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China Health & Science

The Controversial Case of the Chinese Gene-Edited Baby Twins & Reactions on Weibo

He Jiankui’s claim of “gene-edited twins” has sparked international uproar.

Manya Koetse

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The claim by Chinese researcher He Jiankui that he has edited the genes of two babies to make them resistant to HIV has sparked outrage worldwide. On Weibo, responses are mixed.

Over the past week, news that a Chinese researcher from Shenzen has helped make the world’s first genetically edited babies has made international headlines.

Chinese doctor He Jiankui (贺建奎) and his research team have allegedly succeeded in altering the DNA of embryos, making them resistant to HIV. The twin girls were born this month.

The news was revealed on Monday, November 26, at the Human Genome Editing Summit (国际人类基因组编辑峰会) in Hong Kong, and earlier in exclusive interviews with the Associated Press. According to AP, He and his team have altered embryos for seven couples during fertility treatments, with one pregnancy resulting thus far. An eighth couple had initially agreed to participate, but later withdrew from the project.

The parents involved reportedly declined to be identified or interviewed, and details on where this was done or where the parents of the twin live have not been revealed. The twin girls are only known as ‘Lulu’ (露露) and ‘Nana’ (娜娜).

The researcher, whose work received massive criticism from the international science community, apologized on Wednesday that his research “was leaked unexpectedly,” but still said he was “proud” of altering the genes of twin girls so they could not contract HIV, BBC reports.

He Jiankui is an associate professor at Shenzhen’s Southern University of Science and Technology of China, but said that his research was not affiliated with the institute. The University also stated that his research violates its academic ethics, and that He is currently under investigation.

On Weibo and other Chinese social media, the topic has received great attention over the past few days. The Weibo hashtag “Gene-edited Babies” (#基因编辑婴儿#) received over 250 million views over the past two days, while the hashtag “First Case of Gene-Edited HIV Immune Babies” (#首例免疫艾滋病基因编辑婴儿#) had received 1,6 billion (!) views at time of writing.

People have responded to the controversial experiment with mixed reactions. A majority of netizens simply wonder why the researcher has not been arrested yet and what charges He may face.

But there are also quite some commenters who think the researcher has done groundbreaking work that will be important for the future. “In one hundred years time, this might be considered pioneering work. The pioneers will always be the target of an attack,” some popular comments say, with others agreeing: “New things will always be questioned and criticized.”

But then there are also those who care most about the babies, and some who think the controversial project damages China’s image. “These poor little babies have been used as guinea pigs, they will probably be followed by scientists their entire lives to be researched. What were those parents thinking? Nobody knows what kinds of effects this kind of remolding might have! This is a violation of the laws of nature.”

Others say: “This is unfortunate for the children, it is unfortunate for China, and it is unfortunate for mankind.”

Chinese state media report that the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China is currently investigating this case.

By Manya Koetse

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

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Clara

    November 30, 2018 at 2:03 pm

    Please let someone proofread your articles before publishing. You use capital H for “him” a lot, mid sentence!

    • Avatar

      Manya

      November 30, 2018 at 4:40 pm

      “He” is the name of the scientist Clara.. 😆 He Jiankui.

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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

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.

©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.

V

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
Follow @whatsonweibo

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.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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