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China Health & Science

One Man’s Battle to Make China Smoke-free

Although the Chinese government is implementing more measures to counter smoking, the country is estimated to have more than 300 million smokers. Zhang Yue, “China’s First Anti-Smoking Campaigner” (“中国第一反烟人”) is determined to single-handedly pull the cigarettes out of their mouths and make China smoke-free.

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Although the Chinese government is implementing more measures to counter smoking, the country is estimated to have more than 300 million smokers. Zhang Yue, “China’s First Anti-Smoking Campaigner” (“中国第一反烟人”) is determined to single-handedly pull the cigarettes out of their mouths and make China smoke-free.

Zhang Yue (张跃) is no ordinary person. The self-proclaimed “top anti-smoking fighter” has been campaigning for a smoke-free China for over 18 years . On his publicity tours, that took him to more than 386 cities, he creates awareness for the dangers of smoking.

Global Times reports how Zhang usually starts these trips by visiting crowded places like bus stops, metro stations or markets, where he strikes up a conversation with smokers and hands them pamphlets about the risks of smoking. He then shocks smokers by pulling the cigarette from their lips. He sometimes does this to over ten people within thirty minutes.

zhangsmokingchinaZhang surprises a smoker by grabbing the cigarette from his mouth (Phoenix News).

Zhang’s crusade against smoking and his confrontational methods have popped up in Chinese media since 2003 (see China Daily).

Zhang started his no-smoking mission after the tragic death of his sister, who died of a brain tumor at the age of 26. Zhang was convinced that his father’s heavy smoking habits played a role in his sister’s death, as she had always been in good health prior to her tumor. After successfully helping his younger brother quit smoking, Zhang also persuaded twelve of his family members to stop smoking. Since 2001, he has devoted his life to help all smokers of China to quit their habit.

A money-making national pastime 

Smoking is a national pastime in China. It is very common for Chinese men to offer a cigarette when meeting someone – it’s a conversation starter and a way of social bonding. Over time, smoking has become an integral part of how many Chinese men socialize.

Apart from the social aspect, the popularity of smoking is also linked to economics. China is the largest manufacturer and consumer of tobacco in the world. The country employs a massive labor force devoted to tobacco farming, manufacturing and sales. Tobacco sales also provide 7% of the Central Government’s annual revenue, which is a substantial amount in taxes and net income.

A gendered phenomenon that kills

According to the authors of a new study, reported about by Quartz, “about two-thirds of young Chinese men become cigarette smokers, and most start before they are 20. Unless they stop, about half of them will eventually be killed by their habit.”

The study notes that although many women have begun taking to smoking, it still remains a highly gendered activity, with around 68% of Chinese men smoking, compared to 3.2 % of Chinese women. Another study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information in the United States has reported that with a population of over 300 million smokers, China is currently at risk of losing more than 90 million people to this habit. This is also a reason for concern as smoking threatens to wipe out the productive population that China increasingly needs to continue its growth momentum.

The Party’s new anti-smoking route

After repeated attempts and failings, the Party has started to take the problem of smoking more serious. Although China’s previous leaders were often seen smoking, Xi Jinping has set a new example by quitting.

In 2011, China’s Ministry of Health guidelines banned smoking in all public places nationwide such as hotels and restaurants. As the ban was largely ignored, stricter regulations went into effect in Beijing in June 2015. These regulations also cracked down on tobacco advertising.

The Party’s new anti-smoking route was also apparent during the National People’s Congress meeting this year;  different from other years, there were no smoking areas for delegates in their hotel and conference rooms, or elsewhere in the indoor public places. They had been advised to follow Beijing’s smoking ban during the two-week annual session .

But for Zhang Yue, the Party’s anti-smoking campaigns cannot be rigorous enough and he hopes that China will soon be completely smoke-free: “China has 350 million smokers,” he tells Global Times: “that’s almost the population of the US. Even though it’s a distant goal, I’ll sacrifice everything to get there”.

Right motives, wrong behavior?

