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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.”

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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 and Covid19

Fangcang Forever: China’s Temporary Covid19 Makeshift Hospitals To Become Permanent

China’s temporary ‘Fangcang’ shelter hospitals are here to stay.

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A new term has been added to China’s pandemic lexicon today: Permanent Fangcang Hospital. Although China’s ‘Fangcang’ shelter hospitals are, by definition, temporary, these healthcare facilities to isolate and treat Covid patients are now becoming a permanent feature of China’s Zero-Covid approach.

Over the past few days, Chinese authorities have emphasized the need for China’s bigger cities to build or renovate existing makeshift Covid hospitals, and turn them into permanent sites.

So-called ‘Fangcang hospitals’ (方舱医院, square cabin hospitals) are large, temporary makeshift shelter hospitals to isolate and treat Covid-19 patients. Fangcang shelter hospitals were first established in China during the Wuhan outbreak as a countermeasure to stop the spread of the virus.

January 5 2022, a Fangcang or Isolation Point with over 1000 separate isolations rooms is constructed in Baqiao District of Xi’an (Image via Renmin Shijue).

They have since become an important part of China’s management of the pandemic and the country’s Zero-Covid policy as a place to isolate and treat people who have tested positive for Covid-19, both asymptomatic and mild-to-moderate symptomatic cases. In this way, the Fangcang hospitals alleviate the pressure on (designated) hospitals, so that they have more beds for patients with serious or severe symptoms.

On May 5th, Chinese state media reported about an important top leadership meeting regarding China’s Covid-19 situation. In this meeting, the Politburo Standing Committee stressed that China would “unswervingly adhere to the general Zero-Covid policy” and that victory over the virus would come with persistence. At the meeting, chaired by Xi Jinping, the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee also declared that China would fight against any words or acts that “distort, doubt, or deny” the country’s dynamic Zero-Covid policy.

Life inside one of Shanghai’s Fangcang, photo via UDN.com.

Following the meeting, there have been multiple official reports and statements that provide a peek into China’s ‘zero Covid’ future.

On May 13, China’s National Health Commission called on all provinces to build or renovate city-level Fangcang hospitals, and to make sure they are equipped with electricity, ventilation systems, medical appliances, toilets, and washing facilities (Weibo hashtag ##以地级市为单位建设或者改造方舱医院#).

On May 16, the term ‘Permanent Fangcang Hospital’ (Weibo hashtag #永久性方舱医院) became a trending topic on Weibo after Ma Xiaowei (马晓伟), Minister of China’s National Health Commission, introduced the term in Qiushi (求是), the leading official theoretical journal of the Chinese Communist Party.

The term is new and is somewhat contradictory as a concept, since ‘Fangcang hospitals’ are actually defined by their temporary nature.

Ma Xiaowei stressed the need for Chinese bigger cities to be ready for the next stage of China’s Covid control. This also includes the need for some central ‘Fangcang’ makeshift hospitals to become permanent ones.

In order to ‘normalize’ the control and monitoring that comes with living in Zero-Covid society, Chinese provincial capitals and bigger cities (more than ten million inhabitants) should do more to improve Covid testing capacities and procedures. Ma proposes that there should be nucleic acid sample collection points across the city within a 15-minute walking distance radius, and testing frequency should be increased to maximize efficient control and prevention.

Cities should be prepared to take in patients for isolation and/or treatment at designated hospitals, centralized isolation sites, and the permanent Fangcang hospitals. The recent Covid outbreak in Shanghai showed that local authorities were unprepared to deal with the outbreak, and sites that were used as Fangcang hospitals often lacked proper facilities, leading to chaotic scenes.

A Fangcang Isolation Center in Quanzhou, March 2022, via People’s Daily.

The hashtag “Permanent Fangcang Hospitals” received over 140 million views on Weibo on Monday.

One of the Weibo threads by state media reporting on the Permanent Fangcang hospitals and the publication by Ma Xiaowei received nearly 2000 comments, yet the comment section only displayed three comments praising the newly announced measures, leaving out the other 1987 comments.

Elsewhere on Weibo, people shared their views on the Permanent Fangcang Hospitals, and most were not very positive – most commenters shared their worries about China’s Covid situation about the stringent measures being a never-ending story.

“We’re normalizing nucleic acid test, we’re introducing permanent fangcang hospitals, [but] why isn’t the third Covid vaccination coming through?” one person wondered.

“If there was still a little bit of passion inside me, it was just killed by reading these words ‘Permanent Fangcang Hospital,'” another commenter writes, with one Weibo user adding: “I feel desperate hearing the words ‘Permanent Fangcang Hospital.'”

“Building permanent Fangcang? Why? Why don’t you use the resources you’re now spending on normalizing testing to create more hospital beds, more medical staff and more medications?”

Another commenter wrote: “China itself is one giant permanent Fangcang hospital.”

“The forever Fangcang are being built,” one Weibo user from Guangdong writes: “This will never end. We’ll be locked up like birds in a cage for our entire life.”

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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Featured image via user tongtong [nickname] Weibo.com.

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©2022 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

Shanghai ‘Dead Man’ Taken Away to Morgue, Found to Be Alive

An incident in which a man taken to a morgue turned out to be alive doesn’t really help to restore residents’ trust in Shanghai.

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An incident in which a Shanghai man, who was thought to be dead, was taken to a funeral home before he was found to be alive has become a big topic on Chinese social media.

The incident happened on the afternoon of May 1st at the Shanghai Xinchangzheng Nursing Home (上海新长征福利院) in the city’s Putuo District.

A video of the incident went viral on Chinese social media in which a body bag can be seen put into a vehicle by three people, two members of staff from the nursing home and one funeral home worker. Shortly after, the body bag is taken out again and put back on a trolley. One of the nurses zips open the bag, pulls a cover from the man’s face, and apparently finds him to be alive.

“He’s alive,” one of the workers says in shock: “He’s alive, I saw it, he’s alive. Don’t cover him any more.”

The man is then transferred back into the nursing home, still inside the body bag.

The video that is making its rounds on social media was filmed from two different angles, the person filming can be heard calling the incident “a disgrace for human life” and “irresponsible.”

On May 2nd, the Chinese state media outlet People’s Daily posted about the incident on Weibo, saying the city district is currently investigating the case. The man was hospitalized and his vital signs are stable.

Meanwhile, multiple people are held accountable for the incident. The head of the nursing home has been dismissed and will be further investigated, along with four district officials. The license of the doctor involved will also be revoked.

The Shanghai Xinchangzheng Nursing Home has also apologized for the incident (#上海一福利院就未死亡老人被拉走道歉#).

On social media, many people are angry about the incident, wondering why the old man was transported to the funeral home in the first place, and why the members of staff seemed to be indifferent after finding out he was still alive.

In the video, the member of staff standing next to the man can be seen covering the patient’s face again after finding out he is still alive, leaving the body bag zipped up. Many also see this as a cold and incomprehensible way to respond.

After weeks of online anger about the chaotic and sometimes inhumane way in which Shanghai authorities have been handling the Covid outbreak in the city, this incident seems to further lower the public’s trust in how patients and vulnerable residents are being treated.

“Shanghai is such a terrifying place!”, some on Weibo write.

“Just think about it,” one person responded: “This incident took place in one of China’s most prosperous cities and happened to be filmed. How much is happening in other cities that is not caught on camera? Today, it’s this man, in the future, it’s us.”

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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

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.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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