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China and Covid19

No Chunyun but Staycation: Chinese New Year Won’t Be the Same This Year

From local governments to brand commercials, “staying put for the holidays” (就地过年) is the trend of this Spring Festival.

Manya Koetse

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As China is seeing the worst wave of new infections since March of last year, staying put for Chinese New Year is the trend for this holiday season.

China’s chūnyùn (春运), the travel season around Chinese New Year, started on January 28. It usually is a chaotic and exciting time as people travel home to be reunited with their families.

But this year, Chinese New Year and its travel season, which starts 15 days prior to the Spring Festival and lasts 40 days, will be different from other years due to the Covid-19 pandemic and local outbreaks across China, with the country seeing the worst wave of new infections since March of last year: 2,016 cases were reported from Jan. 1-30.

Nevertheless, officials still expect about 1.7 billion trips to be made during this time period. Although this number is higher than last year, when Spring Festival commenced just shortly after the initial Wuhan outbreak, the number of total trips is lower than during other years. In 2016, for example, around 2.9 billion trips were made and in 2019 that number rose to around 3 billion.

In order to minimize domestic migration during Chinese New Year, many places around China encourage people to stay put instead of going back home to celebrate, with some Chinese media calling “staying home” the trend of the year.

The keywords this year are “stay put for the holidays” (jiùdì guònián 就地过年) and “New Year’s policies” (guònián zhèngcè 过年政策). State media outlets like Xinhua also initiate hashtags on social media such as “This Year Stay Put For New Year’s” (#今年就地过年#).

 

Stay Home Subsidies

 

One way to encourage people to refrain from traveling during Chinese New Year is by offering people monetary compensation when they stay home. These measures are called “subsidy policies” (bǔtiē zhèngcè 补贴政策).

Earlier in January of this year, the city of Suzhou announced that it would offer compensation of 500 yuan ($77) to people who stay home during the Spring Festival. The city of Beijing promised domestic helpers in Beijing to give them a bonus if they would continue working from February 4 to February 26.

The city of Yiwu, Zhejiang, also gives out 500 yuan to every resident who does not travel from February 1st to February 26th to cover their electricity bill. The city also gives out 20GB of mobile data for all phone users to use for free, and promises free public transport to Yiwu residents during the Spring Festival period. The initiative was promoted on social media using the hashtag “Yiwu Issues 500 Yuan Consumption Vouchers to Encourage Staying Put for the New Year’ (#义乌发500元消费券鼓励就地过年#).

The cities of Hangzhou, Hefei, and Foshan also give out bonuses from 1000 up to 2000 yuan ($155-310) to various (migrant) working groups to stay put.

Various incentives across China, explained by CCTV.

There are many more initiatives though, such as Beijing giving out 20GB of free mobile data and companies in cities such as Zhejiang, Ningbo and Quanzhou issuing “red packets” for workers choosing not to go home.

Checking local policies via Alipay.

There are various ways for residents to check which benefits they could get if they stay put this year. The Alipay app, for example, allows people to check the local policies in their area (“各地过年福利政策查询”服务”).

 

Quarantine & Testing

 

For those people who would still like to travel despite the various incentives to stay home, there are some extra hurdles to take.

China’s National Health Commission has stated that people returning to rural areas will need to produce a negative Covid-19 test issued up to seven days before their departure during the Spring Festival, BBC reports.

In fact, virtually everyone taking part in the chunyun travel season will need to have a negative Covid-19 test with them. All travelers entering or returning to Beijing will also need a negative Covid-19 test taken within seven days.

Travelers will also have to be under a 14-day “home observation” period. This means they need to monitor their health and temperature daily. They are still allowed to leave their home, but they cannot participate in any group activities.

Chinese state media CCTV also reminds travelers to make sure they wear their mask the right way and to maintain hand hygiene.

 

Promoting Staycation

 

The ‘staycation’ New Year is also promoted in various other ways. Commercial brands are sending out the message of celebrating the Spring Festival at home through their ads and commercials.

The new ad video by antibacterial soap brand Safeguard (舒肤佳), for example, shows a family preparing for New Year’s festivities.

Although it first seems as if the grandparents, children and grandchildren are all celebrating together in one home, it then turns out that they are all ‘united’ at the dinner table via video connection.

The brand’s message is that this year, the most valuable gift families can give each other is the gift of safeguarding each other’s health.

There is also public service advertising initiated by local governments to promote staying at home during Chinese New Year. The image below was published through social media by Linyi city, Shandong.

Meanwhile, in a video promoted by Chinese state media People’s Daily, Zhang Wenhong (张文宏), leader of the Shanghai Covid-19 Medical Treatment Expert Group, said that “spending New Year’s in situ is a sacrifice,” also adding: “I have great admiration for the comrades who spent New Year’s Eve locally”, calling it “a contribution for all Chinese people.”

