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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.

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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.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. 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!

    • 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

Viral Politics: Next-Stage Investigation Into Covid-19 Origins Discussed on Weibo

Many Weibo users agree with Chinese officials that the U.S. re-investigation of the Covid-19 origin is about “political manipulation” and “blame-shifting.”

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While President Biden ordered a closer review into the origins of the Covid-19 and more countries are calling for action on a next phase study, Chinese officials demand that the U.S. thoroughly investigates the source of the epidemic within America’s own borders and biological labs.

Fifteen months after the WHO declared the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak a global pandemic, the origin of the virus is still unclear. After the Wuhan field visit of the international WHO research team earlier in 2021, all hypotheses on the origin of the virus remain on the table.

As the efforts to get more people vaccinated continue and the outlook on containing Covid-19 are more positive, the question of where the virus that causes Covid-19 came from is attracting attention again. The issue of the ‘origin investigation problem’ (“溯源问题”) is also generating discussions on Chinese social media.

 

The U.S. Side: “Looking for a Definitive Conclusion”

 

On May 26, the White House released President Joe Biden’s statement calling for further investigation into the origins of Covid-19.

The statement says that there is still no definitive conclusion on the origins of the virus, with two scenarios being most likely: human contact with an infected animal or a laboratory accident. Biden writes that he has asked the Intelligence Community to “redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion,” asking for a follow-up within 90 days, with a special focus on China.

Speculation that the coronavirus may have emerged from a laboratory in Wuhan was first raised in early 2020, before being refuted and sidelined as a “conspiracy theory” by many scientists.

A statement in The Lancet published in February of 2020 condemned any rumors on the virus origins, claiming that scientific research “overwhelmingly” concludes that the new coronavirus originated in wildlife. The WHO research team investigating the origins of Covid-19 also called it “extremely unlikely” that the virus leaked from a lab in China.

The American Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was among those scientists who originally refuted the ‘lab leak’ theory. But in May of 2021, Fauci said he was “no longer convinced” that the Covid-19 pandemic originated naturally.

In American media, reports on the ‘lab leak theory’ have also seen shifting narratives, going from a ‘conspiracy theory’ to a seemingly credible one. Last month, a Wall Street Journal published an opinion article titled ‘The Science Suggests a Wuhan Lab Leak,’ which claims that the pathogen of the novel coronavirus has a genetic footprint that has never been observed in a natural coronavirus.

The Wall Street Journal also reported on a study by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, which concluded that the hypothesis of a virus leak from a Chinese lab in Wuhan is plausible and deserves further investigation. The report by Wall Street Journal included an alleged American State Department’s assertion that the U.S. government has reason to believe that several researchers inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick in autumn 2019, “with symptoms that were consistent with Covid-19 or a seasonal flu.”

 

The Chinese Side: “It’s All about Blame-Shifting”

 

Chinese officials have repeatedly denied a possible leak from a Chinese laboratory and have emphasized their cooperation with international efforts to find the origins of the pandemic.

On May 27 of this year, a day after Biden’s statement was released, Zhao Lijian (赵立坚), spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, responded to the reinvestigation of China regarding the origins of the novel coronavirus.

Zhao argued that the US is not actually interested in the scientific origin of the virus, but that its determination to reinvestigate China despite previous scientific conclusions is all about “political manipulation” and “blame-shifting.” He further said that the US – with over 33 million confirmed Covid-19 cases and 600,000 deaths from Covid-19 – should examine its own behavior, instead of “attempting to scapegoat China.”

Although China was the first country to report Covid-19 infections, the official stance has been that this does not necessarily mean that the new coronavirus “patient zero” was also in China.

Prior to the Wuhan lab leak theory, China had been questioning the US military base Fort Detrick in Fredrick, Maryland, about the leak of Covid-19 as an agent of biochemical warfare. In May of last year, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying asked for an international review of Fort Detrick and other bio-labs.

In light of recent developments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) also, again, suggested that the U.S. should invite an international team of scientists to conduct an independent investigation on Fort Detrick on its potential link to the origin of Covid-19.

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian during the press conference.

This stance was again reiterated by Zhao Lijian in a June 17 press conference, where the MFA spokesperson asked the U.S. to explain why, being the most medically country in the world, their COVID19 death toll was so high and why nobody would take responsibility for this and give more transparency on Fort Detrick.

On June 22, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs turned the tables on the U.S. and demanded a thorough investigation of (1) the source of the epidemic in the United States, a (2) thorough investigation of the why’s and who’s of the American inadequate response in fighting the epidemic, and then also (3) an investigation into the safety concerns at Fort Detrick other biological labs (#赵立坚请美国赶紧回答3个问题#).

 

Weibo Discussions and Hashtags

 

On Chinese social media, various discussions and hashtags have come up in response to the recent developments regarding the research into the COVID19 origins. Most commenters agree on one thing, namely that the next stage of Covid-19 origin investigations is seemingly more about politics than about the virus itself.

A hashtag titled “Biden Ordered US Intelligence to Investigate the Origins of Covid-19” (#拜登令美情报部门调查新冠病毒起源) appeared on the same day as the White House statement was released and immediately attracted over 35 million views. Another relating hashtag on Weibo is “U.S. Specialists Have Changed Their Tune Regarding COVID19 Origin” (#美国专家在新冠病毒的来源上改口了#).

