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More Than Gold: The Success of ‘Made-in-China’ at the Olympics

Chinese products and techniques have gained worldwide attention during the Rio Olympics. From made-in-China Olympic helmets and mosquito nets to its traditional cupping therapy – China gained more from the Rio Olympics than gold alone.

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Chinese products and techniques have gained worldwide attention during the Rio Olympics. From made-in-China Olympic helmets and mosquito nets to its traditional cupping therapy – China gained more from the Rio Olympics than gold alone.

The Rio Olympics have done much good for the international image of ‘made in China’. Chinese news site Economic Daily recently reported that a variety of Chinese products have been used in this year’s Rio Olympics, ranging from eco-friendly tableware to air-conditioners. Even this year’s Olympic mascot was manufactured in China. “Made in China is everywhere”, CCTV reported.

According to Economic Daily (@经济日报), the prevalence of China-made products demonstrates China’s rise and its overall competitiveness in the global market. It is also said to give the world a more positive view of China’s image.

Chinese audiences on Sina Weibo praised the heightened presence of China-made products in the international arena: “Made in China! As a Chinese, I feel proud [of my country]!  Good job, China!” one Weibo netizen wrote.

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Last week, the made in China design of the helmets of China’s gold-winning cycling track team made headlines. According to Chinese media, the special helmets were a good promotion of China’s design and cultural heritage.

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Besides the cycling helmets, two other made-in-China products also sparked international interest: Chinese mosquito nets and cupping sets.

Mosquito nets: China’s answer to Zika

Mosquito nets played an important role at the Rio Olympics since the Zika virus became a major concern to the Olympic Games and its athletes.

Mosquitoes are the primary transmitters of the Zika virus, which has infected hundreds of thousands of people across Latin America, especially in Brazil. Many athletes, such as Australian golfer Jason Day, even withdrew from the Rio Olympics due to concerns over Zika. The virus is known to be especially harmful to pregnant women, as infection can result in severe brain malformations in the fetus and other birth defects.

Chinese mosquito nets, that have since long been used in households across China, became trending Olympic news in and outside the PRC when pictures of Chinese athletes under their efficient tents made its rounds across the internet.

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Chinese gymnast Feng Zhe said on Weibo that a foreigner even came to him to buy a mosquito net. On Twitter, Australian female basketball player Elizabeth Cambage shared pictures of herself with a made-in-China mosquito net. China’s e-commerce sites now even promote their mosquito nets as “2016 Olympic mosquito nets”.

After China’s completely mosquito-proof tents became popular in Rio, Chinese netizens started to list items that are widely used among Chinese households and yet less known to people in other regions.

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One of these products is Liushen Hua Lu Shui (or Liushen Florida Water, 六神花露水), another effective product against mosquitoes. This product has recently also been introduced to markets outside of China, where it has been well-received.

Chinese cupping therapy goes global

Interest in China’s traditional cupping therapy has also grown since US swimmer Michael Phelps won the Olympic medal with deep-purple, circular bruise-like patterns on his back, which drew international attention.

Phelps’s marks came from cupping, a Chinese technique that involves placing heated cups on the back that create skin suction. In traditional Chinese practice, cupping is used to reduce pain, loose muscles, and prevent skin inflammation.

In an interview with Sohu TV, Phelps touted the benefits of cupping and said: “For me, cupping works great. It releases some of the tensions I have on my shoulders, my back, and legs – I love it.”

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Phelps’s Olympic success and media coverage on the treatment preceding his race have led to an increase in the sales of cupping sets both in and outside China. On Taobao, the sales in cupping sets have almost doubled this month.

The 2025 vision of ‘Made-in-China’

The increased presence of Chinese products abroad is consistent with China’s first high-level 2025 vision that focuses in upgrading China’s international manufacturing.

In making this plan, Chinese leaders emphasize the importance of innovation and quality over quantity in the Chinese manufacturing industry, hoping to move ‘made in China’ up the value chain by 2025. In accordance with this 2025 vision, more and more China-made products will appear in international events like the Olympics and beyond.