A hashtag page added to Zhang’s words received over 490 million views at time of writing (#张文宏称就地过年是作出了牺牲#).

Although many people express their understanding of the situation, not going home to spend New Year’s with their families is a big disappointment for many Weibo commenters – especially when it’s the second year to skip the Spring Festival family reunion.

“We’ve been setting aside too much over Covid-19,” one commenter writes, but others say: “Special circumstances require special treatment. It’s ok, we can stay put for Spring Festival.”

But there are also those who are just sad about missing out on the celebrations. “I understand the reasoning. But I’ll be spending Chinese New Year all alone by myself. Just thinking of it makes me want to cry.”

“I’ll spend New Year’s at home. I can have a family reunion another time. I just want this pandemic to go away.”

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.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China and Covid19

The “Final Round Players” of China’s Covid Outbreak

Those who still haven’t had Covid have made it to the “finals,” but it’s not always easy to stay positive about still testing negative.

Manya Koetse

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This Chinese Lunar New Year period, as millions of people are traveling across the country, Hangzhou Daily (杭州日报) posted a video on Weibo of a 13-year-old boy dressed in full protective clothing at the Hangzhou train station.

The young man told the reporter that he was on his way to visit his grandparents for the Chinese New Year. When asked why he was dressed in protective clothing from head to toe, he answered: “Because I haven’t had Covid yet.”

According to the video posted by Hangzhou Daily, the boy has made it to the “Final Rounds” (决赛圈) as he has managed to stay Covid-negative at a time when so many people have already been infected with Covid-19 (#挺进决赛圈的男孩穿防护服坐火车#).

Since China ‘optimized’ the last stringent measures of its ‘Zero Covid’ policy back in early December – including an end to mandatory mass testing, – a wave of Covid infections spread across the country. The number of infections and emergency department visits reportedly reached its peak in late December of 2022 and in early January of 2023.

According to Wu Zunyou (@吴尊友ChinaCDC), chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center of Disease Control and Prevention, 80 percent of China’s population has now been infected with Covid (“这一波疫情已经使得全国约80%的人感染过”).

As it is getting rarer to come across someone who has not had Covid yet, travelers dressed in full hazmat suits and protective gear are bound to stand out. “So many people on the train, and there are still two people in the crowd wearing protective clothing,” one Weibo user from Guangdong wrote. Others also post photos on social media of some of the few travelers still fully dressed in protective gear.

One blogger photographed a child wearing protective clothing at Chongqing West Station on Jan. 24, calling the protective attire “exaggerated,” and wondering how the child was supposed to go to the toilet.

Photo posted on Weibo by @杨品-光线摄影学院 on Jan 24., 2023.

Traveler wearing protective clothing at Hangzhou East Station, photo by @百鸣老屈.

Hangzhou Daily is not the only media outlet dubbing those who managed to stay negative “final round players” (决赛圈选手). In early January, Beijing Daily (北京日报​​​​) and People’s Daily (人民日报) also published a short article using the same phrase. In the article, the Beijing expert physician Dr. Li Dong (李侗) answered some questions about the so-called ‘finalists.’

According to Dr. Li Dong, some of the people who claim to have managed to stay ‘Covid free’ were never infected due to protective measures. But there are also those who may have actually had Covid-19 without realizing it, as they barely had any symptoms or were completely asymptomatic.

“Final round players, protect yourself!” one Weibo commenter writes: “Who else has managed to reach these finals?”

“As a ‘final player,’ I finally went out to eat and visit the shopping mall today. I’ll have to wait and see if I reach the championship level. If I haven’t caught [Covid], I can go on and lead a normal life; if I did catch it, I’ll need to wait a while, and will also be able to lead a normal life.”

Other persons who did not have Covid yet also share on social media that they went out for the first time during this Spring Festival period: “I cautiously went out and saw my first movie in 2023, Wandering Earth II, I picked a morning screening so that the cinema is not so crowded yet.”

Now that the Covid infections in China have peaked and the number of infected critically ill patients is quickly dropping, the fears over catching Covid are also seemingly fading among those who were not yet infected.

But some people who have not had Covid yet are still being careful, especially if it concerns elderly family members. It’s not always easy to stay positive about still testing negative – also for loved ones who did previously have Covid and want to protect their family.

One Fujian-based social media user writes: “I recovered from Covid and I’m spending the Spring Festival with three ‘final round players.’ We’ve been stuck inside the house for days. I’ve been looking at the lanterns and the lights in the neighborhood, watching them from the balcony, and I really wanted to go down and see.”

