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Pregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace: Three Major Problems Faced by Chinese Female Workers

Weibo discussions about a woman from Wuhan who was fired after sharing news of her pregnancy for “inability” to do her job.

Zilan Qian

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Workplace pregnancy and maternity discrimination is a deep-rooted problem that has recently triggered online discussions in China, where netizens highlight common ways in which companies still try to avoid dealing with pregnant workers.

The official Weibo account of Legal Daily (法治日报), a Chinese state-owned newspaper, recently launched a social media hashtag about employers not being allowed to terminate female employees because they are pregnant (#不得因怀孕辞退女职工#).

Legal Daily reported that a female employee in Wuhan was fired from her job due to her pregnancy earlier this year (#武汉一女子怀孕后遭公司辞退#). After returning to work after the Spring Festival break, the woman informed the company about her pregnancy. In early February, the company asked her to accept a demotion and salary reduction, which she declined. Later that month, she received a termination letter from the company, stating that the employee was being terminated due to her “inability to do her job.”

A screenshot of a video posted on Weibo reporting the news about the female Wuhan employee terminated from her job because of her pregnancy. In the video, the woman disagreed with the company’s statement that she could not perform her duties.

Legal Daily‘s Weibo account cited Article 5 of the “Special Provisions on Labor Protection for Female Employees,” which prohibits employers from reducing the wages of female employees or terminating their employment contract due to them being pregnant, giving birth, or breastfeeding. It also stipulates a basic maternity leave of 98 days.

The female employee in question is currently suing the company for terminating her job. While this case may have a positive outcome, the issue of workplace discrimination against female employees due to pregnancy is more complicated than it appears, regardless of the Chinese laws designed to protect female workers.

Despite legal prohibitions against pregnancy discrimination in employment, some employers still circumvent the rules in various ways and in doing so, continue to engage in discrimination against female workers. This topic has recently also generated discussions on Chinese social media about the problems women face in the workplace.

 
Problem #1: Companies Not Hiring Female Workers At All
 

“It [the law] is not very useful,” one Weibo user wrote under the related hashtag: “Companies do not usually fire female workers who are pregnant. They will solve the problem from the beginning by not hiring female workers at all.”

Some smaller private companies do not want to take the risk of dealing with potentially prolonged maternity leave and pregnant workers that they cannot fire nor reduce their wages.

They also fear that workers who are pregnant or are taking care of young children will have reduced energy and might face challenges in the workplace. To avoid the presumed risk that comes with hiring a female worker, Weibo commenters discuss how many companies would “rather hire men directly” to evade the issue of dealing with pregnant workers altogether.

Weibo users commenting that small companies would rather hire men than afford the potential cost of female workers’ maternity leave.

Some voices note how female job-seekers are facing gender discrimination in hiring, regardless of their marital status or the number of children they have.

Another post under the same hashtag (#不得因怀孕辞退女职工#) mentioned:

It is so hard for females to find jobs. [From the company’s perspective:] 1. Unmarried female: they’re here for the marriage leave; 2. Married but no children yet: they’re here for the pregnancy leave; 3. Married and have one child: here to have their second child (and the maternity leave); 4. Married and have two children: here to have their third child (and the maternity leave); 5. Married and have three children: they have no time for work because need to take care of the family; 6. Do not want to marry: they are having problematic thoughts [思想有问题].”

 
Problem #2: Going to Extremes to Avoid Paying for Maternity Leave
 

Despite Chinse labor law prohibiting companies from reducing wages or terminating the contracts of pregnant employees, some companies still attempt to circumvent paying for maternity leave through various means, as was the case with the Wuhan company.

One extreme way to avoid dealing with maternity leave pay is to cancel the company’s registration altogether, which is also called “dying together” (“同归于尽”, also: “to perish together with one’s foe”).

A recent news story about a boss who canceled his company’s registration overnight due to a female employee’s pregnancy received widespread attention on the internet.

