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Twist and Turns in the Tragic Story of the Xuzhou Chained Mother

There are still many questions about the Xuzhou woman, but what is clear is that she now has come to represent many women like her.

Manya Koetse

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It’s been three weeks and there were four official statements, but the story of the Xuzhou mother-of-eight is still seeing new developments, and it is sparking even more anger on Chinese social media.

While the Beijing Olympics are still in full swing, many on Chinese social media are focused on developments taking place some 430 miles south of the capital. Three weeks after the story of a mother of eight children being chained up in a hut next to the family home first sent shockwaves across Chinese social media, the Xuzhou chained mother is still one of the biggest topics discussed on Weibo.

The ball started rolling in late January of this year when a video of the woman, filmed by a local TikTok user, went viral online and triggered massive outrage with thousands of people demanding answers about the woman’s circumstances. The woman, who seemed confused, was kept in a dirty shed without a door in the freezing cold – she did not even wear a coat. Videos showed how her husband Dong Zhimin (董志民) and their eight children were playing and talking in the family home right next to the hut. These videos were all filmed in the village of Huankou.

What’s on Weibo first reported this trending topic on January 29, and after BBC also reported the story on January 31st, the Xuzhou mother also started making international headlines. Meanwhile, on Chinese social media, updates to new developments in the story continued to go viral.

Local authorities in Xuzhou, the largest city of northern Jiangsu, and the Feng county-level division, where the village of Huankou is located, started looking into the case after the video went trending. The first statement by Feng County was issued on January 28 and it said that the woman, named Yang (杨), married her husband Dong Zhimin in 1998 and that there was no indication that she was a victim of human trafficking, which was a concern raised by so many netizens.

The woman was dealing with mental problems and would display sudden violent outbursts, beating children and older people. The family allegedly thought it was best to separate her from the family home during these episodes, letting her stay chained up in a small hut next to the house.

The first statement raised more questions than it answered. Many people on Weibo were angry and drew comparisons to the 2007 movie Blind Mountain (盲山). That movie, directed by Li Yang (李杨), tells the story of a woman named Bai who is kidnapped and sold to a villager in the mountains, leaving Bai completely trapped.

Scene from Blind Mountain.

Netizens started to do their own research and suggested that ‘Yang’ could actually be Li Ying (李莹), a woman who went missing in Sichuan’s Nanchong 26 years ago. Online, many people called for DNA research to see if Yang was indeed related to Li Ying’s family.

The mother of eight in Xuzhou compared to the missing woman Li Ying.

While netizens were speculating about the case, it became clear that the husband Dong Zhimin was giving more interviews about his eight children (seven sons, one daughter), spoke of how his sons would become providers for the family in the future, and even promoted local companies. This only led to more speculation and online anger, and Weibo shut down some of the hashtags dedicated to this topic.

 

More Statements

 

On January 30, Feng County local officials responded to the controversy in a second statement, in which the Xuzhou mother was identified as Yang *Xia (杨某侠) who allegedly once was “a beggar on the streets” in the summer of 1998 when she was taken in by Dong family and ended up marrying their 30-something son Dong Zhimin.

Local officials did not properly check and verify Yang’s identity information when registering the marriage certificate and the local family planning department also made errors in implementing birth control measures and following up with the family.

Yang did have mental problems before, but her condition allegedly worsened in June of 2021 when she displayed more aggressive behavior and was tied up in the shed. The statement said that Yang had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was receiving treatment.

On February 7th, Xuzhou authorities released a third statement with an update of their investigation, which had brought them to the village of Yagu (亚谷村) in Yunnan – a place that was mentioned on Yang’s marriage certificate.

With the help of local authorities, villagers, and household registers, they were able to determine Yang’s identity and stated that she was actually Xiao Huamei (小花梅) who was born and raised in Yagu, Fugong county. In 1994, she married and moved to the city of Baoshan, but she divorced and returned to her village two years later.

