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“Harming National Treasures”: Lanzhou Zoo Sparks Controversy (Again) for Apparent Panda Negligence

Visitor photos of a mouth-foaming, lethargic-looking panda at Lanzhou Zoo has caused outrage on Weibo. As the zoo’s conditions are called into question for the umpteenth time, some say that China’s so-called ‘national treasures’ (国宝) are not being treated equally. The controversy is especially noteworthy because China maintains strict control over the pandas it sends abroad.

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Visitor photos of a mouth-foaming, lethargic-looking panda at Lanzhou Zoo has caused outrage on Weibo. As the zoo’s conditions are called into question for the umpteenth time, some say that China’s so-called ‘national treasures’ (国宝) are not being treated equally. The controversy is especially noteworthy because China maintains strict control over the pandas it sends abroad.

In early February, a concerned Chinese netizen (@木Ei) posted photos and videos of a seemingly unhealthy and mouth-foaming panda at the Lanzhou Zoo (兰州五泉山动物园) in Gansu province, writing:

“Please help me forward this. Our ‘national treasures’ really receive unequal treatment. China Giant Panda Conservation Research Center, please get involved. The panda at Lanzhou Zoo is thin and filthy, with what looks like a skin condition on its back. It makes visitors really feel bad. Many zoos have no conditions to keep pandas, please take the pandas back and take good care of them. Don’t just use them to make a good picture while not treating all of our ‘national treasures’ as actual national treasures, it’s really heartbreaking!”

Photos of the panda went viral on February 13 after the female netizen forwarded her post to various media. Chinese state media outlet Global Times re-posted the woman’s post on their official account, saying: “We don’t understand, sending it forward to the experts at the China Giant Panda Conservation Research Center and the State Forestry Administration.”

 

“Probably the most miserable panda in the world.”

 

The giant panda is China’s most beloved animal; it the cultural symbol of China and is generally called a ‘national treasure’ (国宝). Its well-being and protection, both in the wilderness as in captivity, has been a state priority since the 1960s, when China’s first wild animal protection reserve focused on panda protection was opened in northern Sichuan (Wanglang Reserve, 1965) (Songster 2004, 110).

Apart from the pandas that are kept at China’s various panda reserves, there are also pandas at zoos across China, from Beijing to Chongqing, and from Guilin to Guangzhou. The zoo in Lanzhou has been keeping pandas for years, during which it has caused controversy multiple times.

Previously in 2013, 2015, and 2016, netizens posted photos of the apparent unhealthy pandas at the Lanzhou Zoo and expressed their concerns over their well-being.

In 2013 and 2015, social media users criticized the zoo’s conditions and shared photos of the seemingly dirty and skinny giant panda ‘Lanzai.’ Some netizens called him “probably the most miserable panda in the world”. But the zoo’s authorities soon denied that Lanzai was being neglected.

In 2016, netizens also expressed concerns when the fur of panda ‘Shulan’ (蜀兰) was blood-stained and discolored. Zoo staff explained that the panda had been treated by veterinarians after suffering a cut from a piece of bamboo, and stated that any accusations of maltreatment were ungrounded.

As the zoo’s conditions are now sparking controversy for the umpteenth time, many people are outraged and say that the Lanzhou Zoo is harming them and is simply not equipped to take care of pandas.

Photos of Lanzhou Zoo taken by netizens on Weibo who argue that the living conditions of the animals are below the mark.

Some netizens point out that other animals in the Lanzhou Zoo, such as the bears and the lions, are also neglected and that their living conditions are below the mark.

 

Pandas abroad: “The waterfall was deemed ‘too noisy’ for the pandas.”

 

The Lanzhou Zoo controversy is especially noteworthy because China maintains strict regulations over the conditions for the pandas it sends abroad. A recent ‘panda diplomacy’ agreement with a zoo in the Netherlands illustrates just how strict the rules are to guarantee the well-being and utmost comfort for the Chinese pandas.

After negotiating for years, the renowned Dutch Zoo Ouwehands reached an agreement with the Chinese Wildlife Conservation Association in 2015 that it would receive two giant pandas for a period of maximum 15 years. Besides the annual funding the Zoo will contribute to the Wolong Giant Panda Centre, it spent over 7 million euros (±7.4M$/51.2MRMB) to build a special 3400 m² residence for the pandas.

Impression of the panda habitat in Dutch zoo Ouwehands, that was previously not approved by the Chinese delegation.

The residence was inspected two times by a special delegation from China. Because the panda habitat was initially disapproved by the delegation, the pandas’ arrival was postponed for six months. When they checked the panda residence again in January of 2017, they approved it but did demand the removal of a waterfall that was deemed “too noisy” for the pandas.

