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China and Covid19

Shanghai Residents Protest as Pudong Apartments Turn Into Quarantine Site

Shanghai residents at Zhangjiang Nashi International are angered about their community turning into a Covid quarantine site.

Manya Koetse



A local protest in a Shanghai neighborhood where residents are angry about their community buildings being taken over and used as a quarantine site has now moved from the streets to the internet.

On Thursday, April 14, videos showing how Shanghai residents were dragged off by officers in medical suits went viral on Chinese social media. The footage allegedly shows a situation taking place at the Zhangjiang Nashi International apartment complex in Shanghai’s New Pudong Area (张江纳仕国际社区), where residents were notified on Thursday that several buildings within their community would be taken over and used as a quarantine isolation site for Covid-19 patients.

Videos showed members of police dressed in hazmat suits clashing with angry residents while a crowd of people stood by screaming and filming the chaotic scenes unfolding around them. Some images also showed residents on their knees, seemingly pleading with the officers.

Other videos also showed residents being dragged away.

According to various Weibo users from the area, the people from the complex, where some 500 people live, already had parts of their building being used as a quarantine site in March of this year. When they were notified that the makeshift quarantine location within their compound would be expanded, they protested the decision.

“I live in the Nashi complex (..) and like many of my neighbors, we have returned from abroad and we’re very patriotic. But anyone who would have this happening to them would be disillusioned.”

The incident was discussed on Weibo using various hashtags but was also heavily censored, with videos and images of the situation suddenly going offline. One video received over 15,000 likes before it was taken offline.

“Shanghai government, can you please be reasonable?!” some pleaded, while others posted images of the incident covered with red scribbles to avoid automated censorship: “If you delete this, I’ll post again! I’ll just post again!”

“Most police officers now are not helping people solve their problems, they are just maintaining social stability,” one Weibo commenter said.

Over the past week, frustrations have been building in Shanghai, where millions of households have been in lockdown since March 28 or earlier. Despite the stringent measures, the city’s total Covid-19 cases soared to another daily record of 27,719 on Thursday.

According to China’s dynamic zero-covid policy, people who test positive for Covid-19 are sent to centralized facilities for a mandatory quarantine. While locked-down residents have struggled to get food, medications, and urgent medical care amid China’s zero-infection policy, many also face difficulties in getting basic medical care or adequate supplies at these centralized quarantine centers, leading to growing anger about how the city is handling the current outbreak.

People spreading photos and videos of the Shanghai Zhangjiang community upheaval express anger, not just about the situation there but about the lockdown management in general (including some stories such as this one, or this one) and the censorship of issues reported by Shanghai residents.

While images, posts, and videos are censored at full speed, one person posts a screenshot of a WeChat conversation about the Zhangjiang incident.

– “Is this really Shanghai?”
– “I saw this. In the afternoon. Weibo won’t allow you to see anything anymore now.”
– “How could Shanghai have changed into this?”

As another person posted a new hashtag about the incident, there was just one thread left on Weibo by Thursday night shortly after 10pm Beijing time. “We just have this one thread,” commenters replied: “Everything is censored, this one won’t stick around for long either.”

“I wonder how long this post will last,” another Weibo blogger wondered, publishing photos of today’s incident. Their post has since been deleted.

Update April 15, 13:45 China Standard Time:

Shortly after this report, BBC also reported about the incident, after which Shanghai Daily reporter Andy Boreham provided some details on Twitter surrounding the protest, claiming that the buildings in questions are talent apartments (人才公寓) – discounted rental sites provided by the city for ‘talented’ people, usually in special areas hoping to attract highly skilled workers.

Boreham also claims that these apartments were provided to tenants on the basis that could be relocated at any time, which is also stated in their contracts. Although the tenants allegedly agreed on April 12 to be moved to another part of the complex, a group of them decided to resist when it came to relocating and tried to stop police from putting up barriers to isolate the building as a quarantine site. See the Twitter thread below.