Her parents, now deceased, ordered a female fellow villager who had married someone from Jiangsu to take Xiao with her to receive treatment and look for a suitable partner for marriage. Although the woman took Xiao with her on a train from Yunnan’s Kunming city to Jiangsu’s Donghai, Xiao allegedly went missing shortly after arrival. The woman, named Sang (桑), never reported Xiao Huamei missing to the police and she also did not notify Xiao’s family.

The Xuzhou authorities further write that DNA research has confirmed that all of the eight children are the parents’ biological children.

A fourth statement was issued on February 10th through the Xuzhou official Weibo channel (@徐州发布). According to that statement, Yang’s DNA had been compared to that of the family of Xiao Huamei and it was determined that Yang and Xiao Huamei were definitely the same person.

The statement further said that three persons were held criminally responsible for illegal detainment and human trafficking in the case of Xiao Huamei: Sang, her husband, and Dong Zhimin, the father of the eight children.

Meanwhile, Chinese news outlet The Paper reported that the family of Li Ying, the missing woman who resembled Yang so much, received official confirmation that there was no DNA match between Li Ying and Yang.

 

Weibo Detectives and Journalists

 

Following the last statement, online anger did not subside. Was Yang’s husband only accused of ‘illegal detention’? What about rape and abuse?

By now, there are multiple stories going around the Chinese internet of other women living in Xuzhou who might have also been a victim of human trafficking. What about them? What are their names? Who cares about them? Who is still out there looking for them?

Another issue raised by Weibo users was that of the age of Xiao Huamei, which was never mentioned in the official statement. Was Xiao Huamei underage when she was trafficked? How old is the Xuzhou mother of eight?

Determined to find out the truth, some investigative journalists and concerned netizens decided to do their own research.

Two Weibo users (using the accounts @小梦姐姐小拳拳, @乌衣古城, and @我能抱起120斤) drove to Feng County, Xuzhou, with the goal of verifying the information disclosed by the local government and pressuring them to arrest husband Dong for his crime. The women, who had been sharing all details of their trip on Weibo, were planning on visiting Yang and talking to other people in the area.

After they arrived in Feng County, the local police allegedly removed the slogans they had written on their own car, calling for Dong’s arrest. They were denied entrance at the facility where Yang supposedly is treated and someone tried to take their phone. When the two women went to the police station to report the attempted phone robbery, the police detained them for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” (“寻衅滋事罪”). A supertopic on Weibo dedicated to helping the two women was taken offline.

One other important person dedicated to this case is the Chinese investigative journalist Deng Fei (邓飞), who has over five million followers on his Weibo account. On February 13, Deng said that according to Yang’s verified ID card, which he obtained via online channels, her date of birth is June 6, 1969. This means Yang’s age would be 52.

The photo on Yang’s ID card, which says she was born in 1969.

Deng and others questioned Yang’s age, especially considering their youngest baby just turned two. Would a woman in her mid and late 40s, living in such harsh conditions, still be able to have multiple babies? Why was her hair not greying at all? Were authorities lying about her age?

Deng Fei later obtained and published a photo of the marriage certificate of ‘Yang Qingxiang’ and ‘Dong Zhimin,’ which shows their marriage was registered in August of 1998 and was approved by the Huankou township. Here, Yang’s date of birth is also said to be June of 1969. However, what struck Deng and many others is that the photo on the marriage certificate seems to be a different woman from Yang.


The well-known screenwriter and author Li Yaling (@李亚玲) also researched the Xuzhou case, and she claimed that according to her sources, Xiao Huamei was born in 1977 and was initially sold to another man by Sang for 6000 yuan ($950) before she ended up marrying Dong. Li also claims that the vlogger who filmed the first viral video put the chains around the woman’s neck himself. The chains were already there, and were in fact used to sometimes tie up the mother, but they were allegedly only put on her to help get more attention for the woman and her impoverished family.

