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China Health & Science

Proposal to Teach ‘Death Education’ in Chinese Schools Goes Trending on Weibo

Many Chinese families refuse end-of-life care for elderly patients for fear of appearing “unfilial.”

Brydon Brancart

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A proposal from Peking University Cancer Hospital’s chief physician and National People’s Congress member Dr. Gu Jin has become a top trending topic on Weibo this week.

The hashtags “Proposal to Launch Nationwide Death Education” (#建议全民开展死亡教育#) and “Proposal to Launch Death Education” (#建议开展死亡教育#) were already viewed over 340 million times on Thursday, just 24 hours after it came out.

In a video produced by Beijing News from this year’s annual ‘Two Sessions’ meeting, Dr. Gu Jin proposed that China should start “educating the nation on the topic of death.” Dr. Gu’s comments underline growing concerns over China’s death taboo.

As a cancer surgeon, Dr. Gu explained that he often encountered late-stage cancer patients. Although for these patients, even “extreme treatments” would no longer help, he discovered that families usually refuse to accept palliative care. By focusing on end-of-life care, providing relief and comfort, rather than medical cures, many family members worry that they might appear “unfilial,” Gu explains.

Concerned with being good family members, many Chinese do not want to expose their parents and grandparents to death. This aversion to death has deep historical roots.

According to Cheris Shun-Ching Chang, professor of sociology at Hong Kong University, Confucian silence on questions of death and folk Buddhist references to “a dark world (yinjian) and a cruel hell (diyue) historically account for the topic’s avoidance. She also points to commonplace fears that a premature death could mark the end of one’s lineage (Chan 2012,37). Although religious belief waned over the 20th century, Chan argues the taboo alone still has an “independent power in shaping human action.”

The damage caused by China’s taboo against discussions of death is not limited to a patient’s pain. Aversion to considering one’s demise keeps many from writing wills or registering as organ donors. What’s more, doctors give diagnoses to family members, not the patients themselves, leaving the patient completely in the dark, and the family with the difficult choice of how to proceed.

Dr. Gu believes that China’s conception of death is harmful to the country’s youth as well: “[Teen suicide] causes us great sorrow. It makes us feel that, when it comes to our conception of life, or respect for life, there is something lacking in our education.” He then proposed that educating students on the topic of life and death ought to begin in primary or middle school. “This will [teach] people to respect life and death.“

Many netizens expressed their support for changing Chinese cultural attitudes to death. “This is really of the utmost importance,” commented one netizen: “we mustn’t merely fear death, but ought to respect it.” Another person wondered whether death education ought to start in kindergarten.

Dr. Gu is not alone in the hopes of changing China’s conception of death. “The Dead,” a Weibo account with over half a million followers, provides netizens with a place to eulogize their lost loved ones and support those who have lost others. In an interview with What’s on Weibo, the team expressed a perspective in line with Dr. Gu, stating, “Working hard to live with an understanding of death is a lesson every Chinese person must learn.”

Some netizens argue that death is not the only subject insufficiently covered by China’s curriculum.  “[A lack of understanding about] death is not the only problem, [not] understanding love and sex has caused many problems [too],” wrote one netizen. “Love, sex, and death education ought to be simultaneously provided,” agreed another.

Dr. Gu’s proposal might lead to more discussions on ‘death education’ in Chinese schools in the time to come. As for love and sex education, that’s perhaps a topic for the next Two Sessions.

Also read: Weibo’s Digital Graveyard: Remembering the Dead on Chinese Social Media

By Brydon Brancart

References (other sources in-text through hyperlinks)

Chan, Cheris Shun-Ching. 2012. Marketing Death: Culture and the Making of a Life Insurance Market in China. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Featured Image by Photo by Josh Appel @joshappel

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Brydon Brancart is a writer and Chinese translator. Originally from California, he has lived in both Beijing and Shanghai. He is interested in understanding the role modern media trends play in shaping worldviews, personal identity, and social behavior.

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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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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

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©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

Schools in China Are Reopening, But Will Lunch Breaks Ever Be the Same Again?

Chinese students are back to school, but school life is not back to normal.

Manya Koetse

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As most schools across China are opening their doors again, social media users are sharing photos of what school life looks like in the post-COVID-19 outbreak era this week.

Some videos and images that are circulating on Weibo and Wechat show somewhat dystopian images of the post-COVID-19 school life at primary and (senior) high schools – students eating while standing outside in straight lines, or pupils wearing face masks taking turns to eat their lunch (supposedly to reduce the chances of contagion via respiratory droplets, see tweeted video below).

Most schools in China have already started or will open later this month. Only Hubei province and Beijing have not yet announced school reopening plans, Caixin reports.

But although China is gradually back to business after its weeks-long coronavirus lockdown, daily life is far from normal as the country remains on high alert for a possible second wave of COVID-19 infections.

Schools are therefore also taking strict precautions to reduce infection risks both in and outside of the classroom.

Lunch break policy and procedures are just one of the many things that have changed at Chinese schools now.

On Weibo, ‘Henan Education’ is one of many accounts posting about the dramatically different way of eating at China’s school canteens in these post-COVID-19-outbreak times.

In Xingyang city, for example, special supervisors have been allocated to high schools to maintain the order and reduce the number of students gathering at the school entrances and assist students with lunch break seatings at the canteen.

Canteen at Xingyang’s Second Senior High School

At a senior high school in Kaifeng, all students have their lunch breaks in the canteen at one side of the table only, leaving enough space in between the other students.

Other schools have set up their canteens like examination rooms, only allowing one student per table, only facing one direction.

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One Weibo user posts how her Tianjin school is preparing for the lunch break arrangements, with indicators on the floor marking the direction students should walk in and the distance they have to keep from each other.

One other school in Jiangsu’s Huai’an has put dividers on all lunch tables to separate students while having their lunch break.

“It feels like taking exams,” some commenters write about the new lunch break policies. “We can no longer look around and whisper in each other’s ear.”

One school board in the city of Beihai has decided to make use of its new separating screens to stimulate more studying during lunch breaks; they have printed study material for the upcoming ‘gaokao‘ exams on the dividers.

Some netizens think that other schools will follow this example if it appears to be effective. In that way, the post-COVID-19 lunch break will turn into just another study opportunity.

For more COVID-19 related articles, please click here.

By Manya Koetse (@manyapan)
With contributions from Miranda Barnes
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©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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