The topic “Zhangjiang Nashi International Community” (张江纳仕国际社区) still comes up with zero results in Weibo’s search function after yesterday’s online turmoil. There is, however, one hashtag about the issue today, namely that initiated by China Real Estate News (@中国房地产报) about the Shanghai Zhangjiang Group responding to the use of talent apartments for quarantine housing (#上海张江集团回应人才公寓被征用为隔离房:疫情防控需要#). Chinese media outlet The Paper also published the brief statement.

The statement explains that the Zhangjiang Nashi Talent Apartment buildings are state-owned property rental housing built by the Zhangjiang real estate group, and that the talent apartments started to be used in August 2021. Since Shanghai’s Covid crisis, the city used five (unoccupied) buildings as a makeshift isolation site.

On April 12, the local government reportedly notified the Zhangjiang Group that it would also expropriate an additional nine buildings and use them as a central quarantine site. According to the Zhangjiang Group, they immediately notified the 39 tenants who needed to be relocated and gave compensation for lease changes.

But during the afternoon of April 14, when the planned quarantine site plans were set into motion, some tenants obstructed the construction site, and “relevant departments dealt with the situation on the spot.” The statement further said that the situation has since calmed down.

“I’d also recommend the houses of the people who make these decisions to be taken over and used as a quarantine site,” one commenter said: “So they can experience what it feels like to be driven out of your own home.”

Meanwhile, one anonymous contributor claiming to be one of the residents living in the Zhangjiang Nashi International community published a lengthy thread on the Chinese Q&A platform, where they suggested that the statement by the Zhangjiang Group was misleading. The post was published in the early morning of April 15 just before 3am, but no longer shows up in Zhihu search function at time of writing.

“Firstly, Zhangjiang Nashi International is NOT a talent apartment! It’s NOT a talent apartment! It’s NOT!,” the author writes. The uploader claims that the community they live in is a regular residential area that only rents out apartments at a high price, and does not sell them.

The uploader suggested that, since the rent of the apartments is quite high (lowest rent prices for a one bedroom apartment start at 7950 yuan/month, which is $1250, highest are priced at 11350 yuan/month, which is $1781), the tenants would not accept an alleged ‘subletting’ agreement.

The uploader said that they were notified by the Zhangjiang Group that four of the buildings in their complex would be used as quarantine sites on March 15 of this year.

Because the four buildings were vacant and far removed from the buildings with the most residents, the decisions were not objected by tenants.

Not long after, the entire community went into lockdown mode starting on March 18. Until the incident of April 14, the residents had been inside their homes for 27 days while cooperating with mass testing campaigns and managing to test negative for Covid-19 throughout.

On April 11, the residents were informed that an additional building, building 6, would also be used as a quarantine location.

This decision made residents living in building number 7 and 11 more nervous, since they were in close proximity of building number 6 – less than 20 meters away. The close proximity of the quarantine building and the quick spread of Omicron made residents fear that they could easily also be infected.

The Zhihu author then explains that on April 12, the community was informed that an additional eight buildings would also be used as quarantine locations, namely 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 18, 19. Of these buildings, 7, 11, and 14 were all occupied and for the residents at 14 all of their furniture and electrical appliances is self-bought and was not provided to them. The residents were expected to move out.

The residents complained that it was not easy to move their entire household in times of epidemic, and the building number 14 residents also worried about their furniture and appliances being used by Covid19 patients. They were therefore also offered compensation for relocating.

But, as explained in the lengthy Zhihu post, not all of the residents received their compensation and it was unclear when and if they would. Residents also demanded to see official proof that the government was really demanding that their apartment buildings were to be made into quarantine sites. A meeting between Zhangjiang Group and the residents took place and was also recorded, but did not lead to a solution.

A second negotiation between residents and the real estate group on April 13 also did not settle the matter, and the residents of building 7, 11, and 14 were required to move out immediately unless they wanted to live together with Covid-19 patients.

But a new problem also emerged, as the residents would allegedly be relocated to building number 15, which is surrounded on all sides by the buildings used as quarantine locations – at distance less than 20 meters away. The anxiety over becoming infected, the stress over the community being taken over, and the doubts over whether or not the decision was actually legal or not eventually led to the altercations of April 14.