Zoo director Robert de Lange told Dutch news that it is of utmost importance that the pandas feel comfortable, and that the Chinese inspectors also take the volume of sounds into consideration.

 

“How could you treat our national treasures this way?”

 

As strict as the panda habitat regulations for foreign countries may be, it seems that China’s Lanzhou Zoo is not held to the same standard.

On Weibo, netizens’ anger over the apparent negligence of the animals in Gansu’s Lanzhou is directed at both the China Giant Panda Conservation Research Center and the Lanzhou zoo staff: “The pandas are helping you make money, and this is how you treat them!”, one commenter writes: “I hope the authorities will see this on Weibo and rescue them.”

“I have been to the Lanzhou Zoo multiple times when I studied there, and the conditions are really terrible. How could you treat our national treasures this way?”, another person from Gansu writes.

Other netizens are now also posting more photos of the Lanzhou Zoo, writing: “I have been to Lanzhou Zoo today, and I saw the panda was skinny and had foam coming from its mouth – I first thought it were its fangs. I hope the relevant authorities can come and save this panda baby as soon as possible!”

Earlier this year, the China Giant Panda Conservation Research Center also received criticism when the first giant panda born in Shanghai and her mother both died.

The Research Center (@中国大熊猫保护研究中心) addressed the criticism on Weibo in January, thanking China’s ‘Panda Lovers’ for their concerns and asking them to stop posting abusive comments towards them and their employees: “We understand your love for the giant pandas, everyone here at the China Giant Panda Conservation Research Center loves them, but we all have our own way of expressing it. For you it means you raise your concerns by posting blogs in the middle of the night, for us it means that our employees work night shifts taking care of the pandas, watching the monitors and keeping records.”

They also stated that the center does everything it can within their power for the good of their “black and white babies.”

For now, neither the Center nor the zoo has responded to the Lanzhou panda controversy yet.

– By Manya Koetse
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References

Songster, Elena. 2004. “A Natural Place for Nationalism : the Wanglang Nature Reserve and the Emergence of the Giant Panda as a National Icon.” Thesis/dissertation, University of California, San Diego.

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

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Insight

China’s ‘Three Child Era’ Announcement Is Met with Banter and Backlash on Weibo

“The three-child policy is here, and it’s terrifying!”

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Four decades after the introduction of the one-child policy and five years after the start of a two-child policy, the Communist Party of China has now issued a statement on May 31 that all Chinese couples are allowed to have three children.

On May 31, after a meeting by the Politburo, Chinese authorities announced that all married couples would be allowed to have three children. The announcement comes over five years after an earlier law came into effect allowing Chinese couples to have a second child.

On Weibo, the topic immediately became top trending, with the Xinhua News hashtag page on the issue (#三孩生育政策来了#) going from 800 million views to 2.2 billion views within just an hour on Monday afternoon local time.

The announcement image by Xinhua.

An illustrated image showing three small children was shared on social media by Xinhua, saying: “The three-child policy is here! Actively responding to the aging population, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China convened a meeting on May 31 on the implementation of a policy allowing couples to have a third child and interrelated support measures.”

“They will have a brother or sister,” by China Youth Daily.

State media outlet China Youth Daily also published an image depicting two children playing on the floor, the text saying: “The three-child policy has come. They will have a brother or sister.”

Loosening policies and plummeting birth rates

Facing a rapidly aging population, China has been loosening its previous ‘one-child policy’ for years.

China initiated the one-child policy in 1979 with an aim to control the nation’s rapid population growth. It was successful in doing so: the government estimates that it prevented over 400 million extra births. The policy has also been blamed for innumerable cases of forced abortions and mandatory sterilizations.

Ethnic minorities or couples in rural areas were already allowed to have more than one child if their firstborn was a girl. Since 2013, couples were entitled to have a second child if they themselves were an only child. Richer families could also choose to have a second child and simply pay the high fine they would get for having another baby.

In October of 2015, the Communist Party of China (CPC) issued an official statement that all couples would be allowed to have two children. That law went into effect on 1 January 2016. Although the new policy led to a brief ‘baby boom’ – birth rates in China rose to their highest level since 2000 – the number still fell short of government estimation’s and the birth rates soon dropped again. In 2019, the birth rate of 10.48 per thousand marked the lowest number since 1949.

More kids, more stress?

When the shift from the one-child policy to a ‘two-child policy’ was announced in 2015, the expected change created a major buzz on social media. Although many people applauded the change in policy, there were also those who thought the end of the one-child policy came too late to counter the slow growth in population.

