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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.

Jessica Colwell

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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

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.

©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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    China Health & Science

    High Hopes, Sober Assessments: China’s COVID-19 Vaccines Discussed

    Already successful or still a long way to go? Mixed news reports and discussions on China’s COVID-19 vaccine program.

    Manya Koetse

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    There are strikingly different online discussions on China’s COVID-19 vaccine candidates. Some already think the vaccines are effective and about to be launched, while others are more apprehensive about the implementation of a successful program in the near future.

    It takes time and global collaboration for a massive vaccination program against COVID-19 to succeed, according to Chinese top scientist Zhong Nanshan (钟南山).

    On September 24th, the renowned pulmonologist stated that it will take up to two years to roll out a large-scale vaccine program.

    Zhong made his sobering statements during the 13th China Bioindustry Convention (第十三届中国生物产业大会) on Thursday, where he joined the Wuhan event via an online connection.

    These remarks, posted by a few media outlets on Weibo, are noteworthy in a social media context where China’s potential COVID-19 vaccines are presented as being in a highly advanced stage, leading to high hopes of a COVID-19 vaccine program launching in the very near future.

     

    Already Proven Successful?

     

    This week, various state media outlets, including CGTN, propagated the news that some Chinese vaccine candidates have already been proven to be effective during their clinical trials.

    The published news, issued on Wednesday, September 23rd, led to the viral hashtag “Chinese COVID-19 Vaccine Proven to Be Successful” (#中国新冠疫苗已被证明有效#), which attracted over 480 million clicks on Weibo.

    The hashtag was also used on Weibo in combination with a video showing renowned medical scientist Chen Wei (陈薇), visibly emotional, praising the efforts made in the development of a Chinese vaccine.

    For the CanSino company, Chen Wei led a joint team over the past months in developing and registering an experimental COVID-19 vaccine. It was the first vaccine candidate to be approved for clinical trials. In state media, Chen is now described as the “She-power behind China’s first COVID-19 vaccine.”

    CGTN

    “Seeing her cry makes me want to cry,” some commenters said: “Our country is fantastic.” “I am so proud of China,” a typical comment said.

    “I hope the people can get the vaccine as soon as possible,” some Weibo users said, with others also asking: “When can we get it?”

    Any news on China’s social media about Chinese vaccines proven to be successful at this stage lead back to one statement allegedly made by WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan during a World Health Organization media briefing on Monday, September 21st.

    An edited clip of Swaminathan’s statement was published by CGTN, but looking back in the actual media briefing, the Chief Scientist can be heard saying “if some of their candidates prove to be successful,” rather than saying they have already been proven effective (see twitter thread above for the videos).

    The quote by Swaminathan is as follows:

    We have been engaged in discussions with China for the last several months because, as you know, they also have a very active vaccine development program and several of the vaccine candidates are in advanced stages of clinical trials, so this is also of interest to us. We are following those very closely and we have had very constructive and open discussions with them and they have always been reiterating their commitment to global access if some of their candidates actually prove to be successful in the clinical trials that are going on.”

     

    Promising Results

     

    Despite the apparent confusion over Swaminathan’s remarks, there seems to be enough news on China’s ongoing vaccine research for people to be hopeful about the high-speed development of a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine.

    China currently is among the major players in the international race to produce a COVID-19 vaccine. The country has eleven different vaccines in clinical trials, four of them in Phase III, meaning the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness is being tested on large patient groups.

    Out of the four vaccines in this advanced stage, two belong to the state-owned pharmaceutical company Sinopharm (中国医药集团总公司), divided over the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products and the Beijing Institute of Biological Products.

    Another vaccine belongs to Chinese vaccine company CanSino (康希诺生物), and the other to the Beijing-based biopharmaceutical company Sinovac (北京科兴生物制品有限公司).