The protests themselves did not turn out to be fruitful for the residents. It was a moment to document what was happening to them and to express their sadness and anger. Now, the author says, the residents are sharing their community with the Covid-19 patients and the residents are still not sure whether or not the entire ordeal is legal or not.

The social media user also warns others not to spread rumors and not to mix up other videos with what happened on April 14.

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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Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on Contact at, or follow on Twitter.

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China and Covid19

Repurposing China’s Abandoned Nucleic Acid Booths: 10 Innovative Transformations

Abandoned nucleic acid booths are getting a second life through these new initiatives.

Manya Koetse



During the pandemic, nucleic acid testing booths in Chinese cities were primarily focused on maintaining physical distance. Now, empty booths are being repurposed to bring people together, serving as new spaces to serve the community and promote social engagement.

Just months ago, nucleic acid testing booths were the most lively spots of some Chinese cities. During the 2022 Shanghai summer, for example, there were massive queues in front of the city’s nucleic acid booths, as people needed a negative PCR test no older than 72 hours for accessing public transport, going to work, or visiting markets and malls.

The word ‘hésuān tíng‘ (核酸亭), nucleic acid booth (also:核酸采样小屋), became a part of China’s pandemic lexicon, just like hésuān dìtú (核酸地图), the nucleic acid test map lauched in May 2022 that would show where you can get a nucleic test.

Example of nucleic acid test map.

During Halloween parties in Shanghai in 2022, some people even came dressed up as nucleic test booths – although local authorities could not appreciate the creative costume.

Halloween 2022: dressed up as nucliec acid booths. Via @manyapan twitter.

In December 2022, along with the announced changed rules in China’s ‘zero Covid’ approach, nucleic acid booths were suddenly left dismantled and empty.

With many cities spending millions to set up these booths in central locations, the question soon arose: what should they do with the abandoned booths?

This question also relates to who actually owns them, since the ownership is mixed. Some booths were purchased by authorities, others were bought by companies, and there are also local communities owning their own testing booths. Depending on the contracts and legal implications, not all booths are able to get a new function or be removed yet (Worker’s Daily).

In Tianjin, a total of 266 nucleic acid booths located in Jinghai District were listed for public acquisition earlier this month, and they were acquired for 4.78 million yuan (US$683.300) by a local food and beverage company which will transform the booths into convenience service points, selling snacks or providing other services.

Tianjin is not the only city where old nucleic acid testing booths are being repurposed. While some booths have been discarded, some companies and/or local governments – in cooperation with local communities – have demonstrated creativity by transforming the booths into new landmarks. Since the start of 2023, different cities and districts across China have already begun to repurpose testing booths. Here, we will explore ten different way in which China’s abandoned nucleic test booths get a second chance at a meaningful existence.


1: Pharmacy/Medical Booths

Via ‘copyquan’ republished on Sohu.

Blogger ‘copyquan’ recently explored various ways in which abandoned PCR testing points are being repurposed.

One way in which they are used is as small pharmacies or as medical service points for local residents (居民医疗点). Alleviating the strain on hospitals and pharmacies, this was one of the earliest ways in which the booths were repurposed back in December of 2022 and January of 2023.

Chongqing, Tianjin, and Suzhou were among earlier cities where some testing booths were transformed into convenient medical facilities.


2: Market Stalls

Market stalls instead of nucliec acid testing booths. Image via Sina.

In Suzhou, Jiangsu province, the local government transformed vacant nucleic acid booths into market stalls for the Spring Festival in January 2022, offering them free of charge to businesses to sell local products, snacks, and traditional New Year goods.

The idea was not just meant as a way for small businesses to conveniently sell to local residents, it was also meant as a way to attract more shoppers and promote other businesses in the neighborhood.


3: Community Service Center

Small grid community center in Shizhuang Village, image via Sohu.

Some residential areas have transformed their local nucleic acid testing booths into community service centers, offering all kinds of convenient services to neighborhood residents.

These little station are called wǎnggé yìzhàn (网格驿站) or “grid service stations,” and they can serve as small community centers where residents can get various kinds of care and support.