“Looking at WeChat Moments, all my friends are out traveling, but my family still hasn’t had Covid and we’re afraid to go out,” another netizen writes: “It’s sad to celebrate the New Year without going out. Guess we’re final-round players now, let’s hope it brings good things.”

Meanwhile, the group of ‘finalists’ is still shrinking. One Weibo user from Guangxi wrote: “I’ve left the finalist circle. It’s only been two days since I returned to my hometown and I’m already infected.”

By Manya Koetse 

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China and Covid19

Video Shows Real-Time “Departure” Information Board at Chinese Crematorium

From “cremation in process” to “cooling down,” the digital display shows the progress of the cremation to provide information to those waiting in the lobby. The crematorium ‘departure’ board strikes a chord with many.

Manya Koetse

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A video showing a live display screen announcing the names and status of the deceased at a Yunnan crematorium has been making its rounds on Chinese social media, from WeChat to Weibo, where one version of the video received over 1,7 million views.

Somewhat similar to a real-time platform departure display on train stations, the screen shows the waiting number of the deceased person, their name, gender, the name of the lounge/room (if any) for families, the name of the crematorium chamber, and the status of the cremation process. Below in the screen, it says “the final journey of a warm life” (温暖人生的最后旅程).

For example, the screen displays the names of a Mr. Chen and a Mr. Li; their bodies were in the process of being cremated (火化中), while other cremations were marked as “completed” (完成) or “cooling down” (降温中).

Through such a screen, located in the crematorium lobby, family members and loved ones can learn about the progress of the cremation of the deceased.

The video, recorded by a local on Jan. 7, received many comments. Among them, some people commented on the information board itself, while others simply expressed grief over those who died and the fragility of life. Many felt the display was confronting and it made them emotional.

“It makes me really sad that this how people’s lives end,” one commenter said, with another person replying that the display also shows you still need to wait in line even when you’re dead.

“I didn’t expect the screens [in the crematorium] to be like those in hospitals, where patients are waiting for their turn,” another Weibo user wrote. “It would be better if the names were hidden, like in the hospitals, to protect the privacy of the deceased,” another person replied.

Others shared their own experiences at funeral parlors also using such information screens.

Another ‘departure display’ at a Chinese crematorium, image shared by Weibo user.

“My grandfather passed away last September, and when we were at the undertaker’s, the display was also jumping from one name to the other and we could only comfort ourselves knowing that he was among those who lived a relatively long life.”

“Such a screen, it really makes me sad,” another commenter from Guangxi wrote, with others writing: “It’s distressing technology.”

Although the information screen at the crematorium is a novelty for many commenters, the phenomenon itself is not necessarily related to the Covid outbreak and the number of Covid-related deaths; some people share how they have seen them in crematoriums before, and funeral parlor businesses have used them to provide information to families since at least 2018.

According to an article published by Sohu News, more people – especially younger ones – have visited a funeral home for the first time in their lives recently due to the current Covid wave, also making it the first time for them to come across such a digital display.

The online video of such an information board has made an impact at a time when crematoriums are crowded and families report waiting for days to bury or cremate their loved ones, with especially a large number of elderly people dying due to Covid.

On Jan. 4, one social media user from Liaoning wrote:

I really suggest that the experts go to the crematoriums to take a look. There is no place to put the deceased, they’re parked outside in temporary containers, there’s no time left to hold a farewell ceremony and you can only directly cremate, and for those who were able to have a ceremony, they need to finish within ten minutes (..) At the funeral parlor’s big screen, there were eight names on every page, and there were ten pages for all the people in line that day, I stood there for half an hour and didn’t see the name of the person I was waiting for pop up anymore.”

As the video of the display in the crematorium travels around the internet, many commenters suggest that it is not necessarily the real-time ‘departure’ board itself that bothers them, but how it shows the harsh reality of death by listing the names of the deceased and their cremation status behind it. Perhaps it is the contrast between the technology of the digital display boards and the reality of the human vulnerability that it represents that strikes a chord with people.

One blogger who reposted the video on Jan. 13 wrote: “Life is short, cherish the present, let’s cherish what we have and love yourself, love your family, and love this world.” Among dozens of replies, some indicate that the video makes them feel uncomfortable.

Another commenter also wrote:

I just saw a video that showed an electronic display at a crematorium, rolling out the names of the deceased and the stage of the cremation. One name represents the ending of a life. And it just hit me, and my tears started flowing. I’m afraid of parting, I’m afraid of loss, I just want the people I love and who love me to stay by my side forever. I don’t want to leave. I’m afraid I’ll be alone one day, and that nobody will ever make me feel warm again.”

One person captured why the information board perhaps causes such unease: “The final moments that people still spent on this earth take place on the electronic screen in the memorial hall of the funeral home. Then, they are gone without a sound.”

 

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By Manya Koetse 
with contributions by Zilan Qian

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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