    News that an upcoming vaccine by China National Biotec Group (CNBG, subsidiary of the state-owned Sinopharm) would cost only 600 yuan ($88) for two doses, if given the green light, made its rounds on Weibo this week (#国内新冠疫苗两针600元#), many applauding the affordable price.

    More positive updates on the development of a Chinese novel coronavirus vaccine are flooding social media on a daily basis (#新冠疫苗工作进展#).

    On September 25, the chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention Zeng Guang (曾光) shared an update about the progress of the country’s vaccine work during a State Council Information Office conference. He stated that, although further research is still underway, China’s earliest vaccine subjects have maintained high levels of antibodies. The hashtag “Chinese Vaccines Possibly Provide Long-Term Protection” (#我国疫苗可能有比较长期的保护作用#) received over 160 million views on Weibo on Saturday.

     

    “Emergency Use”

     

    While research is still ongoing, tens of thousands of people in China have already been given vaccines as part of an “emergency use designation.”

    The CanSino vaccine candidate (Ad5-nCoV) was approved to be given to members of the military by late June , followed by the approval in July to give the vaccine to those facing high infection risks, such as medical industry workers and border inspectors.

    Two other vaccines by Sinovac (“CoronaVac”) and by Sinopharm were also given to thousands of people, including the employees of Sinovac and their families, after both being authorized for “emergency use” in late July.

    Zhou Song (周颂), secretary for the Commission for Discipline Inspection with China National Biotec Group (most widely used in the emergency scheme), was quoted by SCMP earlier this month, saying: “Hundreds of thousands have taken the shot and no one has shown any obvious adverse effects or got infected.”

    China’s National Health Commission official Zheng Zhongwei (郑忠伟) also stated at a news conference Friday that the vaccines used pose no risks: “Their safety can be ensured but their efficacy is yet to be determined.”

    One of the info sheets about the COVID-19 vaccine shared by People’s Daily on Weibo.

    According to Chinese state media outlet People’s Daily, common people could have access to COVID-19 vaccines as early as November or December of this year.

     

    Sobering Statements

     

    Amid all these positive news reports coming out in the Chinese media and being discussed on social media, the more sobering statements by Zhong Nanshan stand out.

    The 83-year-old epidemiologist reportedly does not expect a large-scale vaccine program to roll out until at least one or two years from now. Zhong also stated that the virus will continue to exist and spread this winter and in the spring of next year.

    Zhong Nanshan is a pulmonologist who played a key role during the SARS outbreak, gaining international recognition as the ‘SARS hero.’ In the fight against COVID-19, the respiratory expert was also involved in managing the crisis. He is often on point in assessing the situation at hand. In early March, Zhong said the COVID-19 pandemic would continue until well after June of this year.

    In August, Zhong was nominated the Medal of the Republic (共和国勋章) for his contributions, China’s highest order of honor.

    There are mixed responses to the various reports about China’s vaccine program on social media.

    When there is news about the vaccines potentially coming out very soon, there is praise but also worry – Weibo users express concern about vaccine safety. Various medical scandals have added to mistrust of vaccines in China. “I am concerned about the side effects,” one popular comment said, with others replying that they were also worried about the overall risks of the vaccine.

    News of a large-scale vaccine program potentially taking up to two years, however, is also met with criticism. “Do they want to lock up students for two years?!”, many people wrote, referring to the closed-off campus policies of Chinese universities. Some social media users seem confused: “First it’s three months, then six, now one year, maybe two?”

    But many people are also not too worried, praising China’s efforts in containing COVID-19 and working on a vaccine. “It’s the reliability that counts,” they say.

    The most recurring comments are those taking pride in what Chinese medical experts have accomplished thus far. “China has become a world leader when it comes to medical technology,” some state: “Trump can go to bed. China is the best!”

    Read more about the new coronavirus in China here.

    By Manya Koetse

    Original background of the featured image by Markus Winkler / @markuswinkler

    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.

    ©2020 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

    ‘Two Sessions’ Proposed Ban on Single Women Freezing Their Eggs

    Weibo talks egg freezing.