According to a March 5 report by Netease (网易), the woman informed her boss that she was three months pregnant right after signing her work contract. The boss was so afraid of the potential costs for maternity leave pay and other benefits that he decided to immediately cancel the company’s registration.

While the boss claimed that the cancellation was due to the fact that the company was operating at a loss for the past two years, he reportedly spoke with each employee and compensated them accordingly. However, the pregnant female employee in question refused to leave. After the cancellation, the boss formed a new company including all the former employees – except for the pregnant one.

While some netizens expressed concerns over the extreme actions of the company, others also blamed the woman for “blackmailing” the company into supporting her pregnancy and childbirth. Additionally, many netizens argued that the woman’s actions also make it more difficult for other job-seeking females to find employment, especially with small companies that may become more cautious about hiring female workers.

 
Problem #3: Maternity Harassment on the Workfloor
 

“Dying together” is not the only way for companies to get rid of “troublesome” pregnant workers. There are many other low-cost ways to avoid dealing with pregnant employees and working mothers, such as making life in the workplace so difficult for them that they will voluntarily resign.

In Chinese, this kind of ‘maternity harassment’ is also called “chuān xiǎo xié” (穿小鞋), which literally means giving someone tight shoes to wear and making them uncomfortable. The phenomenon is also widespread in Japan, where the word ‘matahara‘ was coined as an abbreviated form of the words ‘maternity’ and ‘harassment’ to describe the unfair treatment of pregnant women and young mothers in the workforce.

Image showing Chinese comedian Papi Jiang talking about women in the workplace being afraid to get pregnant as it might cost them their career.

By pushing employees to resign voluntarily, the company not only saves on the costs of female workers’ maternity leave pay but also avoids paying for a severance package.

Under the report by Jingshi Live-Streaming (经视直播) about the woman in Wuhan who was fired from her job due to her pregnancy, one Weibo user commented that many companies fire female workers who are pregnant, but they usually do not state it upfront and instead secretly force them to leave.

This comment received over 1500 likes, with many sharing their own similar experiences. One person wrote: “I was in that situation. The company explicitly persuaded me to resign and covertly marginalized me.”

Weibo users sharing their experiences of being forced to “voluntarily resign.”

Another person shared: “After I announced my pregnancy, my year-end bonus was reduced by more than half, and my colleagues immediately treated me with coldness.” One woman mentioned that “companies overtly use polite language while covertly giving the lowest performance evaluation to force employees to resign.”

One Weibo user complained about how female workers first face nagging questions about their future plans to have children, then face criticism from employees and colleagues after announcing their pregnancy and then have to worry about getting fired or seeing their salary reduced after giving birth.

 
No Way Out?
 

Despite laws and regulations requiring companies to provide maternity leave for female employees, there are still loopholes that are used by businesses to avoid responsibility. This leaves women in a vulnerable position in the workplace and limits economic opportunities. Weibo users come up with several suggestions in recent online discussions on how to solve the problems female workers face.

Some suggest that women should “just be realistic” and settle for a second-best option (“退而求其次”). One Weibo post argued that since it is difficult for women to secure permanent positions in both government institutions and big private companies, they should consider becoming temporary workers in government departments as a secondary option.

Others disagreed with this hot take, stating that the average wages and benefits for temporary workers in government departments are not enough to make a living.

Another suggestion raised to combat pregnancy discrimination is to offer equal parental leave to both men and women. However, this proposal was also met with resistance from some who argued that it does not solve anything since fathers have the option to forgo paternity leave, but women do not have that choice. They also cited examples of male colleagues who voluntarily waived their 15-day paternity leave.

Some are skeptical about finding a solution to the problem of women facing pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, and also raise the issue of this problem decreasing women’s willingness to have babies at all. Some netizens jokingly comment: “Do women need to provide their certificate of sterilization from the hospitals?” or “I suggest females just remove the uterus [as a solution].”