News about Zhang’s mission and his action to pull cigarettes from people’s mouths has got Weibo’s netizens talking. “His motives are good, but his actions are stupid,” one netizen comments. “He has no right to steal people’s cigarettes,” another Weibo user says.

Although most netizens seem to disagree with Zhang’s tactics, some think he’s right: “I support him. I’ve smoked for over ten years and then just quit. I wished more people would.”

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Zhang’s campaign goes beyond the streets of China –  he is also active on Chinese social media. On Weibo, Zhang has an official Weibo page named ‘The Old Man’s Long March Against Smoking‘. With less than 8900 online fans, he does not have the millions of followers he would probably like to have – but at least it’s a start.

Update March 23 by editor: Shortly after this article was published, the Weibo account of “The Old Man’s Long March Against Smoking” (“反烟人长征愚公”的微博) disappeared, which is why the link is no longer working.

– By Mahalakshmi Ganapathy

Images by Phoenix News  and Mianyang Local News Weibo Page.
Weibo comments & editing by Manya Koetse.

©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 Forever: China’s Temporary Covid19 Makeshift Hospitals To Become Permanent

China’s temporary ‘Fangcang’ shelter hospitals are here to stay.

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A new term has been added to China’s pandemic lexicon today: Permanent Fangcang Hospital. Although China’s ‘Fangcang’ shelter hospitals are, by definition, temporary, these healthcare facilities to isolate and treat Covid patients are now becoming a permanent feature of China’s Zero-Covid approach.

Over the past few days, Chinese authorities have emphasized the need for China’s bigger cities to build or renovate existing makeshift Covid hospitals, and turn them into permanent sites.

So-called ‘Fangcang hospitals’ (方舱医院, square cabin hospitals) are large, temporary makeshift shelter hospitals to isolate and treat Covid-19 patients. Fangcang shelter hospitals were first established in China during the Wuhan outbreak as a countermeasure to stop the spread of the virus.

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).

They have since become an important part of China’s management of the pandemic and the country’s Zero-Covid policy as a place to isolate and treat people who have tested positive for Covid-19, both asymptomatic and mild-to-moderate symptomatic cases. In this way, the Fangcang hospitals alleviate the pressure on (designated) hospitals, so that they have more beds for patients with serious or severe symptoms.

On May 5th, Chinese state media reported about an important top leadership meeting regarding China’s Covid-19 situation. In this meeting, the Politburo Standing Committee stressed that China would “unswervingly adhere to the general Zero-Covid policy” and that victory over the virus would come with persistence. At the meeting, chaired by Xi Jinping, the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee also declared that China would fight against any words or acts that “distort, doubt, or deny” the country’s dynamic Zero-Covid policy.

Life inside one of Shanghai’s Fangcang, photo via UDN.com.

Following the meeting, there have been multiple official reports and statements that provide a peek into China’s ‘zero Covid’ future.

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 (Weibo hashtag ##以地级市为单位建设或者改造方舱医院#).

On May 16, the term ‘Permanent Fangcang Hospital’ (Weibo hashtag #永久性方舱医院) became a trending topic on Weibo after Ma Xiaowei (马晓伟), Minister of China’s National Health Commission, introduced the term in Qiushi (求是), the leading official theoretical journal of the Chinese Communist Party.

The term is new and is somewhat contradictory as a concept, since ‘Fangcang hospitals’ are actually defined by their temporary nature.

Ma Xiaowei stressed the need for Chinese bigger cities to be ready for the next stage of China’s Covid control. This also includes the need for some central ‘Fangcang’ makeshift hospitals to become permanent ones.

In order to ‘normalize’ the control and monitoring that comes with living in Zero-Covid society, Chinese provincial capitals and bigger cities (more than ten million inhabitants) should do more to improve Covid testing capacities and procedures. Ma proposes that there should be nucleic acid sample collection points across the city within a 15-minute walking distance radius, and testing frequency should be increased to maximize efficient control and prevention.

Cities should be prepared to take in patients for isolation and/or treatment at designated hospitals, centralized isolation sites, and the permanent Fangcang hospitals. The recent Covid outbreak in Shanghai showed that local authorities were unprepared to deal with the outbreak, and sites that were used as Fangcang hospitals often lacked proper facilities, leading to chaotic scenes.