But the image of ‘made in China’ is still not all sunshine and roses. As Chinese products and techniques are getting more popular across the world, there are also more discussions on effectiveness and safety. The recent hype around Chinese cupping, for example, also raised discussions on whether or not the therapy works and how safe it is.

Earlier this summer, shocking images of a man being severely burnt through cupping were shared across the internet. Guokr.com, a website that seeks to popularize science in China, points out that cupping is still a rare and little-studied practice. Due to the potential risks associated with cupping therapy, such as burns and skin infections, Guokr does not recommend people try cupping on their own.

The growing interest for Chinese products indicates an increasing international acceptance of Chinese culture and ‘made in China’. Especially athletes and celebrities play an important role in the promotion of these products. But the existing negative connotations of ‘made in China’, that is often associated with low quality and safety hazards, is not likely to change overnight.

There are still nine years to go before the China’s “2025 Vision”. That means that after Rio, there will be four more Olympics that can serve as a platform for Chinese products to prove they’re golden. Who knows, made-in-China bobsleighs might just become all the rage in Pyeongchang 2018.

By Yanling Xu and Manya Koetse

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

Yanling Xu is a freelance writer and recent college graduate. Originally from Xiamen, China, she studied in the U.S. and received her Bachelor degree in Political Science and East Asian Studies from Grinnell College. Yanling currently resides in Chicago.

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China Insight

‘Divorce Day’: Queuing Up to Get Divorced after Chinese Spring Festival Holiday

The first day after the Spring Festival holiday is a busy one at the Bureau of Civil Affairs as couples are lining up to register a divorce.

Manya Koetse

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On the first day after the Chinese Spring Festival holiday (Jan. 21-27), there are long lines at the Civil Affairs Bureau in several places across China.

In Jiangxi, one resident shared how couples were queuing up to file for divorce on the first day the local Bureau of Civil Affairs reopened its doors. The lines were allegedly so long that people had to wait outside. Another video showed similar scenes at a local bureau in Anhui province. A third video showed crowded scenes of people lining up to register a divorce in Henan.

Chinese media accounts such as Toutiao News (@头条新闻), Vista (@Vista看天下), and Phoenix News (@凤凰周刊) all posted about the long divorce lines on Jan. 29, with one post about the topic receiving 70,000 likes.

“I thought they were lining up to get married, then I watched the news and saw they were actually lining up to get divorced..,” one commenter wrote. Others wondered if the busy lines for the divorce registration office might have something to do with the Covid outbreak over the past weeks, with some couples finding out that their partner actually is not very sympathetic when they are sick (also read this article).

The Chinese media outlets posting about the divorce registration lines mentioned how the ones who suffer the most in a divorce are the children, but many commenters did not agree with this statement, arguing that children suffer the most when parents stay together for the sake of the children and then continue fighting.

The divorce trend after the Chinese Lunar New Year has also been discussed in Chinese media and on social media in previous years (“春节后离婚潮”).

In Western countries, it is a known fact that divorce rates increase after Christmas time; the Monday after Christmas break is also dubbed “Divorce Day.” Some sources claim this is often due to quarrels that occur during Christmas and the financial pressures that come with the festive season.

It is arguably not much different for the Chinese New Year, when incidents taking place during family gatherings could be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“The Spring Festival is like a big marriage minefield,” one commenter wrote: “When you return to your family home, it doesn’t just mean reuniting with your close relatives, there are also various tests of human relations and etiquette. A careless moment can cause conflicts between a married couple, leading to quarrels or even divorce. Is your marriage good or not? You will know during the Chinese New Year. After the New Year, there will be a wave of divorces.”

But the pandemic situation of the past years, in including the lockdowns, mental stress and financial difficulties, inescapably also play a role in the recent divorce wave.

In December of 2022, this Chinese blog article already predicted that more people would file for divorce after the Chinese New Year since the end of the holiday would coincide with the end of the Covid peak. In times of lockdown, and especially in times of sickness, couples easily get annoyed with each other and their love is put to the test.

Earlier this month, some Chinese media also reported that three years after the pandemic began, cities were already seeing a “divorce wave” (#疫情后一线城市离婚预约爆满#).