Facing low fertility rates and a large aging population, boosting birthrates is a priority for Chinese authorities. While Chinese experts look for ways to motivate couples to have (more) children at an earlier age, combating pregnancy discrimination in the workplace is also more important than ever.

One Weibo user bitterly joked about the apparent contradiction of boosting national birth rates while also promoting equal positions in the workplace:

Women say: “If I get pregnant, I will face workplace discrimination.”
The government says: “How dare companies discriminate against women? I will fine them.”
Companies say: “You’re good at playing tricks. I won’t hire women anymore.”
Women say: “If I have a child, I can’t even find a job. I won’t have children in the future.”
Society says: “China is getting old before it gets rich. What should we do?”
The media says: “There is news every day. It’s great!

By Zilan Qian

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get access to our latest articles. Follow us on Twitter here.

 

Relevant Vocabulary

◼︎ 同归于尽 Tóng guī yú jìn
Dying together; suffering a downfall together; perishing together with one’s foe

◼︎ 穿小鞋 Chuān xiǎo xié
Giving someone tight shoes to wear; making things hard for someone by abusing one’s power

◼︎ 退而求其次 Tuì ér qíu qí cì
To settle for the second best thing

 

Images in featured image:

http://www.xinqtech.com/startup/201806/291055.html
https://www.maxlaw.cn/n/20220316/10379852097730.shtml
https://www.maxlaw.cn/n/20180823/923419931554.shtml
https://www.sohu.com/a/325722786_120156585
http://k.sina.com.cn/article_2090512390_7c9ab00602000n007.html

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China Insight

A Snowball Effect: How Cold Harbin Became the Hottest Place in China

Part of Harbin’s enormous success can be attributed to a snowball effect, but the hype is also the result of a well-coordinated campaign.

Manya Koetse

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There is one topic that has been dominating Chinese social media recently: Harbin and its remarkable influx of tourists. How can the buzz surrounding this frosty city be explained?

The new year has just started and Harbin already seems to be the hit of 2024. The capital of China’s Heilongjiang Province, which is famous for its Ice and Snow Festival and Russian heritage, has been dominating trending topics on Chinese social media from late December well into this second week of January.

Every day recently, there’s another hashtag about Harbin that is hitting the hot charts on Chinese social media platforms Weibo, Douyin, and Xiaohongshu. Whether it is about Harbin travel, food, or funny memes, there seems to be an endless stream of stories and topics coming from the city in China’s northeast.

The sudden hype surrounding Harbin is similar to that of Zibo in 2023. The Shandong city, known for its local BBQ culture, became all the rage in spring of last year for its joyful atmosphere and post-pandemic celebratory mood.

Is Harbin the ‘Zibo’ of this 2023-2024 winter season? How come the historical city became such a social media phenomenon?

 
Harbin’s Hottest Festival
 

This year marks the 40th edition of the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival (哈尔滨国际冰雪节), which is the largest ice and snow festival in the world. The official opening ceremony on January 5th not only celebrated the milestone of the 40th edition but also highlighted Harbin’s role as the host city for the 2025 Asian Winter Games. This will also be the first festival after the end of China’s ‘Zero Covid’ policy (the event was previously still held but kept much smaller).

Harbin winters are tough, with temperatures plummeting to as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit) or even colder. The idea for a Harbin ice festival first emerged in the late 1950s, when local officials wanted to cheer up the city and its residents in the dark and gloomy winter days.

They therefore introduced a winter festival centered around the idea of ice lanterns, of which the history goes back to the fisherman on the Songhua River using candles inside frozen blocks to give light on long winter nights. The festival was successful from the start; nearly 250,000 people participated in the 1963 edition (Dewar et al 2001, 524).

First edition of the Snow and Ice Festival in 1963.

After the Cultural Revolution put a halt to the festivities in 1966, local authorities reviewed the festival again in 1984, and revived it as an event to boost the local economy. About a decade later, it had already become one of the biggest of its kind globally, with its ice sculpting competitions and snow sculpture parks, including thousands of ice structures and spectacular lantern venues.

