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China Environment

“Dreaming of Warmth” – China’s Anti-Coal Measures Leave Villagers out in the Cold

While coal heating is being banned, many villagers are left in the cold as they have no access to electric or gas heating systems.

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Chinese authorities are on a crusade against the burning of low-quality coal in the north of China this winter. The switch from coal to natural gas in the northern regions is meant to reduce air pollution. But for those with no access to gas or electric heating, the measures mean that they are left in the cold while temperatures are dropping.

Recent measures by the Chinese government that limit coal burning in the winter in northern China, while encouraging the use of natural gas, are aimed at improving the country’s air quality.

But as many people – mainly villagers and migrant workers – in China’s northern provinces such as Shanxi or Hebei still depend on coal for their residential heating, and with natural gas resources both scarce and increasingly costly, some households or schools simply have no option but to endure the cold.

 

“This is a predicament that northerners have not encountered before: people are prohibited to burn coal, but natural gas is expensive and scarce.”

 

On WeChat, an article about the situation by ‘Brother News’ (新闻哥), a well-read news blog, has been widely shared since December 6. The article was pulled offline on Thursday.

It’s December and winter is here. But the heating, that is often envied by many people in the South, has not arrived as scheduled. In Shaanxi, Shanxi, Hebei, and other regions in the North, people are caught in cold circumstances as they are unable to warm up [their houses].

This is a predicament that the northerners have not encountered before: people are prohibited to burn coal, while natural gas is expensive and often limited, which means that they cannot use it – even if they want to. Some people complain that they can’t sleep at night because of the freezing cold, while here in Beijing, some hundred kilometers away, my problem is that I can’t sleep at night because the central heating is too hot.”

The real situation at hand, which I learned about from dozens of readers, is really heartwrenching.”

In the article, ‘Brother News’ reports about a small kindergarten and primary school in a village in Shanxi where the use of coal heating is no longer allowed this winter – the coal heating systems were already demolished last summer. But the building, that only has three classrooms, cannot be supplied with gas heating. The use of electric heating is also impossible, as it trips off the electricity.

In order to stay warm, the school can only burn wood alcohol (methyl alcohol) as a last resort. “But that costs us about 400 to 600 dollars a day [3000-4000 yuan],” one of the kindergarten teachers said.

 

“I long for blue skies and smog-free air, but if it means that so many people have to freeze out there, I don’t want it.”

 

Teachers have started to take their children outside during school time, as it is warmer there than inside the building when the sun is out. But as the temperatures are dropping below 1 degree celsius, the situation is getting more difficult – especially for the teachers and the older children who also live in the on-campus dorm rooms.

For people who do have access to natural gas heating, the costs are often too high. If a household would be heated 24 hours a day, the minimal costs are 60-70 yuan (±9-10$) per day. Considering the monthly and seasonal costs for heating, people would have to spend thousands on heating, something which is simply unattainable for many ordinary people with a moderate monthly income.

On Weibo, one news account based in Binzhou (Shandong), writes that gas boilers have already been installed in some parts of the town, but that there is no gas yet. “And we also cannot burn coal, so now we just have to endure the cold.”

The ‘Brother News’ article concludes that people do want to support the transition from coal to gas that will reduce air pollution, but that it is difficult to support these measures when there are people suffering from the freezing cold: “I long for blue skies and smog-free air,” he writes: “But if it means that so many people have to sacrifice their warmth and freeze out there, I don’t want it.”

“I also don’t hope,” the article says: “that we have to rely on our dreams to keep ourselves warm.”

 

“Same thing, different era.”

 

Authorities have now responded to the freezing predicament facing many households and public buildings in northern China by allowing the use of coal to those who have no access to electric or gas heating.

In an “urgent notice” (“特急件”) the environment ministry said that “villages that have not converted to gas may still use coal for heating, or other substitute fuels,” as reported by Financial Times. The ministry also called for a “stable gas supply” to areas in the northern regions that had already converted to gas.

