained to administer epidurals (2017, 5).
According to Wang, the concerns about labor pain result in more requests for C-sections, both before and during labor. With relatively low awareness and availability of labor pain relief methods many Chinese women simply opt for a C-section as a way to control their pain.
But there are also other factors that contribute to the relatively high rate of women requesting C-sections for nonmedical reasons. One of them is the importance placed in the astrological calendar: having a baby on that one ‘lucky day’ or within that ‘lucky year’ is considered enough reason to plan a cesarian birth for many Chinese families.
In early 2015, ahead of the Chinese New Year, many women rushed to the hospital to make sure their baby was born in the Year of the Horse (2014) as the Year of the Goat (2015) was coming up. There is an old Chinese saying that nine out of ten people born in the Year of the Goat are incomplete and will suffer from great misfortune throughout their life (“十羊九不全”).
Another factor that leads to more cesareans on maternal request relates to the existing concerns among women that vaginal delivery will affect their figure or sex life (Wang 2017, 2).
Responses on Chinese Social Media
Since the Beijing news conference of May 27, the hashtag “Reducing Unnecessary Cesarean Section Surgery” (#减少非必需剖宫产手术#) has taken off on Chinese social media.
“What do you call ‘unnecessary cesarian’?” one of the most popular comments said: “Isn’t it that so many women in labor choose to have a C-section because natural childbirth is too painful?”
Other commenters also called for a normalization of pain relief in labor, saying that the high percentage of C-sections lies in the fact that Chinese women lack access to “wútòng fēnmiǎn” (无痛分娩) or “painless birth,” meaning vaginal delivery with pain relief.
Some Weibo users also stress that women should have the freedom of choice on how they wish to give birth, saying: “C-section or natural should be my own choice” and “If you leave me no choice I might as well not give birth at all.”
Multiple commenters write: “The lower the C-section rate, the higher the suicides,” referring to an incident that occurred in Shaanxi in 2017 when a pregnant woman committed suicide by jumping from the fifth floor of the hospital after she was allegedly denied a CS delivery.
Other Chinese netizens also complain about the fact that it seems to be men who are promoting the new policies to combat the high C-section rates, writing: “Isn’t there a way to have them suffer the pain of labor instead?”
In her study, scholar Eileen Wang also argues that the lack of pain relief is one of the major issues that should be addressed by policymakers who are hoping to reduce the number of C-sections in China. Further improving the childbirth experience by, for example, integrating a midwifery model, is also essential in making natural childbirth more attractive for Chinese women, Wang argues.
For now, many hospitals in China are still offering C-section “packages”: some prices start at RMB 5800 ($840) for a C-section, other hospitals have packages that start from RMB 88,000 ($12,741) including a three-day hospital stay in a private room.
“It’s a pregnant’s woman body, so she should decide how she wants to deliver her baby,” one commenter on Weibo writes: “It should be a woman’s right to decide.”
By Manya Koetse
Biler, A., Ekin, A., Ozcan, A., Inan, A. H., Vural, T., & Toz, E. 2017. “Is It Safe to Have Multiple Repeat Cesarean Sections? A High Volume Tertiary Care Center Experience.” Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences 33(5): 1074–1079.
Black, Mairead & Sohinee Bhattacharya. 2018. “Cesarean Section in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong— A Safe Choice for Women and Clinicians?” PLOS Medicine 15(10): 1-3.
Caijing. 2019. “卫健委：全国剖宫产率为36.7% 积极推广分娩镇痛.” Caijing , May 27 http://economy.caijing.com.cn/20190527/4591594.shtml [5.31.19].
Hellerstein, Susan Celia. 2011. “Cesarean Delivery in China Analysis of Cesarean Deliveries Without Indication.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: 20s.
McNeil, Donald. 2017. “Study Finds Lower, but Still High, Rate of C-Sections in China.” New York Times, Jan 9 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/09/health/c-section-births-china.html [6.2.19].
Wang, Eileen. 2017. “Requests for Cesarean Deliveries: The Politics of Labor Pain and Pain Relief in Shanghai, China.” Social Science and Medicine (173): 1–8.
WHO. 2015. “WHO statement on caesarean section rates.” World Health Organization, April https://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/maternal_perinatal_health/cs-statement/en/ [6.2.19].
Wolf, Jacqueline H. 2018. Cesarean Section – An American History of Risk, Technology, and Consequence. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Featured image by Sohu News.
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What Are Weibo’s “Super Topics”?
Explaining Weibo’s “Super Topics”
Over the past year, Weibo’s so-called “Super Topics” (超级话题) have become more popular on the social media platform as online spaces for people to connect and share information.
Weibo’s “super topic” function has been around since 2016. The function allows Weibo users to create and join interest-based content community pages that are online groups separated from the main Weibo space. One could perhaps compare these Weibo Super Groups to ‘mega-threads’ or ‘subreddits’ on Reddit.
These are the most important things to know about Weibo’s Super Topics:
#1 A Super Topic is Not the Same as a Hashtag
Similar to Twitter, hashtags make it possible for Weibo users to tag a topic they are addressing in their post so that their content pops up whenever other people search for that hashtag.
Different from Twitter, Weibo hashtags also have their own page where the hashtag is displayed on top, displaying how many people have viewed the hashtag, how many comments the hashtag is tagged in, and allowing users to share the hashtag page with others.
A Super Topic goes beyond the hashtag. It basically is a community account where all sort of information is shared and organized. People can ‘follow’ (关注) a Super Topic and can also ‘sign in’ (签到).
On the main page of every Super Topic page, the main subject or purpose of the super topic is briefly explained, and the number of views, followers, and posts are displayed.
A super topic-page can be created by any Weibo user and can have up to three major hosts, and ten sub-hosts. The main host(s) can decide which content will be featured as essential, they can place sticky notes, and post links to suggested topics.
#2 A Super Topic Is a Way to Organize Content
Super Topic pages allow hosts to organize relevant content in the way they want. Besides the comment area, the page consists of multiple tabs.
A tab right underneath the main featured information on the page, for example, shows the “sticky posts” (置顶帖) that the host(s) of the page have placed there, linking to relevant information or trending hashtag pages. Below the sticky notes, all the posts posted in the Super Topic community are displayed.
One of the most important tabs within the Super Topic page is called “essential content” (精花), which only shows the content that is manually selected by the host(s). This is often where opinion pieces, articles, official news, or photos, etc. are collected and separated from all the other posts.
Another tab is the “Hall of Fame” (名人堂), which mainly functions as a reference page. It features links to the personal Weibo pages of the super topic page host(s), links to the Weibo pages of top contributors, and shows a list of the biggest fans of the Super Topic. Who the biggest fan of the page is, is decided by the number of consecutive days a person has “checked-in” on the page.
#3 Super Topics Are a Place for Fans to Gather
Although a Super Topic could basically be about anything, from cities to products or hobbies, Super Topics are often created for Chinese celebrities, video games, football clubs, or TV dramas.
Through Super Topic pages, a sense of community can be created. People can be ranked for being the most contributive or for checking in daily, and comment on each other’s posts, making it a home base for many fan clubs across China.
The host(s) can also help somebody’s page (e.g. a celebrity account) grow by proposing them to others within the group.
Super Groups are ranked on Weibo based on their popularity. This also gives fans more reason to stay active in the group, making their Super Topic top ranking within their specific category (TV drama, food, photography, sports, games, etc).
What makes the Super Topic group more ‘private’ than the common Weibo area, is that people posting within the Super Topic can decide whether or not they also want their comment shared on their own Weibo page or not. If they choose not to, their comments or posts will only be visible within the Super Topic community.
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