‘Many Chinese families cannot afford to have a second child,’ was one of the most recurring online comments at the time. For many Chinese couples, as only children, the everyday pressure of taking care of their elderly parents and carrying the financial burden for their own household was already very high. “We need more financial support from the government so that we can actually consider having a second child,” Chinese Weibo users said in 2015.

The introduction of a possible ‘three-child policy’ first became a trending topic on Chinese social media in 2018. In that year, Chinese bloggers and netizens denounced the potential measure in saying that an extension from a ‘two-child policy’ to a ‘three-child policy’ would add to the burden of Chinese women. Such a policy, they argued, would lead to Chinese women facing social expectations to birth a third child. And with supposed longer maternity leaves, they would also face unequal opportunities in the employment market.

But it is not just about the financial burden and economic pressure. In a 2018 column for What’s on Weibo, writer Frankie Huang emphasized that China’s declining birth rates are often explained through an economic lens, while the social and historical background that has shaped the ways Chinese young parents think about family life today is perhaps more crucial in understanding people’s decision to postpone a second child or eschew one entirely. “We must take into account how the One Child Policy made the single child family normative by erasing the experience of having siblings from the lives of millions,” Huang wrote.

The ‘terrifying’ three child era

Looking back at the online sentiments that dominated Chinese social media before, it is perhaps unsurprising that many commenters on social media platforms in China today are somewhat skeptical about the introduction of a ‘three child policy’ (三孩生育政策).

A Weibo poll by Chinese state media outlet Xinhua asking “Are You Ready for the Three Child Policy?” was ridiculed by some when nearly 30,000 people replied “I am not considering it [three kids] at all”, with only a few hundred people indicating a more positive stance on the policy. The poll was apparently soon deleted.

Many people raise issues and concerns that come with having multiple children, including those related to the position of women in the employment market, the high cost of daycare, and children’s education.

One popular comment even suggested that China’s post-80s and post-90s generations deserve to get a medal if they actually had three children, which would mean that – as only children themselves – they would need to look after four elderly parents, three young children, and then continue working while facing a gradually delayed legal retirement age.

“The three-child policy is here, and it’s terrifying!” one popular female Weibo blogger (@Alex绝对是个妞儿) writes: “Many girls around me are already afraid to have one child, and I personally think having one is the limit – I didn’t expect the policy to be so ahead of its time! No kidding, if other supporting policies and guarantees are not in place, it will be very difficult to change women’s willingness to have children. It’s not that we don’t want to have children, it’s not that the policy doesn’t allow us to have children, it’s that once we have children, women’s lives will collapse and fall apart, and that’s what makes women not want to have children.”

“This just gives my parents more reasons to pressure me to find a partner,” others complained.

“This cracks me up. My monthly income is already barely enough to cover for me alone.”

Besides those expressing concerns, there are also many jokes circulating online, such as a supposed Durex ad saying: “I’ll go, you guys have fun.”

In light of the new announcement, an older interview with Chinese businessman Shih Wing-ching (施永青), chairman of the Centaline Group, caused some controversy online when he suggested that Chinese couples should only be allowed to use contraception after having two children. According to the real estate mogul, it would be an effective way to solve China’s declining fertility rates.

“It would be better for him to wear a condom around his brain to protect him from these bewildering thoughts,” one Weibo commenter suggested.

Another topic of public ridicule was the image announcing the ‘three child policy’ by Chinese state media outlet Xinhua for containing a typo, with the wrong character being used in the word 生育, “give birth to” (using 肓 instead of 育).

“Shouldn’t we eliminate illiteracy first before letting people have three kids?” one Weibo user jokingly commented.

The original announcement by Xinhua contained a typo.

Despite all the criticism and online jokes, there are also those who are genuinely happy that having three children is now allowed for all couples. Recurring comments praise the freedom that comes with the loosening of family planning policies: “If you want to have more children, you can. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to.”

One woman on Weibo wrote: “When the two-child policy was introduced, I soon became pregnant with my second child. Yesterday I was thinking if we could try to have a baby girl, and just like that, the ‘three-child policy’ is here!”

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Insight

The Gansu Marathon Tragedy: Chinese Netizens Are Looking for Answers

The Gansu ultramarathon tragedy has sent shock waves on social media: “The organization needs to be held accountable.”

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What was supposed to be an exciting ultramarathon race turned into a terrible tragedy. In Gansu’s Baiyin, 21 runners died this weekend in the mountainous high-altitude track under extreme weather conditions. On Chinese social media, people are shocked and are left with many unanswered questions.

Twenty-one people participating in a mountain marathon race have died in Gansu, China, after extreme weather hit the high-altitude track. The 100-kilometer race, which started on May 22, took place at the Yellow River Stone Forest tourist site in Baiyin city.