This 2023-2024 season turns out to be another important moment for Harbin and its ice festival. In November of 2023, the city launched a press conference in which they stressed the importance of strengthening the city’s position as an (international) leader in the field of ice and snow tourism in this post-pandemic era and fully focus on turning the season into a “people’s festival” and a “people’s event” (“使冰雪季和冰雪节真正成为人民的节日、百姓的盛会”).

From string quartets to hot air balloons, Harbin is going all out to entertain and impress visitors this year, and all the efforts are paying off.

More than two million people are expected to visit Harbin for this year’s festival, including its ‘Ice and Snow World’ (哈尔滨冰雪大世界) which opened on 18 December and will run until late February. This amusement park is a major attraction within the larger festival, and this 25th edition, with its 810,000-square-meter, is the largest-ever held.

In a time when Chinese domestic travelers are exploring their own country in new ways, from Special Force travel style to show-inspired journeys, the latest buzz surrounding Harbin is something that many simply do not want to miss out on, causing the coldest city to become one of the hottest destinations of the moment.

 
Turning Bad Publicity into Something Positive
 

On December 18, Harbin officially opened its Ice and Snow World to the public, welcoming thousands of visitors. This is also when the city and its festival first started trending on social media, but not necessarily in a good way.

Visitors initially complained that despite making reservations, they had to wait in lines at the entrance for hours, and that the time slot reservation system (分时预约) – introduced in Covid days – actually made things more difficult rather than facilitating a smoother crowd management process.

People also complained when Ice and Snow World issued a notice that they couldn’t accommodate more than 40,000 people and had already reached their limit during the early afternoon, therefore halting further ticket sales on the 18th. The 40,000 people limit seemed strange to many, who commented that other events and venues across China, such as Shanghai Disneyland, could welcome much more visitors.

People who had been waiting in line for hours starting shouting that they wanted their money back, and that incident went viral online as the “ticket refund incident” (#哈尔滨退票事件#, 170 million views on Weibo).

Not only did these incidents generate more public attention for the events taking place in Harbin, Snow World’s response also became a hot topic as they soon issued an apology, swiftly canceled the time slot reservation system, gave ticket refunds, and introduced a ‘first come first served’ system (#冰雪大世界取消预约制#, #哈尔滨冰雪大世界致歉#, 370 million views).

A side effect of this incident and how it was handled was that a so-called “underdog effect” became visible on social media, where many people started defending Harbin and Snow World. Supporters questioned whether visitors would similarly express frustration while waiting in lines at Disneyland or Universal Studios.

One Weibo blogger (@刘成春) wrote: “Please do not dismiss Harbin’s Ice and Snow World just because of some minor shortcomings. A group of simple, honest, hardworking people have spent days on end creating these sculptures with ice taken from the Songhua River at temperatures below minus 20. They’ve been making so much efforts, and Harbin just wants to present these works as gifts and the city’s signature to the people (..) Please don’t discredit the only snow and ice landmark of Northeast China.”

After the incident, this sentiment echoed widely on Chinese social media, where many believed in Harbin’s genuine efforts to make its snow and ice season a success, recognizing the sincerity and goodwill of those involved. The idea that Harbin really deserves to shine this season was further strengthened because of videos emerging on social media of previous Covid years, when the smaller festival looked empty and staff still worked hard to try and entertain the few visitors that were there.

 
Southern Little Potato Hype
 

On New Year’s Eve, videos showing celebrations in Harbin rapidly gained traction online, showing that Harbin was doing everything it could to entertain and create a welcoming atmosphere for its visitors.

These visitors have also become part of the buzz surrounding Harbin this season, mainly the emergence of the so-called “Southern Little Potatoes” (南方小土豆 nánfāng xiǎo tǔdòu). This term refers to the increasing influx of tourists from China’s warmer southern regions who are making their way to the snow-blanketed north.

