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China Health & Science

Panic over Wuhan Coronavirus Leads to Online Backlash against Consumption of Wild Animals in China

Amid the coronavirus outbreak panic, the majority of Chinese netizens say it’s time for wild game to be game over.

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It is by far the number one topic dominating Chinese online media: the coronavirus. The source of the virus is suspected to be an illegal wild animal market in Wuhan. Calls for stricter outlawing of the trafficking and consumption of wild game are dominating Weibo this week.

Fears are mounting over a new strain of coronavirus that first appeared at a wet market in Wuhan in late December and has spread to four countries, killed 17, and infected almost 600 in China, with new cases being reported at time of writing.

The number of infected is expected to balloon as the annual Chinese New Year holiday begins on Friday and hundreds of millions of Chinese travelers move about the country.

The Wuhan coronavirus was first transmitted to humans in a wet market in Wuhan where many kinds of wild animals are sold illegally. While the source has yet to be conclusively identified, coronavirus is typically transmitted to humans via animals such as civet cats and bats. This has led to an outcry online and widespread condemnation of the consumption of wild game in China.

Known as the Wuhan Coronavirus internationally, domestically the virus is simply called “new pneumonia” (新型肺炎) in most Chinese media coverage. It is a type of respiratory illness causing mild to moderate cold-like symptoms that can potentially lead to complications from pneumonia.

So far, the virus seems to be milder than the previous two big global coronavirus outbreaks (SARS and MERS), but health officials caution that not enough is known as of yet, and also that the risk of mutation could mean far greater danger than first anticipated.

As of 10 am today, authorities have sealed off travel to and from Wuhan in an effort to prevent further spread of the disease. News of other cities in Hubei province also halting train operations came in later today, with Ezhou Station and Huangguang station both suspending services as of Thursday.

The Chinese government’s response to the Wuhan virus has been markedly different from the coverup of the SARS outbreak in 2003, and authorities have been swift to track the disease and to sequence its genome.

On January 20, Beijing confirmed that the virus can be spread between humans, and on January 22 it announced a full accounting of all cases in China and abroad in a press conference given by the State Council Information Office.

 

Backlash against the Consumption of Wild Game 

 

As global and domestic concern mounts about the new virus, it has become the almost exclusive focus of Chinese social media this week, dominating the vast majority of trending topics on Weibo and Wechat.

A snapshot of the top trending topics on Weibo taken on January 23. The only topic not about the virus is about Taiwanese singer Chen Linong 陈立农 playing whack-a-mole.

The Wuhan virus is believed to have originated at the Wuhan Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market (武汉华南海鲜批发市场) and was most likely first transferred to humans from one of the many wild animals being illegal bought and sold there.

The Wuhan wet market where the Wuhan coronavirus is thought to have first been transferred to humans.

The market has since been shut down, but online criticism of such markets has been fierce on social media.

A price list for wild animals sold at the Wuhan wet market, including hedgehog, fox, and camel.

The hashtag “Support the banning of wild game markets” (#支持禁绝野味市场#) was topping the list of trending topics for much of Thursday and was viewed 270 million times.

Another hashtag, “The source of the new coronavirus is wild animals” (#新型冠状病毒来源是野生动物#), topped the list on Wednesday and has been viewed 990 million times.

Online commenters are lambasting the practice of eating illegal wild game such as civet cats, the cause of the 2003 SARS virus, and bats, the suspected cause of the Wuhan coronavirus (snakes have also been suggested as a possible source of the coronavirus outbreak).

“The only outcome of eating wild game is disease! SARS came from civet cats and bats. Ebola came from chimpanzees, monkeys, wild boar, and bats. MERS came from camels. The Avian Flu came from wild birds and poultry. AIDS came from chimps. Is it really that delicious? Is this really the way you want to eat?” one Weibo user questioned.

Comments viciously attacking those who eat wild animals can be seen across a variety of posts and topics.

“Let me say something malicious: Eating wild game is fine, just please remember to kill yourself immediately after,” said one much-upvoted commenter on a post about virus facts released by the State Council.

Images circulating on Weibo showing dishes featuring bats, the suspected source of the Wuhan coronavirus.

Various photos and a video of people eating bats have been going around WeChat and Weibo these days. The word for ‘bat’ in Chinese (蝙蝠) is ‘bianfu.‘ The ‘fu’ sound being the same as ‘fu’ (福) for ‘happiness,’ it is believed that superstition is one of the reasons for people to consume bat.

“If humans don’t live in harmony with nature, the inevitable consequence is that nature bites back. We need to regulate our hungry mouths!” complained one Weibo user.