The account of the vlogger who originally posted the viral video has since been deleted.

After three weeks of developments and four statements later, there are still so many questions, and there are still many doubts about whether or not Xiao Huamei from Yagu village is really Yang from Huankou village, and who the woman in the photo is.

Another issue raised is that the oldest son of the family, Dong *gang (董某港) was born in March of 1997, but according to one of the earlier statements issued in this case, Dong Zhimin’s father took in Yang in the summer of 1998 and their marriage certificate was issued in August of that year. So whose child is the oldest kid?

Many people think that perhaps Xiao Huamei – who was trafficked in 1996 – was actually once married to Dong and is the mother of the oldest child, but that the chained mother in Xuzhou is another woman. Since Xiao Huamei was married before in 1994, the ex-husband could surely confirm if Yang in Xuzhou is indeed the woman he was once married to, but so far his identity has not been disclosed.

 

The Women in the Dark Rooms

 

While details surrounding the case of the ‘chained Xuzhou mother of eight’ are still being discussed a lot, it has become clear that by now, Yang has come to represent many more women like her.

Since early February, more stories have surfaced of other women like Yang, often suffering from a mental or physical handicap. One of these stories involved a disabled woman also from Xuzhou, Feng County – a video that showed her lying on the floor also went viral on social media including a second video showing the woman living in terrible conditions, although there has not been a follow-up on her specific situation.

In light of the recent developments, media insider Zhang Xiaolei (@媒体人张晓磊) posted a segment of a TV documentary from ten years ago on Weibo titled “The Woman Leaving the Dark Room” (走出黑屋的女人), in which a naked and confused middle-aged woman was kept locked in a hut in a village in Shandong province, just a one-hour drive from Huankou village. Zhang wrote that the reporter, with the help of local authorities, was able to rescue the woman and eventually succeeded in locating her family.

Still from the decade-old documentary (走出黑屋的女人) about a woman kept in a small house, just 40 kilometers away from where the Xuzhou mother of eight lived.

Zhang’s post was taken offline, as were other initiatives to raise more awareness. On Valentine’s Day, a group of people from Yueyang, Hunan, spoke up for the Xuzhou mother and posted a group photo in which they carried banners and hashtagged the post “stand up for human rights.” That post was also soon deleted, along with a letter signed by 10 graduates of Peking University to call for an investigation of local officials involved in the case, changes to the law, and more details on the Xuzhou woman’s identity.

Despite censorship, netizens keep posting about the case and putting pressure on authorities to do more research and take more action. How could Yang have been so neglected? Why didn’t authorities do more to prevent such a tragedy from happening?

Their calls do seem to have some impact, as the higher authorities of Jiangsu provincial government have reportedly now also decided to set up an investigation team to conduct an investigation into the Xuzhou case.

Meanwhile, there are many artists who are using their artwork, from sculptures to graphic design, to express their feelings about the case and condemn how local authorities have dealt with this case.

They also pay their respects to the chained-up woman in the video. Regardless of who she is, and how she got there, there is one thing everyone agrees on; her story is a tragic one, and no matter who gets punished for what happened to her, there are no winners here.

 

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes.

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.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. 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 hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    reader

    February 18, 2022 at 9:59 pm

    Menanwhile -> meanwhile

    Great, enlightening yet concise write-up

    thank you
    goed gedaan

    • Avatar

      Admin

      February 20, 2022 at 6:36 pm

      Thanks so much for noticing, adjusted!

  2. Avatar

    Sam

    February 19, 2022 at 6:46 pm

    No one believes this still happen in a 21st century in China, and I am extremely outrageous after reading this story, and can not find word for this kind of cruelty, immoral and illegal behavior in rural area. Everyone need to keep following this for answers and steps to complete saving of thousands of similar women in China. The gender imbalance due to the one cold policy has resulted in this kind of human trafficking of women in China’s rural areas.