The term “Southern Little Potatoes” humorously describes these southern tourists, especially women, who are frequently spotted sporting light-colored down jackets and hats. Their short height, distinct travel attire makes them stand out among the typically taller and darker-dressed locals in northeastern cities, leading to the playful potato comparison by northerners.

One of the ‘Southern Little Potatoes’ memes (via 21jingji.com).

As “Southern Little Potatoes” became a trending term online, southern tourists also started using it to make fun of themselves and it came to be used to highlight the warm and sometimes funny exchanges between the north and south.

The “Southern Little Potatoes,” who are not used to not used to ice, snow, and extremely cold weather, are also known to get into tricky situations, needing locals to help them out. On January 9, one tourist from the south went viral for stepping out of the train as he quickly wanted to experience licking a metal pole in freezing temperatures. The moment his tongue got stuck, the train staff kindly helped him get unstuck.

For locals, these silly southern tourists are a great business opportunity. One street seller started offering a supervised metal pole licking experience: you can lick a small metal pole for 5 yuan ($0.70), a bigger one for 10 ($1.40), and the tallest one for 15 ($2) (photo below).

Metal pole licking experience.

The Southern Little Potato trend has set off the online meme machine, as well as sparked a small local economy. Some Harbin taxi drivers, for example, promote themselves as being designated “little potato drivers” to serve their ‘friends from the south.’ Street sellers selling ‘little potato’ plush toy keychains for 15 yuan became all the hype.

Little Potato merchandise sold in the streets of Harbin (via 21jingji.com).

You could say that this general trend has also strengthened ties between the north and south. In Chinese, Harbin (Hā’ěrbīn 哈尔滨) is now affectionately shortened to ‘Ěrbīn‘ by visitors and netizens, with the dropping of the ‘Ha’ reflecting a more casual, friendly familiarity with the city.

 
A Snowball Effect
 

Although part of Harbin’s enormous (online) success can be attributed to a snowball effect that began after December 19/20, with people showing their appreciation for the city and joining the hype, the attention on social media was also a result of a well-coordinated campaign.

As described by Chinese media outlet The Paper (澎湃新闻), Heilongjiang Province’s Cultural and Tourism Department Party Secretary and Director He Jing (何晶) recently stated in an interview: “This year’s popularity [of Harbin] isn’t accidental; we’ve been preparing for a year.” He explained how, since early 2023, they started focusing on new media and social media strategies to promote Heilongjiang and Harbin in multiple ways.

For this season, Harbin Snow World made sure there were several online influencers and celebrities promoting the festivities, such as Chinese influencers Kiki (陈洁Kiki) and Barbin (Barbin.ili芭比) or Olympic champion speed skaters Fan Kexin (范可新), Zhang Hong (张虹), and Zhang Yuting (张雨婷). There are also various brand collaborations, such as with Tencent and its Game for Peace (和平精英). Local official media channels and big state media accounts also collaborate with Harbin in posting a lot of promotional videos related to festivities.

This year, Harbin also introduced all kinds of activities and venues to increase their appeal. The ice-made terracotta warriors, for example, or the hot pot restaurant housed within an ice structure, where even the tables are sculpted from ice. These are just some of the many ‘must-experience’ attractions in Harbin that have garnered attention on Chinese social media (#哈尔滨把火锅玩出了本地特色#).

There is also a 20-meter high snowman wearing a red hat, that has come to serve as a must-go photo opportunity for visitors. The local tourism ambassador, the Exploring Pinguin (淘学企鹅), with its cute appearance and orange backpack, is also one of those things that further adds to the appeal of Harbin and its Snow World.

Local authorities, including the tourism department, also pulled out all the stops to ensure visitors felt welcome and accommodated. They made sure local hotels and other business maintained fair prices despite the surge in tourists and to increase the focus on customer service.

They also made sure to listen to (online) feedback and quickly act on complaints. For example, after so many tourists from the south arrived at Harbin Airport and had to change into warmer clothing in the chilly central hall, they increased the number of airport dressing rooms, equipped with seats, mirrors, and carpets. This kind of attention to detail and drive to serve visitors is a strategy that has greatly contributed to Harbin’s current success.