4: “Refuel” Stations

In February of this year, 100 idle nucleic acid sampling booths were transformed into so-called “Rider Refuel Stations” (骑士加油站) in Zhejiang’s Pinghu. Although it initially sounds like a place where delivery riders can fill up their fuel tanks, it is actually meant as a place where they themselves can recharge.

Delivery riders and other outdoor workers can come to the ‘refuel’ station to drink some water or tea, warm their hands, warm up some food and take a quick nap.


5: Free Libraries

image via sohu.

In various Chinese cities, abandoned nucleic acid booths have been transformed into little free libraries where people can grab some books to read, donate or return other books, and sit down for some reading.

Changzhou is one of the places where you’ll find such “drifting bookstores” (漂流书屋) (see video), but similar initiatives have also been launched in other places, including Suzhou.


6: Study Space

Photos via Copyquan’s article on Sohu.

Another innovative way in which old testing points are being repurposed is by turning them into places where students can sit together to study. The so-called “Let’s Study Space” (一间习吧), fully airconditioned, are opened from 8 in the morning until 22:00 at night.

Students – or any citizens who would like a nice place to study – can make online reservations with their ID cards and scan a QR code to enter the study rooms.

There are currently ten study booths in Anji, and the popular project is an initiative by the Anji County Library in Zhejiang (see video).


7: Beer Kiosk

Hoegaarden beer shop, image via Creative Adquan.

Changing an old nucleic acid testing booth into a beer bar is a marketing initiative by the Shanghai McCann ad agency for the Belgium beer brand Hoegaarden.

The idea behind the bar is to celebrate a new spring after the pandemic. The ad agency has revamped a total of six formr nucleic acid booths into small Hoegaarden ‘beer gardens.’


8: Police Box

In Taizhou City, Jiangsu Province, authorities have repurposed old testing booths and transformed them into ‘police boxes’ (警务岗亭) to enhance security and improve the visibility of city police among the public.

Currently, a total of eight vacant nucleic acid booths have been renovated into modern police stations, serving as key points for police presence and interaction with the community.


9: Lottery Ticket Booths

Image via The Paper

Some nucleic acid booths have now been turned into small shops selling lottery tickets for the China Welfare Lottery. One such place turning the kiosks into lottery shops is Songjiang in Shanghai.

Using the booths like this is a win-win situation: they are placed in central locations so it is more convenient for locals to get their lottery tickets, and on the other hand, the sales also help the community, as the profits are used for welfare projects, including care for the elderly.


10: Mini Fire Stations

Micro fire stations, images via ZjNews.

Some communities decided that it would be useful to repurpose the testing points and turn them into mini fire kiosks, just allowing enough space for the necessary equipment to quickly respond to fire emergencies.

Want to read more about the end of ‘zero Covid’ in China? Check our other articles here.

By Manya Koetse,

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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

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China and Covid19

The Hottest Place in China: How Zibo Became a Popular Tourist Destination and an Online Hit

There are even special Zibo BBQ trains now. This is how Zibo barbecue suddenly became the hottest meal of the country.

Manya Koetse



The old industrial city of Zibo treated students well during their zero Covid quarantine. This spring, they came back to celebrate the city. Their enthusiasm and social media posts were so contagious that the entire country now wants a taste of Zibo barbecue.

In central Shandong province, bordering the provincial capital Jinan to the west, you will find the city of Zibo (淄博). With its 4.7 million inhabitants, the old industrial and mining city was not exactly known as a trendy tourist destination. But that has all changed now. Everybody is talking about Zibo.

For the upcoming May 1st holiday, hotel bookings in Zibo went up 800% compared to 2019, making it one of the most popular destinations in Shandong. The city has especially attracted online attention since March of 2023, with hashtags and hot searches peaking over the previous week.

How did Zibo become such an online sensation, especially among China’s young travelers? The city’s hit status is widely discussed on Chinese social media apps these days. The emergence of such an overnight sensation is usually the result of various factors coming together at the right time, and this is also the case with the hype surrounding Zibo.