Some netizens comment that the ‘cool-off’ period that was introduced to allow couples a month’s time to think and revoke their divorce does not seem to have much effect.

Some people sympathize with those standing in line: “Celebrating the New Year can bring about a war in some families. The divorce season has started.”

By Manya Koetse 

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China Insight

Less Education, More Babies? Discussions Surrounding China’s Falling Birth Rate

Another year, another drop in birth rates: according to the latest statistics, China’s 2022 saw more deaths than births.

Manya Koetse

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China’s falling birth rates have been a topic of discussion for years. With the latest statistics marking another record low in birth rates, Chinese experts look for ways to motivate couples to have (more) children at an earlier age.

Official yearbook data, released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics (国家统计局) on Jan. 17, 2023, shows that the total Chinese mainland population was 1.4118 billion by late 2022. Last year, 9.56 million people were born, while 10.41 million people died. The population in 2022 fell by 850,000 from 2021.

As reported by The New York Times, according to the latest data, 2022 was not just the first time deaths outnumbered births in China since the Great Leap Forward in 1960s, it was also one of the worst performance years for the Chinese economy since 1976.

China’s dropping birth rates have been a topic of discussion for years. The annual statistics that were published three years ago, in January 2020, showed that China’s birth rate in 2019 had fallen to its lowest since the founding of the People’s Republic of China. In that year, the birth rate was 10.48 per thousand, and 14.65 million babies were born in mainland China.

The data from later years showed that just 12 million babies were born in 2020 (8.5 births per thousand) and that only 10.6 million babies were born in 2021 – a rate of 7.52 births per thousand. The latest number is another record low.

Over recent years, various trends in Chinese (online) media have highlighted the social issues behind China’s dropping marriage and birth rates. The rising costs of living and the fact that Chinese younger generations “prefer to marry late,” are often mentioned as an explanation for China’s decline in marriage rates and the interrelated lowering birth rates.

But China’s so-called ‘leftover’ single men have also been pointed out as a “crisis,” with China having millions of more men than women of marriageable age – partly a consequence of the one-child policy combined with a traditional preference for baby boys.

For years, China’s ‘leftover women’ were also mentioned as a reason for the country’s declining marriage rates; China’s well-educated, career-oriented, urban single women were singled out for making it harder for China’s unmarried men to find a wife because of their ‘choice’ to postpone marriage and family life. This increased the pressure on China’s single women to get married, including facing an associated social stigma, which has become a recurring topic of debate on Chinese social media.

Chinese couples are allowed to have two children since 2015, three children since 2021, and it was later widely reported that parents with more than three children would also no longer receive fines according to a draft law amendment.

Celebrating the ‘three child policy’ (image via Weibo.com).

But the new regulations have not had the desired effect, with many couples simply not wanting a second child or being unable to afford it. The pandemic and zero Covid policy also haven’t exactly helped to boost China’s birth rates.

On social media, official media put out the two hashtags “9.56 Million People born in China in 2022” and “In 2022, China’s Population Decreased by 850,000 people” (#2022中国全年出生人口956万人#, #2022年中国人口减少85万人#). Among commenters, the latest data have led to various discussions.

Some are about the costs of living:

  • There’s so much to consider if you want to have a child, the costs are just too high, and I wouldn’t be able to support it.”

Others are about increasing social pressure:

  • These days there’s too much pressure on men to get married, they’re not confident and at ease anymore.”

And then there are those who see no problem in a population drop:

  • It’s only natural for the population to decline, how can you expect it to be like the old days when people would have five or six kids; the people like my grandma in my hometown all come from families with at least four kids.”
  • This country of 1,5 billion people is constantly worried about going extinct, people are crazy!
  • The Information Age doesn’t need so many people anyway.”

 

HOW TO BOOST BIRTH RATES?

 

But while netizens’ opinions on the matter vary, experts, politicians, and media outlets focus on the topic of how China’s birth rates can be boosted.

Various places across China have already announced policies to encourage families to raise more than one child, including prolonged maternity leave, increased maternity allowances, and support for home purchases.