Another trending view of the issue is that eating wild game flies in the face of thousands of years of human domestication of animals. Said one Weibo comment: “Our ancestors spent thousands of years domesticating the tastiest, most nutritious, safest poultry and livestock for us, but people are still stupid enough to go and provoke wild animals! I’m so furious I can barely speak. Only human beings can destroy human beings, and it’s the worst and most stupid of us who are doing it.”

“We spent thousands of years domesticating super nutritious animals and you don’t even want to eat them! You just want wild game!”

A video circulating on Weibo made by the cast of My Own Swordsman (武林外传) educates viewers on the risks of eating wild animals, breaking the third wall to tell their audience that there’s really no nutritional difference between domestic and wild animals, and that wild animals may carry disease because they haven’t been subject to the same kinds of hygiene requirements.

One Red Cross volunteer commented on the video: “I recommend that we immediately crackdown on all wild game markets, we cannot allow the cravings of a small group of people to affect our country as a whole. This kind of behavior disrupts the order of the food chain, and the rest of us are paying for the ridiculous and selfish behavior of these people.”

Jay Chou, an ambassador for Wild Aid, took the opportunity to reiterate his opposition to eating wild animals, and to repost his video discouraging the consumption of pangolin, highlighting the risk of disease transmission.

Perhaps the Wuhan Coronavirus will lead to a broader sea change among the Chinese population and their views towards – and tolerance of – the trafficking and consumption of wild animals.

By Jessica Colwell
Follow @whatsonweibo

With contributions from Miranda Barnes

Read more articles by Jessica Colwell here

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©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Jessica Colwell is a freelance writer currently living in Hong Kong. She is a former editor of Shanghaiist and has lived and worked in China since 2009. She has a love for everything Chinese internet and a soft spot for televised galas and Chinese pageantry.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. John Wang

    February 6, 2020 at 10:49 am

    Hello Jessica,
    great article and good collection of stories. Corona is the only topic of social media this Chinese new year… the only topic, start to be boring for people to stay at home.
    I was hoping to start to work to think something else

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China Health & Science

Chinese Student Forced to Undergo “Fake Surgery” and Borrow Money While Lying on the Operating Table

The 17-year-old girl from Shaanxi underwent surgery for no reason at all, without her parents’ consent.

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The story of a 17-year-old girl who was forced to undergo a “fake surgery” at Shaanxi’s Ankang Xing’an Hospital has gone viral on Chinese social media.

One of the netizens to break the story on social media is the Weibo user @QinguanSihai (@秦观四海, 90,000+ followers), who posted about the incident on October 6.

According to the post, the incident occurred on October 4 when a young woman named Lu went online to seek medical attention because she was not feeling well. Since there was an available spot for a medical consultation at the private Ankang Xing’an Hospital, Lu went to see a doctor there.

While she was at the hospital in the city of Ankang, the woman allegedly was directly taken to the operating room and placed on the operating table after a short consultation; not for a medical examination, but for surgery.

The girl initially thought she was undergoing a routine medical check. As the surgery was already underway, the doctor stopped to let Lu sign some papers and then asked her if she could gather the money to pay for her medical procedure. When Lu protested and demanded to get off the surgery table, the doctor warned her that she was losing blood and that interrupting the procedure would be life-threatening.

Lying on the operating table, Lu called some of her friends to gather the money, all the while being pressured by the doctor that the money she had (1200 yuan/$185) was not enough to cover for the costs of surgery – which was still ongoing. The doctor allegedly even told Lu to get more money via the Alipay ‘Huabei’ loaning app.

Lu’s parents, who were contacted by concerned friends, soon showed up at the hospital as the doctor hastily ended the surgery. The parents, who were furious to discover their underage daughter had undergone a medical procedure without their consent, became even more upset when they later found out that Lu had undergone surgery to remove cervical polyps, while Lu’s medical reports showed that she actually had no cervical polyps at all. No reason could be found for their healthy daughter to have been operated on her cervix.

After Lu’s story went viral on social media, local authorities quickly started an investigation into the matter and soon confirmed that the story was real. An initial statement said that Angkang Xing’an Hospital is at fault for performing surgery on a minor without the consent of a guardian or parent. It was also recognized that the hospital has committed serious ethical violations. The hospital, located on 78 Bashan Middle Road (巴山中路), is now temporarily closed, and the doctor in question has since been fired.

Many Chinese netizens are angered about the incident, calling private hospitals such as Ankang Xing’an a “disgrace” to China’s healthcare industry.

This is by no means the first time that malpractices at Chinese local hospitals or clinics trigger online controversy. Various incidents that previously went viral show how some clinics put commercial interests above the health of their patients, and how some doctors think they can get away with abusing and scamming their patients.

