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China and Covid19

Three Years After Wuhan, China Pays Tribute to Frontline Medical Workers Once Again

Chinese media praise the sacrifice, selflessness, and dedication of doctors and nurses working on the frontline during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Manya Koetse



With the end of China’s ‘zero Covid’ policy, the war against Covid is no longer mainly fought in Chinese communities: hospitals have now become the main Covid-19 battleground. Similar to the 2020 Wuhan outbreak, Chinese media are again saluting frontline healthcare workers, with news narratives focusing on their sacrifice and selflessness.

In January 2020, paying respects to the frontline medical workers, the “heroes of the city,” was an important recurring theme in Chinese media reports and in social media posts about China’s Covid outbreak and the ensuing lockdown in Wuhan.

The CGTN annual Spring Festival Gala of 2020, a 4-hour long show with a viewership of one billion, included a segment on the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak and showed scenes from inside a Wuhan hospital as a tribute to all the medical workers working day and night.

State media outlet CCTV also issued propaganda posters featuring medical workers, saying “1.4 billion people salute you.”

“1.4 billion Chinese salute you”

Other visual propaganda in times of the 2020 Covid crisis, by People’s Daily for example, also saw a strong focus on Wuhan medical workers, often highlighting their selflessness and the sacrifices they made for the greater good.

Later on, the movie Chinese Doctors (中国医生) would come out, a medical drama that featured the story of a group of doctors at a Wuhan hospital, being the first in the world to deal with the novel coronavirus. The movie showed the struggles of medical front-line workers facing a virus that would change the world as we know it.

‘Nìxíngzhě’ was a 2020 buzzword to describe the frontline heroes going ‘backward’, facing the problems that others are turning away from.

The word nìxíngzhě (逆行者) also became a buzzword in 2020, meaning those going against the tide. It was often used by state media to describe and praise frontline workers as the ‘people going backward’ being the brave ones who are willing to face the challenges when everyone else is turning away.



They were not born as heroes, but chose to be fearless


Since the easing of China’s ‘zero Covid’ regulations and the start of the major Covid-19 outbreak across China, frontline medical workers are again prominently featured in Chinese media.

Although appreciation for the so-called ‘dabai’ (大白, ‘big whites’) – a nickname for volunteers, community workers and other anti-epidemic workers in hazmat suits, – was often propagated by Chinese media during the 2022 lockdowns of Xi’an and other cities, the focus was not on the hospitals as those were not the main places where the battle against Covid was taking place. The war against Covid was mainly fought inside the neighborhoods, communities, and city districts.

This has now changed. As Covid-positive patients are flocking to medical centers – sometimes even lining up in front of fever clinics and emergency rooms, – Chinese hospitals have become a new battleground of Covid-19.

The Covid-19 human interest stories by Chinese media outlets now often focus on the perspective of the medical workers, the challenges they face, and the hard work they deliver.

Chinese state media outlet Xinhua launched the hashtag “Pay Tribute to Every Warrior Dressed in White” (#致敬每一位白衣卫士#) on 16 December 2022, with other news outlets publishing similar hashtags, such as “Salute to the Healthcare Workers on the Frontline” (#向坚守在一线的医护人员致敬#).

One Weibo account under the People’s Liberation Army also posted a collection of videos showing doctors and nurses struggling at the job due to exhaustion, praising their persistence and reminding people that they are also just regular people who were “not born as heroes, but chose to be fearless” (#医护人员也是一个个普通人#).

One video showed a nurse administering IV fluids to patients while walking and working with her own IV pole.

One other hashtag that recently went viral on Chinese social media is “Medical Staff’s ‘Moments’ [WeChat Timeline] Will Make You Tear Up” (#上海医护朋友圈让人泪目#), a Weibo topic initiated by Eastday News (东方网) that spiked on 28 December and received a over 190 million views within a few days.

The related video report by Eastday News is about the Wechat posts of Shanghai medical workers in the midst of the peak of Covid-19 infections in the city. It featured Wechat posts by doctors and nurses working at the Huashan Hospital, Hongqiao Hospital, and at the fever clinics or emergency department of other hospitals. One healthcare worker shared how he had barely recovered from Covid himself while already working a 24-hour shift.

Another video from a hospital in Suichang County, Zhejiang, showed a doctor at the emergency department who had just tested positive for Covid one day earlier and was continuing his work despite being feverish and suffering from body aches and a bad cough. While talking to a patient, the young doctor breaks down in tears when the patient tells him to take leave and rest, saying all of his colleagues have tested positive and that there is nobody to replace him.

Some media also publish stories about everyday work at the IC units, such as explaining the way in which medical staff members turn (overweight) patients from back to stomach or vice versa through the “candy-style flip” (#医院自创糖果翻身法为230斤患者翻身#).

Many news videos published on Chinese social media show medical workers fainting during work shifts, or struggling to continue work as they are also sick themselves. These videos all show the sacrifice and selflessness of these hard-working medical workers.

One Chinese news outlet reported about a 87-year-old retired doctor returning to work at a hospital in Lishui, Zhejiang. Because he was not used to the new computer systems, he was a bit slower than the younger doctors, but his dedication was appreciated by the patients.

The 87-year-old was not the only doctor returning to the frontline; multiple places across China allegedly saw retired healthcare workers returning to work to help out during this Covid outbreak (#多地退休医护人员重回一线战斗#)

To further show appreciation for the efforts of China’s doctors and nurses, some regions are now giving out special benefits or bonuses for local medical workers. In Zhejiang, for example, some frontline medical workers reportedly received a bonus for their contributions to the fight against the epidemic (抗疫补助). The Jinhua First Hospital gave a 10,000 yuan ($1450) bonus to each employee (#浙江多地一线医护收到抗疫补助#).

In Hangzhou, several schools and kindergartens launched an initiative to welcome children of medical workers at school during the winter holidays, at no extra costs for the parents (#杭州多所学校给医护子女免费托管#). Shanghai local health authorities also announced a 6000 yuan ($870) bonus for frontline medical staff (#上海一线医护收到6000元补贴#).

“I salute the medical workers who stay on the job!”, one Weibo user wrote (“致敬坚守岗位的医护人员!”): “You work so hard.”

Despite all the praise for the medical workers in the hospitals, some staff members reminded people that there is still a long way to go when it comes to medical staff actually getting the respect they deserve.

Throughout the years, the social problem of patient-doctor violence has often become the topic of online discussions (read more), and one doctor from Hubei recently wrote that doctors are still being scolded and face harassment from patients, especially in stressful times.

“It’s been three years,” he writes: “and soon we’ll enter the fourth year [since the start of the epidemic]. If you are an ordinary person and you’re truly grateful to the doctors and nurses, then also show them your respect in ordinary times. If you are an employer and you really feel your medical staff works hard, then also give them more time off or more bonuses. Actual actions are always more real.”

Read more about Zero Covid ending here.

By Manya Koetse 


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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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©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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