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Filial Piety, Where Art Thou? Debate on Care for Elderly Parents Reignited

An elderly couple forced to sleep outside their son’s door has reignited the debate over how China’s young cares for its elderly. As of May 1st, Shanghai residents who do not regularly visit their parents will be punished by getting black marks on their credit scores.

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An elderly couple forced to sleep outside their son’s door has reignited the debate over how China’s younger generations care for their elderly parents. As of May 1st, Shanghai residents who do not regularly visit their parents will be punished by getting black marks on their credit scores.

For 77-year-old Zhu Sulan and her husband, life is anything but peaceful. The elderly couple has been sleeping in the hallway outside their son’s apartment for days, after he refused to take them in. In what can be termed an absurd situation, the son has been missing from his home and apparently stayed elsewhere until his parents go away. In the meanwhile, the frail couple has set up their temporary shelter in the hallway, refusing to move until their son takes them in.

The old couple’s misfortune began when their eldest son (aged 26) lost his house due to demolition. Mrs. Zhu and her husband were then asked to stay with their other son. Since their arrival, their son’s refusal to take them in has left them with no other option than to stay outside his door. The couple has four sons and one daughter who all turn a blind eye despite knowing the condition their parents are in. Additionally, according to Shanghaiist‘s Kitty Lai, Mrs. Zhu revealed that their children have been engaged in a bitter dispute over ownership of three apartments registered in their parent’s names.

Filial piety? Never heard of it!

In the recent past, a growing number of incidents have highlighted cases of neglect and lack of respect from children towards their elderly parents in China. A Chinese farmer named Chen Shoutian from Guanyun County in Jiangsu province, came under attack in 2012 for keeping his 100-year-old mother in a pigsty for two years.

sad_momMum in the trunk of the car, via Shanghaiist.

A certain Mr. Liu was branded ‘Public enemy No.1‘ in 2015 for putting his old mother in the trunk of the car to give his son more room to stretch his legs in the backseat. It was revealed that the car was bought by the old lady for her son with her life savings.

The virtue of filial piety

For a country that still values Communism, China has managed to preserve many of its old traditions and cultural practices, chief among them being the virtue of filial piety. Xiao (孝) or filial piety, a virtue of respect for one’s father, elders, and ancestors, is an important part of the Confucian vision of societal harmony. According to Confucian tradition, the Five Relations that are central to society are those:

• Between the ruler and the people
• Husband and wife
• Father and son
• Elder brother and younger brother
• Older friend and younger friend.

These hierarchical relationships have set the precedent on which relations and communities in China were built. Along with a changing China, these patterns are now changing too.

State-led filial piety campaign

China’s rapid urbanization has altered structures of the traditional joint family unit. China’s younger generations are dynamic, ambitious and ready to leave their hometowns for greener pastures. The PRC’s large-scale rural-to-urban migration has led to a growing number of Chinese elderly who are not supported or cared for by their children.

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Statistics from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in 2013 estimated that China had around 200 million Chinese over the age of 60 years, accounting for 14.8% of the total population. By 2050, the projection shows a rise up to 438 million or one-third of the total population.

Following China’s growing problem of an ageing population, the government passed the law called “Protection of the Rights and Interests of Elderly People” law in 2013. According to New York Times, the law has nine clauses laying out the duties of children and their obligations to tend to the “spiritual needs of the elderly”. Along with some vague measures, concrete steps have also been initiated like providing a basic living and medical care for the elderly through the pension and healthcare scheme.

Already since 2011, the Party has been making efforts to promote the values of filial piety; the “special committee of filial piety” then announced its training program aimed to help 1 million children between the ages of 4 and 6 learn about filial piety through stories and games. Volunteers would check the children’s performance over three years to ensure they internalized the values. The programme caused a lot of commotion with some voicing support for the training, and others dismissing it as a silly exercise that overemphasized parent’s authority and turned children into robots.

The state-led campaign for filial piety was taken to the next level in April 2016 when Shanghai’s Municipal People’s Congress announced new regulations to encourage people to frequently visit elderly parents and ensure they are cared for; Shanghai residents who fail to visit their elderly parents regularly may have their names added to a credit blacklist that could make it difficult for them to apply for jobs and loans, and even impact their eligibility for welfare. The regulations will take effect on May 1st of this year.

Time will tell if the official promotion of filial values will really help solve the issue of changing dynamics in China’s elderly care today.

“What if your parents are abusive alcoholics?”