In 2016, the death of the 21-year-old cancer patient Wei Zexi (魏则西) sparked online outrage. Wei Zexi, who shared his medical experiences on social media, spent 200,000 RMB to receive contested form of immunotherapy at the Beijing Armed Police Corps No. 2 Hospital (武警二院). The treatment, that was promoted on China’s leading search engine Baidu, was actually completely ineffective and the advertising for it was false.

By now, one hashtag relating to the Ankang incident has received over 270 million views on Weibo (#官方通报无病女生被推上手术台#), with other relating hashtags also circulating on social media (#家属回应无病女学生被迫手术#, #无病女学生被推上手术台涉事医院停业整顿#).

“This can’t be a real hospital, right?!” some worried netizens write, with others expressing the hopes that the medical institution will be severely punished for their wrongdoings.

By Manya Koetse

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©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 Health & Science

Viral Politics: Next-Stage Investigation Into Covid-19 Origins Discussed on Weibo

Many Weibo users agree with Chinese officials that the U.S. re-investigation of the Covid-19 origin is about “political manipulation” and “blame-shifting.”

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While President Biden ordered a closer review into the origins of the Covid-19 and more countries are calling for action on a next phase study, Chinese officials demand that the U.S. thoroughly investigates the source of the epidemic within America’s own borders and biological labs.

Fifteen months after the WHO declared the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak a global pandemic, the origin of the virus is still unclear. After the Wuhan field visit of the international WHO research team earlier in 2021, all hypotheses on the origin of the virus remain on the table.

As the efforts to get more people vaccinated continue and the outlook on containing Covid-19 are more positive, the question of where the virus that causes Covid-19 came from is attracting attention again. The issue of the ‘origin investigation problem’ (“溯源问题”) is also generating discussions on Chinese social media.

 

The U.S. Side: “Looking for a Definitive Conclusion”

 

On May 26, the White House released President Joe Biden’s statement calling for further investigation into the origins of Covid-19.

The statement says that there is still no definitive conclusion on the origins of the virus, with two scenarios being most likely: human contact with an infected animal or a laboratory accident. Biden writes that he has asked the Intelligence Community to “redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion,” asking for a follow-up within 90 days, with a special focus on China.

Speculation that the coronavirus may have emerged from a laboratory in Wuhan was first raised in early 2020, before being refuted and sidelined as a “conspiracy theory” by many scientists.

A statement in The Lancet published in February of 2020 condemned any rumors on the virus origins, claiming that scientific research “overwhelmingly” concludes that the new coronavirus originated in wildlife. The WHO research team investigating the origins of Covid-19 also called it “extremely unlikely” that the virus leaked from a lab in China.

The American Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was among those scientists who originally refuted the ‘lab leak’ theory. But in May of 2021, Fauci said he was “no longer convinced” that the Covid-19 pandemic originated naturally.

In American media, reports on the ‘lab leak theory’ have also seen shifting narratives, going from a ‘conspiracy theory’ to a seemingly credible one. Last month, a Wall Street Journal published an opinion article titled ‘The Science Suggests a Wuhan Lab Leak,’ which claims that the pathogen of the novel coronavirus has a genetic footprint that has never been observed in a natural coronavirus.

The Wall Street Journal also reported on a study by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, which concluded that the hypothesis of a virus leak from a Chinese lab in Wuhan is plausible and deserves further investigation. The report by Wall Street Journal included an alleged American State Department’s assertion that the U.S. government has reason to believe that several researchers inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick in autumn 2019, “with symptoms that were consistent with Covid-19 or a seasonal flu.”

 

The Chinese Side: “It’s All about Blame-Shifting”

 

Chinese officials have repeatedly denied a possible leak from a Chinese laboratory and have emphasized their cooperation with international efforts to find the origins of the pandemic.

On May 27 of this year, a day after Biden’s statement was released, Zhao Lijian (赵立坚), spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, responded to the reinvestigation of China regarding the origins of the novel coronavirus.

Zhao argued that the US is not actually interested in the scientific origin of the virus, but that its determination to reinvestigate China despite previous scientific conclusions is all about “political manipulation” and “blame-shifting.” He further said that the US – with over 33 million confirmed Covid-19 cases and 600,000 deaths from Covid-19 – should examine its own behavior, instead of “attempting to scapegoat China.”

Although China was the first country to report Covid-19 infections, the official stance has been that this does not necessarily mean that the new coronavirus “patient zero” was also in China.