One hashtag that was popular on Weibo this week was about a statement made by the billionaire businessman Zong Qinghou (宗庆后), CEO of leading beverage company Wahaha Group (哇哈哈).

Zong is a proponent of offering affordable housing to young people. In a video that has since gone viral – and which was a segment from a CCTV interview, – Zong talks about his low-cost housing project and also called on China’s young people to find a partner, get married earlier and have children sooner to “contribute” to the country’s birth rates (#宗庆后希望年轻人早点结婚生娃#).

The hashtag triggered many replies. Most of them criticized Zong’s remarks, and many commenters expressed that they did not like being told to marry and have kids. Some also remarked how Zong’s own forty-something daughter allegedly is not married herself.

It is not the first time for an opinion leader or expert to frame marriage and childbirth as a “contribution” to the country.  In 2015, the Chinese scholar Yang Zao (杨早) wrote an essay in which he explained China’s falling birth rates as “a clash between individualist and collectivist values.” At the time, he wrote: “For the country, for society, for parents, can’t you let go a bit of personal happiness? After all, isn’t marriage key to solving China’s present-day problems?”

Another hashtag that went viral this week is “Could Shortening Education Time Increase Birth Rates?” (#缩短教育时间能提高生育率吗#).

The topic relates to an article published by Zhejiang News on Jan. 16, 2023, about China’s Education and Population Report (中国教育和人口报告). In this report, James Jianzhang Liang (梁建章, a demographer who is better known as the Ctrip CEO) and other authors suggest that shortening the duration of education might help boost the country’s birth rates. The authors suggest that the middle and elementary education time could be cut down by two years by eliminating the Senior High School Entrance Examination (Zhongkao 中考).

There are two ways in which this idea might benefit China’s birth rates. On the one hand, the authors argue, China’s highly competitive education system puts a lot of pressure on children and financial strain on their parents, who struggle to invest as much time and money into their children’s education as they can. The pressure is real: the exam results during the last year of junior high school are of crucial importance regarding admission to the preferred senior high school, which also profoundly influences education after high school and students’ future careers. So the reasoning is that couples are more likely to have children if the financial burdens on parents are alleviated.

Should we have kids or not? Cartoon posted on Weibo.com.

On the other hand, the authors argue that when people finish school two years earlier, this will give them more time to start their life after graduation, making it more likely for women to have children at an earlier age.

One post about this topic, in which netizens were asked how they felt about the idea, received over 225,000 likes and nearly 13,000 comments.

A typical reply suggested that all these ‘experts’ should have more children themselves, reiterating a widespread criticism of opinion makers and experts who often do not practice what they preach.

Others expressed that they did not think that China’s lower birth rates were related to education, while others felt that a shortened education time would be a step back for China.

Some also criticized Zhejiang News. The media outlet itself indicated that the idea of shortening school years to boost fertility rates was like treating people as “tools.” But some commenters said: “The sad thing is not that people are treated as tools, the sad thing is that it took you this long to realize it.”

There are more Weibo bloggers and commenters suggesting that people paid a heavy price for the One Child policy that was implemented between 1980-2015, and that its effects will have a significant impact on society for a long time to come. After decades of only allowing couples to have one child, the shift to now introducing policies to encourage people to have more children is a strange reality.

One popular blogger (@峰哥亡命天涯) posted a photo that showed an old One Child Policy slogan on a building [少生优生,幸福一生 ‘Have fewer but healthier babies and a happier life‘], and he wrote: “The effects of family planning have contributed to contemporary times and bring benefits for future centuries!”

Another poster said they felt bad for the one-child generation born in the 1980s:

I really feel sorry for those born in the 1980s. They’ve always dealt with problems in attending school from young to old, then when they were all grown up faced problems with the job [market], then the issue of marrying and the bride price, and most importantly the high price of housing and caring for the elderly – the 1980s generation is carrying the burden. Those born in the 1970s can no longer have children, and those born after ’95 or 2000 are not giving birth. So we can only squeeze the post-1980s (..) Let them finally take a breather.”

By Manya Koetse 
with contributions by Zilan Qian

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

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.

©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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