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China Insight

Less Education, More Babies? Discussions Surrounding China’s Falling Birth Rate

Another year, another drop in birth rates: according to the latest statistics, China’s 2022 saw more deaths than births.

Manya Koetse

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China’s falling birth rates have been a topic of discussion for years. With the latest statistics marking another record low in birth rates, Chinese experts look for ways to motivate couples to have (more) children at an earlier age.

Official yearbook data, released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics (国家统计局) on Jan. 17, 2023, shows that the total Chinese mainland population was 1.4118 billion by late 2022. Last year, 9.56 million people were born, while 10.41 million people died. The population in 2022 fell by 850,000 from 2021.

As reported by The New York Times, according to the latest data, 2022 was not just the first time deaths outnumbered births in China since the Great Leap Forward in 1960s, it was also one of the worst performance years for the Chinese economy since 1976.

China’s dropping birth rates have been a topic of discussion for years. The annual statistics that were published three years ago, in January 2020, showed that China’s birth rate in 2019 had fallen to its lowest since the founding of the People’s Republic of China. In that year, the birth rate was 10.48 per thousand, and 14.65 million babies were born in mainland China.

The data from later years showed that just 12 million babies were born in 2020 (8.5 births per thousand) and that only 10.6 million babies were born in 2021 – a rate of 7.52 births per thousand. The latest number is another record low.

Over recent years, various trends in Chinese (online) media have highlighted the social issues behind China’s dropping marriage and birth rates. The rising costs of living and the fact that Chinese younger generations “prefer to marry late,” are often mentioned as an explanation for China’s decline in marriage rates and the interrelated lowering birth rates.

But China’s so-called ‘leftover’ single men have also been pointed out as a “crisis,” with China having millions of more men than women of marriageable age – partly a consequence of the one-child policy combined with a traditional preference for baby boys.

For years, China’s ‘leftover women’ were also mentioned as a reason for the country’s declining marriage rates; China’s well-educated, career-oriented, urban single women were singled out for making it harder for China’s unmarried men to find a wife because of their ‘choice’ to postpone marriage and family life. This increased the pressure on China’s single women to get married, including facing an associated social stigma, which has become a recurring topic of debate on Chinese social media.

Chinese couples are allowed to have two children since 2015, three children since 2021, and it was later widely reported that parents with more than three children would also no longer receive fines according to a draft law amendment.

Celebrating the ‘three child policy’ (image via Weibo.com).

But the new regulations have not had the desired effect, with many couples simply not wanting a second child or being unable to afford it. The pandemic and zero Covid policy also haven’t exactly helped to boost China’s birth rates.

On social media, official media put out the two hashtags “9.56 Million People born in China in 2022” and “In 2022, China’s Population Decreased by 850,000 people” (#2022中国全年出生人口956万人#, #2022年中国人口减少85万人#). Among commenters, the latest data have led to various discussions.

Some are about the costs of living:

  • There’s so much to consider if you want to have a child, the costs are just too high, and I wouldn’t be able to support it.”

Others are about increasing social pressure:

  • These days there’s too much pressure on men to get married, they’re not confident and at ease anymore.”

And then there are those who see no problem in a population drop:

  • It’s only natural for the population to decline, how can you expect it to be like the old days when people would have five or six kids; the people like my grandma in my hometown all come from families with at least four kids.”
  • This country of 1,5 billion people is constantly worried about going extinct, people are crazy!
  • The Information Age doesn’t need so many people anyway.”

 

HOW TO BOOST BIRTH RATES?

 

But while netizens’ opinions on the matter vary, experts, politicians, and media outlets focus on the topic of how China’s birth rates can be boosted.

Various places across China have already announced policies to encourage families to raise more than one child, including prolonged maternity leave, increased maternity allowances, and support for home purchases.

One hashtag that was popular on Weibo this week was about a statement made by the billionaire businessman Zong Qinghou (宗庆后), CEO of leading beverage company Wahaha Group (哇哈哈).

