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China and Covid19

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

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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. Avatar

    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 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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