Prior to the Wuhan lab leak theory, China had been questioning the US military base Fort Detrick in Fredrick, Maryland, about the leak of Covid-19 as an agent of biochemical warfare. In May of last year, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying asked for an international review of Fort Detrick and other bio-labs.

In light of recent developments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) also, again, suggested that the U.S. should invite an international team of scientists to conduct an independent investigation on Fort Detrick on its potential link to the origin of Covid-19.

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian during the press conference.

This stance was again reiterated by Zhao Lijian in a June 17 press conference, where the MFA spokesperson asked the U.S. to explain why, being the most medically country in the world, their COVID19 death toll was so high and why nobody would take responsibility for this and give more transparency on Fort Detrick.

On June 22, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs turned the tables on the U.S. and demanded a thorough investigation of (1) the source of the epidemic in the United States, a (2) thorough investigation of the why’s and who’s of the American inadequate response in fighting the epidemic, and then also (3) an investigation into the safety concerns at Fort Detrick other biological labs (#赵立坚请美国赶紧回答3个问题#).

 

Weibo Discussions and Hashtags

 

On Chinese social media, various discussions and hashtags have come up in response to the recent developments regarding the research into the COVID19 origins. Most commenters agree on one thing, namely that the next stage of Covid-19 origin investigations is seemingly more about politics than about the virus itself.

A hashtag titled “Biden Ordered US Intelligence to Investigate the Origins of Covid-19” (#拜登令美情报部门调查新冠病毒起源) appeared on the same day as the White House statement was released and immediately attracted over 35 million views. Another relating hashtag on Weibo is “U.S. Specialists Have Changed Their Tune Regarding COVID19 Origin” (#美国专家在新冠病毒的来源上改口了#).

On Weibo, the most common reaction to Biden’s investigation and American media coverage of the origins of the virus is one of suspicion towards their true intentions, ranging from intense emotions to sarcastic humor. Weibo users suggest that Biden’s call to action is a politically charged move to further blame China for the pandemic amidst growing China-US tensions. Most netizens commenting under this hashtag feel that the U.S. is deliberately hyping the issue to discredit China, turning the COVID19 origins issue into a geopolitical issue, rather than a scientific one.

One popular comment (@乐隐灯清) said: “If I say you have it, then you have it – [this is] the second season of ‘Laundry Detergent’!” This sarcastic comment refers to the famous UN meeting where US Secretary of State Colin Powell presented a vial containing white powder, supposedly proving that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling anthrax, in order to justify the US’s invasion of Iraq. Putin fired back by calling this vial of powder “laundry detergent.”

There are also web users who are concerned with the 90-day limit of Biden’s announced investigation, questioning whether such a relatively short time would be enough for a thorough and fair study. One user, whose profile image is the Chinese national flag, wrote: “90 days? If you investigated Fort Detrick starting in the morning, you would already have the conclusion before lunchtime!”

One user questioned the US President’s move to trace Covid-19’s origin in China instead of in his own country: “Are they giving 90 days to investigate the origin or 90 days to fabricate a rumor?”

Another hashtag is “Where did the new coronavirus originate?” (#新冠肺炎病毒起源于哪里#). On this hashtag page, most discussions revolve around the fact that COVID19 was already found in various countries outside of China during or just before the early days of the Wuhan outbreak. Various studies suggest that the coronavirus might have been circulating in the US and France a month before it was officially confirmed.

“The fact that Chinese scientists were the first to discover the genetic sequence of the new coronavirus does not mean that Wuhan is the source of Covid-19, and it certainly cannot be used as a pretext to conclude that the virus was made by Chinese scientists,” one Weibo blogger (@侠骨一点情) wrote.

There are those who believe it is probable that the virus did come from the U.S., saying that the American investigation into China is an issue of “zéi hǎn zhuō zéi” (贼喊捉贼), an idiom that literally means ‘a thief crying “Stop Thief!”,’ conveying the idea that it is easy for someone to accuse another in order to cover up one’s own misdeeds.

‘Investigate Thoroughly! Except Here’ (‘彻查!除了这儿’) by 半桶老阿汤 / Half Can of Old Soup

In response to the investigation, the computer graphics artist @半桶老阿汤 / ‘Half Can of Old Soup’ also released a cartoon, showing President Biden blocking the entrance to Fort Detrick, with a WHO research team standing in front of the entrance.

Many web users support the Chinese official reaction that it is time for America to investigate the epidemic within its own borders. “First, discrediting and framing China regarding the virus origin has become a ‘national policy’ of the U.S. government to get rid of their [own] predicaments,” Chinese economist Tao Yongyi (@陶永谊) wrote on Weibo: “Now, the best defense is a good offense.”

By Susanna Sun & Manya Koetse

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