On Weibo, the most common reaction to Biden’s investigation and American media coverage of the origins of the virus is one of suspicion towards their true intentions, ranging from intense emotions to sarcastic humor. Weibo users suggest that Biden’s call to action is a politically charged move to further blame China for the pandemic amidst growing China-US tensions. Most netizens commenting under this hashtag feel that the U.S. is deliberately hyping the issue to discredit China, turning the COVID19 origins issue into a geopolitical issue, rather than a scientific one.

One popular comment (@乐隐灯清) said: “If I say you have it, then you have it – [this is] the second season of ‘Laundry Detergent’!” This sarcastic comment refers to the famous UN meeting where US Secretary of State Colin Powell presented a vial containing white powder, supposedly proving that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling anthrax, in order to justify the US’s invasion of Iraq. Putin fired back by calling this vial of powder “laundry detergent.”

There are also web users who are concerned with the 90-day limit of Biden’s announced investigation, questioning whether such a relatively short time would be enough for a thorough and fair study. One user, whose profile image is the Chinese national flag, wrote: “90 days? If you investigated Fort Detrick starting in the morning, you would already have the conclusion before lunchtime!”

One user questioned the US President’s move to trace Covid-19’s origin in China instead of in his own country: “Are they giving 90 days to investigate the origin or 90 days to fabricate a rumor?”

Another hashtag is “Where did the new coronavirus originate?” (#新冠肺炎病毒起源于哪里#). On this hashtag page, most discussions revolve around the fact that COVID19 was already found in various countries outside of China during or just before the early days of the Wuhan outbreak. Various studies suggest that the coronavirus might have been circulating in the US and France a month before it was officially confirmed.

“The fact that Chinese scientists were the first to discover the genetic sequence of the new coronavirus does not mean that Wuhan is the source of Covid-19, and it certainly cannot be used as a pretext to conclude that the virus was made by Chinese scientists,” one Weibo blogger (@侠骨一点情) wrote.

There are those who believe it is probable that the virus did come from the U.S., saying that the American investigation into China is an issue of “zéi hǎn zhuō zéi” (贼喊捉贼), an idiom that literally means ‘a thief crying “Stop Thief!”,’ conveying the idea that it is easy for someone to accuse another in order to cover up one’s own misdeeds.

‘Investigate Thoroughly! Except Here’ (‘彻查!除了这儿’) by 半桶老阿汤 / Half Can of Old Soup

In response to the investigation, the computer graphics artist @半桶老阿汤 / ‘Half Can of Old Soup’ also released a cartoon, showing President Biden blocking the entrance to Fort Detrick, with a WHO research team standing in front of the entrance.

Many web users support the Chinese official reaction that it is time for America to investigate the epidemic within its own borders. “First, discrediting and framing China regarding the virus origin has become a ‘national policy’ of the U.S. government to get rid of their [own] predicaments,” Chinese economist Tao Yongyi (@陶永谊) wrote on Weibo: “Now, the best defense is a good offense.”

By Susanna Sun & Manya Koetse

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

©2021 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

China’s COVID-19 Vaccine Freebies: Get One Vaccine, Get Milk & Eggs for Free!

“Do I get free transport and a freebie with that vaccine?”

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While American vaccine incentives – where some counties would offer a free beer and fries to encourage more Americans to get the COVID-19 vaccine – made international headlines, Chinese vaccine incentives have also been attracting the attention on Weibo and beyond.

Forget about free beer and fries. How about getting free milk, eggs, toilet paper, laundry detergent, or sesame oil after getting your shot? In China, and especially in Shanghai, some local vaccine sites have been offering all kinds of noteworthy freebies to encourage citizens to come and get their shots.

Since March and April of this year, netizens are sharing photos of COVID-19 vaccine posters online, such as this one, where you get a carton of milk after getting vaccinated:

Or these, where you get free vegetable oil or sesame oil:

Or how about two boxes of eggs?

One local initiative even offered free toilet paper earlier this year:

Another place in Shanghai offered bags of rice for free with your shot:

And others offered free pick-up services to those getting vaccinated:

Here you see people leaving with their milk cartons (and vaccinated!):

The freebies were meant to encourage more people to get their shots. But because of recent new COVID-19 cases in places like Anhui and Liaoning, more people are now in a rush to get vaccinated. Viral videos and posts on social media showed long queues at vaccine sites.

Popular WeChat account Xinwenge (新闻哥) reported a rapid shift in attitudes among young people towards getting the vaccine, from “do I get free transport and a freebie with that vaccine?” to “I’ll stand in line and do anything as long as I can get vaccinated.”

“Confirmed local cases will motivate people more [to get the vaccine] than eggs and milk,” one blogger from Guangdong wrote on Weibo.

Despite the surge of people going out to get their vaccine, some places still offer vaccine freebies. On social media, people are sharing the photos of their ‘vaccine souvenirs’; plastic bags with milk and cookies.

One Weibo user writes: “I was never so enthusiastic about getting my shot, until I heard they offered free milk and laundry detergent.”

Another Weibo user also shows off their ‘vaccine present’, getting free milk, soap, and rice with their COVID-19 vaccine: “And I didn’t even have to stand in line!”

By Manya Koetse & Miranda Barnes

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©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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