Zibo Barbecue

Its appealing barbecue culture is the first and main reason why Zibo is so hot nowadays. The city has been known for its barbecue restaurants for years, and creating a thriving open-air BBQ entertainment environment is also something the local authorities have invested in. They are publicizing Zibo as an ambassador city for “Friendly Shandong” (“好客山东”), the slogan the province uses to promote its image and boost tourism.

The Zibo BBQ experience includes every table having its own small stove and it has that ‘do it yourself’ factor that hotpot-style dinners also have: when the skewers are served, the diners have to grill them themselves and then wrap them in thin pancakes, usually with spring onions.

Zibo barbecue, images via social media.

As one of its tourism promotion initiatives, Zibo has set up special tourist trains and dedicated BBQ bus routes to attract groups of tourists and boost local tourism after the pandemic years. Train ticket sales for May 1st already doubled that of Spring Festival, and tickets for the Beijing South-Zibo route sold out online within a minute the moment they became available.

A Kind City in Difficult Times

Another reason for Zibo’s sudden fame was suggested by some Chinese netizens (including the popular @地瓜熊老六), who said that Zibo played a special role during China’s zero-Covid policy.

Zibo first went trending after a group of students from Jinan went there in March of this year. They came to Zibo because this was where they apparently were quarantined for a while during Covid, and they were well taken care of during their stay.

According to one Zibo local, the students also celebrated their last night in Zibo at the time with a major BBQ feast.

It is said that the students from Jinan wanted to go back to Zibo at this time and spend time there as a way to thank the city – not knowing they would start a viral sensation.

Power of TikTok

Douyin, the Chinese TikTok app, is also at the heart of Zibo’s recent success.

As reported by 36kr, Zibo first became a hot topic on Douyin in early March, when the videos of the initial groups of students taking the high-speed train to Zibo to eat barbecue went viral.

In April, Zibo again hit the hot trending lists on Douyin after one vlogger tried out ten different food stalls in the city and found that they all gave him the right portions or even gave him some extra food for free, reinforcing the idea that Zibo is a hospitable city.

What followed was a snowball effect, from Douyin to Xiaohongshu to Weibo, with videos showing Zibo diners singing together while eating and having a good time spreading all over social media, only increasing the appeal of the city. “Zibo is just all over my timeline,” some commenters wrote on April 15.

Crazy Travel after Covid

According to the Chinese media platform DT Finance (DT财经), Zibo is a destination that especially resonates with Chinese students who have new wishes when it comes to traveling.

Especially during the pandemic and China’s stringent Covid measures, many people have spent a lot of time indoors, quarantined, locked down, and/or unable to travel. Now that spring is here, people want to seize the moment and go out and enjoy their leisure time. This also means that instead of planning longer holidays well in advance, people book shorter, last-minute trips.

Social media pics of Zibo trips.

This is also one of the reasons why Zibo is especially popular among students from Shandong, who can hop on a train, reach their destination, and find themselves enjoying a beer and barbecue within a matter of hours.

Stories from Zibo

In light of the craze surrounding Zibo, there are various stories emerging from the thriving city that only add to its charm. For example, there are many videos showing the lively scenes around BBQ restaurants which went viral.

One visitor needed to catch his train but still wanted a taste of Zibo BBQ, so one female shop owner hurried things along and made sure he got his Zibo dinner (#淄博老板娘为赶高铁小伙1v1烤串#).

Then there was a 95-year-old veteran who visited the Zibo BBQ scene and his visit also made its rounds on social media (#95岁老兵体验淄博烧烤被围观#).

Another trending hashtag is about Zibo’s music events (#淄博音乐节#), about some of the planned events and (rock) concerts taking place in Zibo in late April and early May. “Zibo’s cultural tourism office really understand how to do it,” various commenters wrote, praising how Zibo is not just known for its barbecue restaurants but also for its lively music scene.

Then there are the videos showing an entire crowd singing ‘happy birthday’ because one person is celebrating their birthday.

All in all, it’s clear that Zibo did something right. Especially in these times when so many cities across China are doing all they can to promote their town as a tourist destination (read all about it here), Zibo has proven that consistency is key to success: stay kind, be reliable, but most of all, keep the barbecue hot.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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

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©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at

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