You now see that the combined efforts of local authorities and businesses in Harbin, both online and offline, have cultivated a unique festive atmosphere. This atmosphere is contagious; it motivates locals to actively contribute to maintain the standards while also encouraging visitors to actively promote the city. This leads to new groups of visitors getting enthusiastic to travel to Harbin.

While this success is partly orchestrated, with authorities and state media being key players, there is also that ‘special something’ — a kind of genuine charm, sincerity, relatability, and likability — which is much harder to schedule through strategies. It’s an organic ingredient that is a major part of the buzz. In this way, Zibo and Harbin are very much alike.

Despite some criticisms about prioritizing short-term fame and social media hype for Chinese tourist destinations, it seems that Harbin’s success will be long lasting. As some social media users say: “I can’t make it this year, but I definitely will go to Harbin for the next season. I’ve never even seen snow in my life.”

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Ruixin Zhang and Miranda Barnes

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References

Dewar, Keith, Denny Meyer, and Wen Mei Li. 2001. “Harbin, Lanterns of Ice, Sculptures of Snow.” Tourism Management 22 (5): 523-532.

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China Insight

Red Cross Society of China in Bad Light Due to Online Rumors after Gansu Earthquake

Even though the rumors surrounding the Red Cross might be false, the public concerns surrounding charity efforts are real.

Manya Koetse

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A handwarmer for 500 yuan ($70), a tent for 2200 yuan ($308), a blanket for 100 yuan ($14)? An online list detailing items supposedly procured by the Gansu Red Cross for earthquake relief efforts has ignited controversy on Chinese social media in recent days. Although the Red Cross has denied all rumors, the incident underscores public skepticism towards the organization.

After the devastating 6.2-magnitude earthquake struck Jishishan (积石山), a county in China’s Gansu Province’s Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture, on December 18, Chinese social media platforms were flooded with news related to the disaster. The overnight earthquake killed at least 148 people and left hundreds injured.

News of the earthquake resonated deeply throughout the country, and the ongoing search and rescue operations and relief efforts, hindered by landslides, ruined infrastructure, and freezing temperatures, have attracted major attention online.

While much of the discourse revolves around the goodness of the people contributing to charities and doing all they can to help victims in the affected areas, there is also public distrust surrounding the motives of some charities or helping organizations that might use the disaster as an opportunity to make a profit.

One hotly debated topic revolves around the Red Cross Society of China, after a list surfaced online of items allegedly purchased by the Gansu Red Cross for relief efforts in the aftermath of the Gansu Earthquake.

Image published on Weibo via Red Cross Society of China (@中国红十字会总会).

The procurement list raised controversy due to the high prices of the common items listed, and because of a supposed “management fee” (管理费) of 1.6 million yuan ($224k).

In response, the Red Cross refuted these claims, asserting that they had not issued any such list (#甘肃红十字称没发布任何物资清单#). On December 24, the Gansu Red Cross took to Weibo (@甘肃省红十字会) to clarify that the circulating information was “grossly inaccurate.” They assured the public that all donations would directly aid earthquake relief efforts, without incurring management fees.

The Red Cross statement on Weibo.

Even though the procurement list might be false, the public concerns surrounding charity efforts are real.

“Why does the Red Cross end up in the top trending lists every time?” one commenter wondered: “Their information should be more transparent and timely.”

Others also suggested that merely denying the rumors was not enough, and that they hoped that the Red Cross would provide more details and information to show netizens, of whom many donated money, how their charity money is being spent to help relief efforts in the affected areas in Gansu and Qinghai.

The fact that the Red Cross Weibo post did not allow any commenting did not help: “Why are you afraid to let us openly discuss this?”

 
Red Cross Society of China: Tainted by Suspicion
 

The Red Cross of China, the nation’s largest charitable organization, continues to grapple with a tarnished reputation that partly stems from the 2011 “Guo Meimei Incident.”