The topic became a point of discussion on Chinese social media. Most netizens disagreed that children should keep on visiting their parents no matter the circumstances. “If your parents did not look after you when they were younger,” one netizen comments: “you can now treat them the same, right?”.

“But what if your parents are abusive alcoholics? What if they forced their daughter into marriage because of their own gambling debts? What if she suffered long-term sexual abuse by the father?” one other Weibo user wondered.

Others complained about the fact that there was simply no time to see their family: “Only for Chinese New Year’s we get 15 days off, and then we are supposed to see our parents and enjoy our holiday and for the rest there is no other free time to do anything but working overtime, working overtime, working overtime!”

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Another Weibo user clearly opposes the new law: “This society obviously does not have the right social environment for the joy and happiness of family life, but still the government requires people to act this way. I really don’t know why the government always wants to oppose to what people want; our lives are already tiresome, and not very free, okay ? Why would you add to this by implementing some strange regulations that further limit us?”

– By Mahalakshmi Ganapathy

Weibo comments & editing by Manya Koetse.
Image by Qianzhan News.

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

About the author: Mahalakshmi Ganapathy is a Shanghai-based Sinologist-to-be, pursuing her graduate degree in Chinese Politics at East China Normal University. Her interests include Sino-India comparative studies and Chinese political philosophy.

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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.

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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.

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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China Health & Science

“Experts Are Advised Not to Advise”: Why Weibo Users Are Fed Up with ‘Expert Advice’

Experts say this, experts say that, but many social media users wish experts would say nothing at all.

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Over the past week, the topic of “experts are advised not to advise” (建议专家不要建议) has been trending on Chinese social media. The topic came up after netizens got annoyed over a bunch of news items containing contradicting or ungrounded advice and suggestions from ‘experts.’

One column published by Worker’s Daily stated that three different expert advice topics went trending on Weibo on the very same day, on May 19: “Experts recommend young people not to spend all of their family money on a downpayment for a house,” “Experts advise buying a house is more profitable than renting,” and “Experts suggest that from June to October is the best time to buy a house.”

‘Expert advice’ goes trending on Chinese social media on a daily basis in hashtags. The source is mostly Chinese state media quoting an expert’s opinion on a certain topic.

Looking at some Weibo hashtags including the ‘experts suggest that..’ sentence include: “Experts advise to go to bed between 10 and 11 pm”, “Experts suggest not to eat too much at night,” and “Experts advise not to do new year’s resolutions in January,” “Experts recommend not to wait to drink water until you’re thirsty,” “Experts advise to release the ‘Three Child Policy’ asap”, “Experts suggest that eating too many mandarin oranges will turn the skin yellow,” “Experts advise single rural men to move to the city,” “Experts recommend retirement age to be set to 65,” “Experts advise national exam’s foreign language subjects to change into a chosen subjects,” “Experts advise not to use air fryers too much,” and many, many more.

According to this Weibo column, the most common topics that experts give their recommendations about are eating and drinking, sleep, childbearing, education, retirement, women’s issues, young people, and housing.

“Advise experts not to advise” sign (Image via CFP供图, Bwanjia)

The main reasons why people are getting tired of ‘expert advice’ headlines are that alleged expert views are often used by (state) media to publicize their own standpoints or views. Others are also concerned that some ‘experts’ are only speaking out on certain topics because they are getting paid for it, and then many people think that self-proclaimed experts are giving unfounded advice.

Another reason why expert advice is becoming much-dreaded is that experts are often giving contradicting advice. Instead of being helpful, their recommendations are only confusing to readers, and they only lose more trust in experts because of it.

The distrust in “experts advise” news became all the bigger when one ‘expert’ quoted in a news item by Lizhi News about the risks of using air fryers posted on Weibo herself that she was never interviewed and never even said anything about the topic at all.

By now, the hashtag “Advise Experts Not to Give Advice” (#建议专家不要建议#) has been viewed over 930 million times on Weibo.

“I advise the media not to use one expert after the other just to spread their own views,” one commenter says, with another person writing: “First of all, is there an academic degree for being an expert? Or is it a title? Is it based on years of experience, does it require an assessment? (..) Why is it that every time someone opens their mouth you say they’re an “expert” without first giving a clear account of the person’s life and background?”

“Jus advise experts not to advise anymore,” another commenter writes.

But not longer after the online discussions, Chinese media outlets started their ‘experts suggest..’ posts again, leading to the creation of a whole new hashtag: “Here come the experts again!” (#专家又来建议了#).

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes

Image via Weibo

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