Zong is a proponent of offering affordable housing to young people. In a video that has since gone viral – and which was a segment from a CCTV interview, – Zong talks about his low-cost housing project and also called on China’s young people to find a partner, get married earlier and have children sooner to “contribute” to the country’s birth rates (#宗庆后希望年轻人早点结婚生娃#).

The hashtag triggered many replies. Most of them criticized Zong’s remarks, and many commenters expressed that they did not like being told to marry and have kids. Some also remarked how Zong’s own forty-something daughter allegedly is not married herself.

It is not the first time for an opinion leader or expert to frame marriage and childbirth as a “contribution” to the country.  In 2015, the Chinese scholar Yang Zao (杨早) wrote an essay in which he explained China’s falling birth rates as “a clash between individualist and collectivist values.” At the time, he wrote: “For the country, for society, for parents, can’t you let go a bit of personal happiness? After all, isn’t marriage key to solving China’s present-day problems?”

Another hashtag that went viral this week is “Could Shortening Education Time Increase Birth Rates?” (#缩短教育时间能提高生育率吗#).

The topic relates to an article published by Zhejiang News on Jan. 16, 2023, about China’s Education and Population Report (中国教育和人口报告). In this report, James Jianzhang Liang (梁建章, a demographer who is better known as the Ctrip CEO) and other authors suggest that shortening the duration of education might help boost the country’s birth rates. The authors suggest that the middle and elementary education time could be cut down by two years by eliminating the Senior High School Entrance Examination (Zhongkao 中考).

There are two ways in which this idea might benefit China’s birth rates. On the one hand, the authors argue, China’s highly competitive education system puts a lot of pressure on children and financial strain on their parents, who struggle to invest as much time and money into their children’s education as they can. The pressure is real: the exam results during the last year of junior high school are of crucial importance regarding admission to the preferred senior high school, which also profoundly influences education after high school and students’ future careers. So the reasoning is that couples are more likely to have children if the financial burdens on parents are alleviated.

Should we have kids or not? Cartoon posted on Weibo.com.

On the other hand, the authors argue that when people finish school two years earlier, this will give them more time to start their life after graduation, making it more likely for women to have children at an earlier age.

One post about this topic, in which netizens were asked how they felt about the idea, received over 225,000 likes and nearly 13,000 comments.

A typical reply suggested that all these ‘experts’ should have more children themselves, reiterating a widespread criticism of opinion makers and experts who often do not practice what they preach.

Others expressed that they did not think that China’s lower birth rates were related to education, while others felt that a shortened education time would be a step back for China.

Some also criticized Zhejiang News. The media outlet itself indicated that the idea of shortening school years to boost fertility rates was like treating people as “tools.” But some commenters said: “The sad thing is not that people are treated as tools, the sad thing is that it took you this long to realize it.”

There are more Weibo bloggers and commenters suggesting that people paid a heavy price for the One Child policy that was implemented between 1980-2015, and that its effects will have a significant impact on society for a long time to come. After decades of only allowing couples to have one child, the shift to now introducing policies to encourage people to have more children is a strange reality.

One popular blogger (@峰哥亡命天涯) posted a photo that showed an old One Child Policy slogan on a building [少生优生,幸福一生 ‘Have fewer but healthier babies and a happier life‘], and he wrote: “The effects of family planning have contributed to contemporary times and bring benefits for future centuries!”

Another poster said they felt bad for the one-child generation born in the 1980s:

I really feel sorry for those born in the 1980s. They’ve always dealt with problems in attending school from young to old, then when they were all grown up faced problems with the job [market], then the issue of marrying and the bride price, and most importantly the high price of housing and caring for the elderly – the 1980s generation is carrying the burden. Those born in the 1970s can no longer have children, and those born after ’95 or 2000 are not giving birth. So we can only squeeze the post-1980s (..) Let them finally take a breather.”

