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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.




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.”




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

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 Health & Science

Chinese Doctor Knocks Herself Out in Controversial Self-Experiment

Dr. Chen wanted to warn about the dangers of sevoflurane and other drugs.

Manya Koetse



A female doctor has become a topic of discussion on Chinese social media for her self-experimentation with anesthesia.

Dr. Chen (陈大夫), a Nanjing doctor who works in the Obstetrics and Gynecology department, conducted the experiment in response to an ongoing discussion on whether or not a handkerchief dipped in inhalation anesthetics could cause immediate unconsciousness (“一捂就晕”).

The discussion was triggered by news of the death of a 23-year-old woman from Foshan, Guangdong Province, on February 8. The recent college graduate was found in a hotel room and it was later ruled that the cause of death was acute respiratory failure due to sevoflurane toxicity. The victim’s company supervisor, a 39-year-old man named Peng, is now suspected of fatally sedating and raping the young woman.

The case led to speculation among netizens whether or not sevoflurane could have knocked out the woman in seconds. There have been ongoing debates on the effects of general anesthetics used to sedate unsuspected victims, with some specialists arguing that it is not so easy to make someone slip into unconsciousness within a matter of seconds – saying it would take much longer than and only if an unusually high dosage is used.

Dr. Chen posted on February 10 that she was certain that it is possible for certain inhalation anesthetics to immediately make someone pass out, but her claim was refuted by others. The popular Weibo blogger Jiangning Popo (@江宁婆婆), a police officer, was one of the persons involved in the discussion claiming Chen was wrong.

Dr. Chen is active on Weibo under the handle @妇产科的陈大夫, and with over two million followers on her account, she is somewhat of a ‘celebrity’ doctor.

Instead of spending time arguing back and forth on the internet, Dr. Chen decided to put the issue to the test herself with an unopened bottle of sevoflurane that she had previously purchased for the planned sterilization of her dog. The sevoflurane had already passed its expiry date.

On February 16, Dr. Chen then asked someone else to film her doing the self-experiment and she posted the video on Weibo, in which she inhaled sevoflurane on a cloth. The doctor soon passed out in the video, which has since been deleted.

The experiment in the video lasts 64 seconds, and shows Chen:

– 00:01-00:06 Opening the bottle of sevoflurane
– 00:07-00:12 Preparing a cloth
– 00:13-00:23 Putting the sevoflurane on the cloth
– 00:23-00:26 Closing the cap of the bottle
– 00:27-00:28 Putting the cloth on her mouth and nose
– 00:29-01:33 = the time frame of losing consciousness (with first symptoms starting at 0:44) to going limp and falling on the floor (1:20) and being completely unconscious (1:21-1:33).

Dr. Chen’s experiment immediately sparked controversy after she posted the video on social media.

Although sevoflurane is a prescription drug and a controlled substance, it is also sold online as a type of drug. According to The Paper, the number of rape cases in China facilitated by drugs have risen over the past three years, with many ‘date rape drugs’ being sold and bought over the internet.

With sevoflurane being a controlled substance, Dr. Chen’s video triggered discussions on whether or not she was actually involving in a criminal act by doing the self-experiment. She also received criticism from within the medical community that she used this medication outside of the hospital environment.

Dr. Chen soon deleted the video herself and then called the police to personally explain and apologize for the incident, with the news soon going viral (#女医生拿自己做实验后报警并致歉#, 270 million views).

But despite the controversy, the doctor still defends her actions to some extend. Although Chen stated on February 17 that her self-experiment was “not right,” dangerous, and should never be imitated by anyone, she later also explained on her Weibo page that she thinks sevoflurane as a prescription drug is too easy to get your hands on and that the existing laws to prevent people from buying it are too weak.

The doctor has succeeded in raising public awareness on the dangers of these kinds of drugs. She also reminds both women and men never to leave their drink unattended, as the dangers of someone slipping something in your drink are real and the consequences can be grave.

As the incident has gone trending on Chinese social media, many commenters praise Dr. Chen for her experiment, while others also praise her for being transparent and admitting her mistakes.

By Manya Koetse
with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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China Health & Science

Applying China’s New Civil Code, Shanghai Court Annuls Marriage after Husband Hides HIV-positive Status from Wife

The court case triggered discussions on the need for premarital health checks.

Manya Koetse



Jiang is HIV-positive but did not mention his status to his partner before getting married. Under China’s new civil code, the marriage is now annulled.

On January 4, a Shanghai court applied the new rules of China’s Civil Code for the first time to annul a marriage.

The Civil Code of the People’s Republic of China was adopted by the third session of the 13th National People’s Congress in May of last year and is effective since January 1st 2021. Some experts within China call the law a “milestone legislation” that will better protect people’s civil rights.

On Monday, January 4, a landmark court case in which the new civil code was applied for the first time in Shanghai went trending on Chinese social media.

The case involves a married couple of which the husband had failed to inform his wife that he was HIV positive before getting married.

In June of 2020, Mr. Jiang and Ms. Li got married after Li became pregnant. Afterward, Jiang confessed that he had been HIV-positive for multiple years, and was taking medication to control his disease.

Jiang alleged that, due to his medication, there was effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to his partner. But Li, who did not contract HIV, could not accept the situation and decided to terminate her pregnancy and applied for a marriage annulment.

Under the new civil code, annulment of marriage is possible when a partner who is “seriously ill” – which now includes HIV/AIDS – fails to inform their fiance of their condition before getting married.

Since Jiang had not informed his wife of his condition before tying the knot, the Shanghai Minhang Court ruled in Li’s favor and annulled the marriage.

On Weibo, the case has attracted a lot of attention, with one hashtag about the case (#男方婚前患艾滋未告知婚姻关系被撤销#) attracting 690 million views on Monday.

The news item also led to another hashtag gaining many views: “The Need for Premarital Medical Examination” (#婚前体检的必要性#) had 200 million views on its hashtag page on Monday.

One popular relationship blogger (@感情感分析异地恋) argues that the Shanghai court case shows the importance of couples getting a medical examination before getting married: “It’s not to discriminate against those who are HIV positive or who are suffering from other illnesses, but it’s about informing your partner about these things before getting married.”

Premarital health checks were previously compulsory in China, but these examinations are no longer required since 2003. Many couples do still go for premarital health checkups. According to Xinhua, over 61% of Chinese couples had a medical examination before getting married in 2018.

Although the application of China’s new civil code is generally praised by Weibo users in this case, it has previously also received a lot of negative attention. The new law also introduced a mandatory 30-day “cooling off” period for couples seeking divorce.

This “cooling off” period is seen as harmful to those who are suffering abuse within marriage and already have difficulties in leaving their abusive partner. The case of Lamu, a Tibetan vlogger who died after her husband set her on fire, also led to more online discussions of the “cooling off” period and how it makes women more vulnerable within their marriage.

By Manya Koetse

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