Image of coal stove shared on Weibo, text says: “Coal stoves are about to become history!”

Many people on Weibo are skeptical about the notice. “What about the coal furnaces that have already been taken away,” one person asks on Weibo: “Will they be brought back? (..) And what about the people who have already been freezing cold for a month, how can they be compensated?”

Other people also wonder about all the coal heating systems that have already been removed from homes and buildings, asking if people should now install new ones to keep themselves warm this winter.

There are more people on Weibo who criticize the anti-coal measures, comparing it to measures taken by the Chinese regime from 1958 to 1962. One netizen from Shanxi writes: “Isn’t this just like the people’s communes during the Great Leap Forward? In those days the pots and pans of people were smashed, and they were told to have their meals in the communes where they went hungry. Now you no longer allow farmers to have their coal furnaces and tell them to use gas while the installations are not properly set up, letting them freeze. It’s the same thing, it’s just a different era.”

There are also those who just care about the temperature in their room: “I have been without heating for five days. It 10 degrees [celsium] in my house. I’m slowly starting to freeze out here.”

For many, the urgent notice has not brought the warmth back yet. “The only way to keep myself warm is by trembling,” one netizen writes.

By Manya Koetse and Miranda Barnes

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©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Stories that are authored by the What's on Weibo Team are the stories that multiple authors contributed to. Please check the names at the end of the articles to see who the authors are.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Bruce Humes

    December 10, 2017 at 7:14 am

    It goes without saying that no city-based party or government official would permit his or her constituents to go without some kind of heating in the winter, which can be bitterly cold in much of China. There would, quite simply, be riots.

    The efficiency described here is admirable: the coal burning equipment that is so bad for the environment has been removed, perhaps even destroyed, earning brownie points for the local cadres. As for ensuring alternative methods of heating, that apparently didn’t make it on to this year’s budget.

    As a result, we can expect a spike in deaths among the vulnerable — the very young, elderly and incapacitated — this winter.

    Once again, this merely goes to show that for the authorities countryside dwellers are, well, just peasants — in the sense that the Shanghainese use the term 农民! as an all-purpose insult.

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China and Covid19

Fresh Off the Boat, Xiamen Fish Are Tested for Covid-19

Catch of the day! These fish in Xiamen can’t escape their daily Covid test.

Manya Koetse

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It does not matter if you’re old or young, shrimp or fish – you can’t escape China’s zero-covid policy.

In the Jimei district of the coastal city of Xiamen, some fish and shrimp also had to do a nucleic acid test this week, leading to some banter on Chinese social media.

In the area, fishermen returning from a day of work have to undergo nucleic acid tests together with some of the fish that they caught during the day.

After the fishermen themselves have done the Covid test, they reportedly have to grab a few fresh fish from their catch of the day for the anti-epidemic workers to test. They open the mouth of the fish so that the fish can be tested with the cotton swab.

Chinese media outlet Sohu (搜狐新闻) posted a video about the issue on its Weibo account on August 17th, receiving over 90,000 likes and more than 8000 shares.

“I thought fish didn’t any lungs?” a popular comment said, with other commenters suggesting that this news made it clear that Covid “doesn’t affect the lungs but the brain instead.”

Another commenter suggested that if this matter concerned authorities, they should also start testing mosquitos.

Some also felt bad for the fish: “They still have to undergo this before getting killed.”

“The fish should be grateful for receiving a Covid test for free,” others wrote, while there were also people who wondered if parts of the sea would go into lockdown mode if some fish would test positive for Covid.

There were also critical commenters wondering about any scientific reasoning behind testing fish, asking who was getting paid to test them – suggesting commercial benefits outweigh scientific basis in this case.

“You can’t get Covid if you don’t have lungs, let alone if you live in the sea,” one Weibo user wrote, another person asking: “Have we all gone mad?”

By Manya Koetse
With contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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China Animals

‘Welcome Home, Molly’ – Chinese Zoo Elephant Returns to Kunming after Online Protest

One small step for animal protection in China, one giant leap for Molly the elephant.