A Fangcang Isolation Center in Quanzhou, March 2022, via People’s Daily.

The hashtag “Permanent Fangcang Hospitals” received over 140 million views on Weibo on Monday.

One of the Weibo threads by state media reporting on the Permanent Fangcang hospitals and the publication by Ma Xiaowei received nearly 2000 comments, yet the comment section only displayed three comments praising the newly announced measures, leaving out the other 1987 comments.

Elsewhere on Weibo, people shared their views on the Permanent Fangcang Hospitals, and most were not very positive – most commenters shared their worries about China’s Covid situation about the stringent measures being a never-ending story.

“We’re normalizing nucleic acid test, we’re introducing permanent fangcang hospitals, [but] why isn’t the third Covid vaccination coming through?” one person wondered.

“If there was still a little bit of passion inside me, it was just killed by reading these words ‘Permanent Fangcang Hospital,'” another commenter writes, with one Weibo user adding: “I feel desperate hearing the words ‘Permanent Fangcang Hospital.'”

“Building permanent Fangcang? Why? Why don’t you use the resources you’re now spending on normalizing testing to create more hospital beds, more medical staff and more medications?”

Another commenter wrote: “China itself is one giant permanent Fangcang hospital.”

“The forever Fangcang are being built,” one Weibo user from Guangdong writes: “This will never end. We’ll be locked up like birds in a cage for our entire life.”

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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Featured image via user tongtong [nickname] Weibo.com.

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Health & Science

Shanghai ‘Dead Man’ Taken Away to Morgue, Found to Be Alive

An incident in which a man taken to a morgue turned out to be alive doesn’t really help to restore residents’ trust in Shanghai.

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An incident in which a Shanghai man, who was thought to be dead, was taken to a funeral home before he was found to be alive has become a big topic on Chinese social media.

The incident happened on the afternoon of May 1st at the Shanghai Xinchangzheng Nursing Home (上海新长征福利院) in the city’s Putuo District.

A video of the incident went viral on Chinese social media in which a body bag can be seen put into a vehicle by three people, two members of staff from the nursing home and one funeral home worker. Shortly after, the body bag is taken out again and put back on a trolley. One of the nurses zips open the bag, pulls a cover from the man’s face, and apparently finds him to be alive.

“He’s alive,” one of the workers says in shock: “He’s alive, I saw it, he’s alive. Don’t cover him any more.”

The man is then transferred back into the nursing home, still inside the body bag.

The video that is making its rounds on social media was filmed from two different angles, the person filming can be heard calling the incident “a disgrace for human life” and “irresponsible.”

On May 2nd, the Chinese state media outlet People’s Daily posted about the incident on Weibo, saying the city district is currently investigating the case. The man was hospitalized and his vital signs are stable.

Meanwhile, multiple people are held accountable for the incident. The head of the nursing home has been dismissed and will be further investigated, along with four district officials. The license of the doctor involved will also be revoked.

The Shanghai Xinchangzheng Nursing Home has also apologized for the incident (#上海一福利院就未死亡老人被拉走道歉#).

On social media, many people are angry about the incident, wondering why the old man was transported to the funeral home in the first place, and why the members of staff seemed to be indifferent after finding out he was still alive.

In the video, the member of staff standing next to the man can be seen covering the patient’s face again after finding out he is still alive, leaving the body bag zipped up. Many also see this as a cold and incomprehensible way to respond.

After weeks of online anger about the chaotic and sometimes inhumane way in which Shanghai authorities have been handling the Covid outbreak in the city, this incident seems to further lower the public’s trust in how patients and vulnerable residents are being treated.

“Shanghai is such a terrifying place!”, some on Weibo write.

“Just think about it,” one person responded: “This incident took place in one of China’s most prosperous cities and happened to be filmed. How much is happening in other cities that is not caught on camera? Today, it’s this man, in the future, it’s us.”

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly 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.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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