    Manya Koetse

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    on

    It was the number one trending topic of the day on Weibo earlier this week: the proposal to make it illegal for hospitals and clinics in China to provide the service of freezing eggs to unmarried women.

    Chinese physician Sun Wei (孙伟), National People’s Congress delegate, is the person to raise the issue of no longer allowing medical facilities in China to freeze eggs. She is the director of the Reproductive Medicine Unit at the No.2 Affiliated Hospital of Shandong University of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

    Sun Wei submitted the proposal during the Two Sessions (lianghui), China’s largest annual legislative meetings, in order to encourage Chinese citizens to “marry and reproduce at the appropriate age.” Sun also mentions potential health risks as a reason to ban egg freezing services.

    On Weibo, one news post reporting on the issue received nearly 835,000 likes. The hashtag “Proposal to Prohibit Single Women From Freezing Their Eggs” (#建议禁止单身女性冷冻卵子#) received over 710 million views.

    Sun Wei (image by Vista看天下).

    The proposal goes against the proposition of a National Committee member during the lianghui, that of Peng Jing (彭静), that supports single women’s rights in freezing their eggs.

    It also comes after the 31-year-old Teresa Xu (Xu Zaozao) filed a lawsuit against a Beijing medical facility in December of 2019 for refusing her the treatment of freezing her eggs, arguing it was effectively discriminating against single women. In doing so, Xu challenged China’s regulations on human assisted reproduction, which bar single women from getting the procedure.

    Artificial insemination itself is not illegal in China when it is done by a married couple; it is only against the law when done by those who are not lawfully married.

    It is not the first time the discussion on egg freezing erupts on Chinese social media. In 2015, Chinese actress and director Xu Jinglei (徐静蕾) stated in an interview that she had nine eggs frozen in the United States at the age of 39, calling them her “back-up plan.”

    Xu’s statement made artificial insemination an issue of public interest, especially because unmarried women in China cannot carry out this procedure.

    Although single women in China technically could have their eggs frozen – if they have the financial capacity to do so – they would not be able to have them inseminated unless they provide three certificates: their identification card, their marriage certificate, and their ‘zhunshengzheng‘ (准生证 ) – the ‘Permission to give Birth’, which would not be issued without the marriage certificate. In short: single women would not be able to have a baby through artificial insemination, because they would not be able to get the required legal papers to go through with the procedure.

    At the time of the 2015 discussion, the famous Chinese blogger and writer Han Han (韩寒) shared his thoughts on the issue: “Why can’t women decide for themselves whether or not they want to have children? And what if an unmarried woman does get pregnant, and they don’t get a ‘Permission to give Birth’? Then the child cannot even get a residence registration.”

    “Why should having a baby be bound together with marriage? Even I, a simple straight guy, cannot see the logic in this,” Han Han wrote.

    In the discussions that are going around Chinese social media this week, there are many netizens that take a similar stance as Han Han did, arguing that single women should have the right to freeze their eggs, and wondering why they would not be allowed to do so in the first place.

    Various Weibo commenters write that individuals should have the right to make their own decisions about whether or not they would like to have children. One Weibo thread where people are asked about their opinion on the matter, the majority of the 16,000+ responses say they support single women being able to freeze their eggs.

    “[I] support [it], [I] support [it], [I] support [it], [I] support [it], [I] support [it]…” – this Weibo user clearly thinks single women should be able to decide for themselves whether or not they would like to freeze their eggs.

    However, there are also some web users opposing this idea, arguing that it is “not morally right” and does not provide a “normal family environment” to children.

    Whether Sun Wei’s proposal will lead to actual changes in the law is yet to be seen, although it would virtually not alter the current situation regarding egg freezing in China. It already is virtually impossible for unmarried women to freeze their eggs as a “back up plan” and it would just make the impossible even more impossible.

    By Manya Koetse
    With contributions from Jialing Xie

    Featured image Photo by 东旭王

    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.

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

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