By Manya Koetse 
with contributions by Zilan Qian

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China and Covid19

From Peaches to Pears: 3 Natural Food Remedies Trending on Chinese Social Media in Times of Covid Outbreak

Even though experts suggest that natural food remedies won’t prevent or cure Covid, Chinese netizens believe in the power of peaches.

Zilan Qian

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Coughing, fever, sore throat; during China’s current Covid outbreak, the ways to alleviate the most common symptoms have become an everyday topic on Chinese social media. Food remedies are a recurring trending topic. Here are three natural food remedies that have become popular (again) over the past few weeks.

In December of 2022, during the rapid spread of Covid-19 across China after the country let go of its ‘zero Covid’ policy, fever and cough medicine were selling out fast. Some Covid patients turned to foods and drinks to help soothe Covid symptoms.

The following types of food have become especially popular on Chinese social media over the past few weeks.

 

1. Canned Yellow Peaches (黄桃罐头)

In December, when the number of Covid-19 infections spiked throughout China, canned yellow peaches suddenly received significant attention. Under the Weibo hashtag “Canned Yellow Peaches, the Mysterious Power from the East” (#东方神秘力量黄桃罐头#), netizens shared how canned yellow peaches helped them recover from Covid-19, describing it as “the god of children from Northeastern China” that “blessed every Northeastern Chinese child.” Some even joked that the government should include canned yellow peaches in the public health insurance package.

Netizens praising the effect of canned yellow peaches in alleviating diseases. Image from a post on Zhihu.

Although many state media quoted experts’ claims that canned yellow peaches cannot fight Covid-19 symptoms and might even worsen coughing, most netizens still believe in the power of peaches.

While most people acknowledge that natural food remedies aren’t always effective, they are seemingly unanimously against the “experts’ advice.” Under Pengpai News’ Weibo post and hashtag “Experts Claim Canned Yellow Peaches Might Worsen Cough” (#专家称黄桃罐头或加重咳嗽#),” some Weibo users commented that experts would not dare to discuss the supposed ineffectiveness of Lianhuaqingwen (traditional Chinese medicine that has become hot-selling during Covid outbreak) and thus criticize canned peaches instead.

Another commenter wrote: “Who would actually believe that canned yellow peaches can cure diseases? It is just like a placebo when we’re sick.”

A satirical comparison of the effects between canned yellow peaches and Lianhuaqingwen.

One popular image compared the effectiveness of canned yellow peaches and Lianhuaqingwen. According to the image, the former is tasty and hydrates, while also containing electrolytes and calories and serving as comfort food to people, whereas the latter is only capable of potentially having side effects for the kidney and liver.

Canned yellow peaches are a nostalgic comfort food, especially for people from Northeastern China. For the generations growing up during the 1970s and 1980s, canned yellow peaches are known as a ‘cure-all.’ In an era of food scarcity, canned yellow peaches were a sweet luxury that most children could only get when they were ill.

One commenter on Q&A platform Zhihu wrote: “Eating canned yellow peaches is a ritual.” Other netizens shared their childhood memories about the food – one commenter recalled how eating canned yellow peaches at the hospital after a car accident left a deep impression on them.

A Weibo post sharing ‘yellow peaches’ childhood memories. The user wrote about parents bringing canned yellow peaches as a gift for relatives who were ill: “At that time, we associated cans (of yellow peaches) with being sick.” (Originally from a Zhihu post.)

A supermarket sale of canned yellow peaches. The Chinese characters say “táoguò yìqíng,” actually meaning “escaping the pandemic,” but as a word joke, táo is written with character 桃 for peaches instead of 逃 for escape. Image from a Zhihu post.

Moreover, the name of the food has also come to be associated with recovering from Covid. As the character ‘桃’ (peach) sounds the same as the character ‘逃’ (escape), eating canned yellow peaches is also jokingly used in the context of ‘escaping’ from the epidemic.