Manya Koetse

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Following online protest and the efforts of animal activists, Molly has returned to the Kunming Zoo where she was born and where mother elephant Mopo is.

The little elephant named Molly is a big topic of discussion on Chinese social media recently.

The popular Asian elephant, born in the Kunming Zoo in 2016, was separated from her mother at the age of two in April of 2018. Molly was then transferred from Kunming Zoo to Qinyang, Jiaozuo (Henan), in exchange for another elephant. Over the past few years, fans of Molly started voicing their concerns online as the elephant was trained to do tricks and performances and to carry around tourists on her back at the Qinyang Swan Lake Ecological Garden (沁阳天鹅湖生态园), the Qinyang Hesheng Forest Zoo (沁阳和生森林动物园), the Jiaozuo Forestry Zoo (焦作森林动物园), and the Zhoukou Safari Park (周口野生动物世界).

Since the summer of 2021, more people started speaking out for Molly’s welfare when they spotted the elephant chained up and seemingly unhappy, forced to do handstands or play harmonica, with Molly’s handlers using iron hooks to coerce her into performing.

Earlier this month, Molly became a big topic on Chinese social media again due to various big accounts on Xiaohongshu and Weibo posting about the ‘Save Molly’ campaign and calling for an elephant performance ban in China (read more).

Although zookeepers denied any animal abuse and previously stated that the elephant is kept in good living conditions and that animal performances are no longer taking place, Molly’s story saw an unexpected turn this week. Thanks to the efforts of online netizens, Molly fans, and animal welfare activists, Molly was removed from Qinyang.

A popular edited image of Molly that has been shared a lot online.

On May 15, the Henan Forestry Bureau – which regulates the holding of all exotic species, including those in city zoos – announced that Molly would return to Kunming in order to provide “better living circumstances” for the elephant. A day later, on Monday, Molly left Qinyang and returned to the Kunming Zoo where she was born. In Kunming, Molly will first receive a thorough health check during the observation period.

Official announcement regarding Molly by the Henan Forestry Administration.

Many online commenters were happy to see Molly returning home. “Finally! This is great news,” many wrote, with others saying: “Please be good to her” and “Finally, after four years of hardship, Molly will be reunited with her mother.”

Besides regular Weibo accounts celebrating Molly’s return to Kunming, various Chinese state media accounts and official accounts (e.g. the Liaocheng Communist Youth League) also posted about Molly’s case and wished her a warm welcome and good wishes. One Weibo post on the matter by China News received over 76,000 likes on Monday.

Although many view the effective online ‘Save Molly’ campaign as an important milestone for animal welfare in China, some animal activists remind others that there are still other elephants in Chinese zoos who need help and better wildlife protection laws. Among them are the elephant Kamuli (卡目里) and two others who are still left in Qinyang.

For years, animal welfare activists in China and in other countries have been calling for Chinese animal protection laws. China does have wildlife protection laws, but they are often conflicting and do not apply to pets and there is no clear anti-animal abuse law.

“I’ll continue to follow this. What are the next arrangements? What is the plan for Molly and the other elephants? How will you guarantee a safe and proper living environment?”

Another Weibo user writes: “This is just a first step, there is much more to be done.”

To follow more updates regarding Molly, check out Twitter user ‘Diving Paddler’ here. We thank them for their contributions to this article.

To read more about zoos and wildlife parks causing online commotion in China, check our articles here.

By Manya Koetse

References (other sources linked to within text)

Arcus Foundation (Ed.). 2021. State of the Apes: Killing, Capture, Trade and Ape Conservation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

China Daily. 2012. “Animal Rights Groups Seek Performance Ban.” China Daily, April 16 http://www.china.org.cn/environment/2012-04/16/content_25152066.htm [Accessed May 1 2022].

Li, Peter J. 2021. Animal Welfare in China: Culture, Politics and Crisis. Sydney: Sydney University Press.

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