Guo Meimei (郭美美), whose real name is Guo Meiling, became an infamous internet celebrity in the summer of 2011 after flaunting her excessive wealth online whilst claiming to work as a “commercial general manager” for the Red Cross Society of China.

The issue severely eroded the society’s credibility, which has been designated by the government as the central public donation organization during times of disasters (Cheng 2016). From luxury handbags to sports cars, the 19-year-old Guo showed off her money on Weibo, and quickly went viral on various message boards as people were angered over corruption and potential misuse of charity money.

Guo Meimei

Despite efforts by the Red Cross Society to debunk these rumors and distance itself from Guo, speculations persisted. Many speculated about Guo’s potential ties to the organization, even if she did not officially work there. As highlighted by Cheng (2016), the public’s negative sentiment toward the Red Cross triggered “a chain of credibility crises” and even spread to other charitable groups in China.

During the 2020 Wuhan Covid outbreak, the Red Cross faced scrutiny for allegedly stockpiling public donations of medical supplies in warehouses rather than promptly distributing them to frontline medical personnel facing shortages.

The current allegations against the Red Cross of China in the aftermath of the Gansu Earthquake also echo other past controversies, such as the one they dealt with after the 2008 Sichuan quake. Red Cross officials were then also accused of misusing donations by purchasing needlessly expensive tents and vehicles.

 
Donations for the ‘Underdog’: The Han Hong Foundation
 

The growing public distrust towards the Red Cross has arguably paved the way for other Chinese charities to gain prominence. A prime example is the Han Hong Love Charity Foundation (韩红爱心慈善基金会), established in 2012 by renowned Chinese folk singer Han Hong (韩红, 1971).

Although Han Hong has been engaged in charity for many years, during which she invested a lot of her own money, the charity she established became more known after the Han Hong Love Charity Foundation was committed to aid efforts during the Wuhan Covid outbreak in 2020 and the Henan floods in 2021.

Han Hong (center), picture via Xiaohongshu fan of Han Hong.

After the earthquake in Gansu on December 18th, Han Hong’s organization immediately organized rescue teams and provided people in the affected areas with clothes and (medical) supplies. Hang Hong was able to rake in millions thanks to her reputation of being compassionate and altruistic, as well as through her strong network in China’s entertainment industry, leading numerous Chinese celebrities to support her relief efforts.

But Han Hong’s organization is also affected by the public distrust surrounding charity in China. On December 23, it was rumored that her Charity Foundation was officially asked to leave the disaster area as well as to hand over a portion of their donations.

The foundation refuted these claims by issuing a statement on December 25 (#韩红基金会辟谣#).

Statement by Han Hong Love Charity Foundation refuting rumors that their charity work was hindered by officials.

In the public view, there seems to be a big difference between perceptions of large entities like the Red Cross and other ‘official’ charitable organizations versus smaller, more independent initiatives like the Han Hong foundation, which operates as a private charitable entity.

Reflecting on the rumors surrounding both the Red Cross and Han Hong’s foundation, one Weibo commenter noted: “These rumors come into existence because so many of these so-called charitable foundations actually treat charity as their business. And so, they become ‘competitors.’”

Meanwhile, Han Hong’s organization stresses that it operates under the guidance and oversight of the party and government, and only provide emergency support through their support.

In online discussions on the power of the Red Cross versus Han Hong’s organization, some commenters suggest that it is time for the government and authorities to reflect on why a private organization would be more trusted than the Red Cross, a government organized NGO.

One Weibo commenter wrote: “What Han Hong does is true charity instead of business.” Another person replied: “The biggest disaster here is actually the erosion of public trust.”

By Manya Koetse

References

Cheng, Yang. 2016. “Social Media Keep Buzzing! A Test of Contingency Theory in China’s Red Cross Credibility Crisis.” International Journal of Communication, June 2016: pp. 3241+.

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