 

2. Steamed Orange with Salt (盐蒸橙子)

Another food that gained popularity during the Covid-19 outbreak is steamed orange with salt, which is considered a more medicinal food remedy than canned yellow peaches. The food has since long been used as a Chinese folk prescription for sore throat. The widespread Covid-19 symptom of severe sore throat, sometimes also described as “swallowing blades” (喉咙吞刀片),” has made the folk prescription popular again.

Here is the cooking procedure according to many online posts: wash and soak the orange in salted water; cut the orange at ⅕ point from the top; spread ⅓ spoon of salt onto the remaining ⅘ oranges; put two parts of the orange together and steam (steaming time varies between posts from 20 min up to two hours); eat the orange with the peel and the rest of the water.

Contrary to canned yellow peaches, experts have acknowledged the benefits of eating salt-steamed oranges. According to a post released by Youth Hunan (青年湖南), the official Weibo account of the Communist Youth League of Hunan Province, some ‘experts’ state that the peel of salt-steamed oranges help alleviate discomforts in the throat, and the vitamin C can prevent and alleviate viral infections. In reports by other mainstream media, such as CCTV News, it is also claimed that salt-steamed oranges might be helpful, and that the salt can make the natural sugar taste sweeter.

However, steamed oranges with salt are not as beloved among the public as canned yellow peaches. People’s comments on the effectiveness of salty steamed oranges vary. Some share that they stopped coughing after eating them, while others criticize it as having “no use at all,” or even exacerbating the pain.

Despite the disagreement on its effectiveness, most Weibo posts agree that steamed oranges with salt are just “not tasty” at all. Contrary to the CCTV report that suggested that salt brings out the sweetness of oranges, many describe the food as extremely bitter and sour to the extent of “crying while eating.”

In online discussions about steamed oranges with salt, the distrust in expert opinions surfaced again. Although experts claim that the food is beneficial and alleviates symptoms, some netizens seem annoyed that it does not do anything for them at all: “I’ve been eating this for three days, not a damn change and it tastes disgusting.”

 

3. Stewed Pear with Rock Sugar (冰糖炖梨)

Besides canned yellow peaches and salty steamed oranges, many other kinds of food and folk prescriptions have also become trends during the Covid-19 outbreak. There’s salt-steamed lemons (盐蒸柠檬), boiled scallion water (葱白煮水), roasted oranges (烤橘子), white radish soup (萝卜汤), honeysuckle chrysanthemum tea (金銀花菊花茶) or brown sugar ginger tea (红糖姜茶), which is also commonly used to alleviate menstrual pain.

Among them, you’ll also find stewed pear with rock sugar (冰糖炖梨), which is commonly eaten to alleviate symptoms like sore throat and coughing as well reducing excessive phlegm. Many netizens indicate that it is something their parents made for them, and that it is sweet, warm, and comforting.

Recipes vary, but the pears, generally yellow pears (雪梨), can be either cooked or boiled and its core is then removed and filled with rock sugar as well as other optional ingredients, such as Chinese dates, dried Goji berries, or Sichuan peppers (see a recipe here).

Despite many people expressing their love for stewed pear with rock sugar, a recent article by the Taiwanese ‘Health 2.0’ site claimed that the food remedy is somewhat outdated as other ingredients are supposedly more effective against a persistent cough, such as daikon (combined with honey, rock sugar), which is also used as a home remedy for its antibacterial properties.

The advantages of many foods and folk prescriptions are still up for debate. However, recent related online discussions show that the comfort or even the placebo effect of certain food remedies are very important in the Covid-19 experience of many Chinese people. Some are 100% sure they work.

“One bite and it instantly made me feel better,” one commenter wrote about their homemade stewed pear. Some people admit they do not necessarily even mind if it really alleviates their symptoms or not: “It’s just so tasty!”

By Zilan Qian
with contributions by Manya Koetse

 

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