In the morning of Sunday, May 23, a total of 151 participants were rescued in a major rescue operation. Eight people had minor injuries and were sent to the hospital. Twenty-one people were already lifeless when they were found. Among those killed were top cross-country runner Liang Jing (梁晶) and the Paralympic champion Huang Guanjun (黄关军).

On Weibo, the hashtag “21 People Killed in Gansu Mountain Marathon Accident” (#甘肃山地马拉松事故21人遇难#) received over 930 million views by Sunday afternoon. Another hashtag “Is the Gansu Marathon Accident is a Natural Disaster or Man-made Disaster?” (#甘肃马拉松事故是天灾还是人祸#) became top trending on Sunday afternoon, with netizens wondering if the organization of the race was up to standard and if the necessary safety guarantees were taken.

The daughter of a participant who was killed during the ultramarathon wanted to know why her family was only informed of his death on the morning of May 23 and why the organizing committee did not make sure the participants were better prepared following the local weather forecasts.

The Gansu provincial government has set up an incident investigation team to further investigate the cause of the incident. On the morning of May 23, the mayor of Baiyin Zhang Xuchen (张旭晨) spoke at a local press conference, where he called the incident a “public safety incident” due to sudden changes in local weather conditions.

The Huanghe Shilin Mountain Marathon (黄河石林山地马拉松) was first held in 2018, and this was its fourth edition. The event, hosted by Jingtai County, was sponsored by the Baiyin Municipal Party Committee and the municipal government. The ultramarathon was organized by a local company, Gansu Shengjing Sports, which had also organized the previous marathons.

According to The Paper, participants must be between the ages of 18-60 and must submit proof that they have completed a similar level race within the last year. The long-distance ultramarathon race is known as a difficult one, with its steep tracks, high altitudes, and a great part of the route being in no man’s land.

The race started at 9.00 in the morning on Saturday the 22nd, with many of the 172 participating runners wearing shorts and short-sleeve running shirts. The extreme weather – including local hail, freezing rain, and strong wind – hit the mountain race in the afternoon. One participant shared their story of what happened during the marathon in a blog article.

The participant describes the weather conditions at the start of the race as “breezy and sunny,” but that soon changed as the wind picked up and the temperatures dropped.

When it started to rain and hail, various runners who had been going up the mountains already withdrew from the race and returned as the conditions became harsher. The runner describes how the gloves and insulation blanket that they carried were insufficient to protect them from the cold, and that he finally decided to withdraw from the race when his hands were frozen and his body temperature dropped.

The runners ran into extreme weather and many became hypothermic.

By that time, according to the account, there were already approximately fifty runners who had withdrawn from the race and had gathered in a hut to warm up and wait for rescue. As more participants came down from the mountain to the hut, there were already some who had seen people lying motionless on the ground. The rescue team could not reach the area by car. The first group of people, including the person writing the account, came down and were able to get on a bus and get back to the race finish line around 16:00 on Saturday afternoon.

In a video shared by Fengmian News, several runners can be seen sharing their experiences as they go on the bus returning from the scene, with some saying they had already seen various people lying on the ground shivering. Others called the drop of body temperature “terrible,” saying that even experiencing the cold for a few minutes was already unbearable.

Photo of participating runners shared on social media.

The race was stopped immediately and local forces organized to search and rescue the runners who were left behind. People’s Daily shared photos of rescue operations continuing in the mountainous area at night. More than 700 people were involved in the rescue.

On Sunday, the news that multiple runners had been rescued by local villagers and shepherds who offered them shelter and warmth also went trending on social media.

Runners rescued by local shepherds warm up by the fire on the 22nd.

Another runner who participated in the ultramarathon shared his story on Weibo, writing that he was among the six top runners when the extreme weather conditions started, and the only one of the top runners who survived because he was rescued by local villagers after falling and passing out.

The rescue operation was concluded at 12:00 in the afternoon on Sunday. Xinhua News reported that the remains of all 21 victims were recovered from the marathon site.

“Is this a natural disaster or a human-made one?” many netizens on Weibo ask, with a majority saying that although the weather conditions were particularly bad, the tragedy was mostly caused by human errors.

Why were the runners not required to carry better equipment and warmer clothes with them? Why was there no security along the track of this off-the-beaten-path race? Why were there no logistics and rescue teams set up along the tracks? Why was there no detailed security and rescue plan in place for emergency situations? These questions and many more are circulating on social media.

“The organization needs to be held accountable,” many people say, while official investigations into the incident are still ongoing. “I can’t believe the organization would make these kinds of errors in 2021,” one person wrote.

“This is unbelievable, 21 people died,” another commenter wrote: “So many families have been broken.”

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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