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China and Covid19

Video Shows Real-Time “Departure” Information Board at Chinese Crematorium

From “cremation in process” to “cooling down,” the digital display shows the progress of the cremation to provide information to those waiting in the lobby. The crematorium ‘departure’ board strikes a chord with many.

Manya Koetse

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A video showing a live display screen announcing the names and status of the deceased at a Yunnan crematorium has been making its rounds on Chinese social media, from WeChat to Weibo, where one version of the video received over 1,7 million views.

Somewhat similar to a real-time platform departure display on train stations, the screen shows the waiting number of the deceased person, their name, gender, the name of the lounge/room (if any) for families, the name of the crematorium chamber, and the status of the cremation process. Below in the screen, it says “the final journey of a warm life” (温暖人生的最后旅程).

For example, the screen displays the names of a Mr. Chen and a Mr. Li; their bodies were in the process of being cremated (火化中), while other cremations were marked as “completed” (完成) or “cooling down” (降温中).

Through such a screen, located in the crematorium lobby, family members and loved ones can learn about the progress of the cremation of the deceased.

The video, recorded by a local on Jan. 7, received many comments. Among them, some people commented on the information board itself, while others simply expressed grief over those who died and the fragility of life. Many felt the display was confronting and it made them emotional.

“It makes me really sad that this how people’s lives end,” one commenter said, with another person replying that the display also shows you still need to wait in line even when you’re dead.

“I didn’t expect the screens [in the crematorium] to be like those in hospitals, where patients are waiting for their turn,” another Weibo user wrote. “It would be better if the names were hidden, like in the hospitals, to protect the privacy of the deceased,” another person replied.

Others shared their own experiences at funeral parlors also using such information screens.

Another ‘departure display’ at a Chinese crematorium, image shared by Weibo user.

“My grandfather passed away last September, and when we were at the undertaker’s, the display was also jumping from one name to the other and we could only comfort ourselves knowing that he was among those who lived a relatively long life.”

“Such a screen, it really makes me sad,” another commenter from Guangxi wrote, with others writing: “It’s distressing technology.”

Although the information screen at the crematorium is a novelty for many commenters, the phenomenon itself is not necessarily related to the Covid outbreak and the number of Covid-related deaths; some people share how they have seen them in crematoriums before, and funeral parlor businesses have used them to provide information to families since at least 2018.

According to an article published by Sohu News, more people – especially younger ones – have visited a funeral home for the first time in their lives recently due to the current Covid wave, also making it the first time for them to come across such a digital display.

The online video of such an information board has made an impact at a time when crematoriums are crowded and families report waiting for days to bury or cremate their loved ones, with especially a large number of elderly people dying due to Covid.

On Jan. 4, one social media user from Liaoning wrote:

I really suggest that the experts go to the crematoriums to take a look. There is no place to put the deceased, they’re parked outside in temporary containers, there’s no time left to hold a farewell ceremony and you can only directly cremate, and for those who were able to have a ceremony, they need to finish within ten minutes (..) At the funeral parlor’s big screen, there were eight names on every page, and there were ten pages for all the people in line that day, I stood there for half an hour and didn’t see the name of the person I was waiting for pop up anymore.”

As the video of the display in the crematorium travels around the internet, many commenters suggest that it is not necessarily the real-time ‘departure’ board itself that bothers them, but how it shows the harsh reality of death by listing the names of the deceased and their cremation status behind it. Perhaps it is the contrast between the technology of the digital display boards and the reality of the human vulnerability that it represents that strikes a chord with people.

One blogger who reposted the video on Jan. 13 wrote: “Life is short, cherish the present, let’s cherish what we have and love yourself, love your family, and love this world.” Among dozens of replies, some indicate that the video makes them feel uncomfortable.

Another commenter also wrote:

I just saw a video that showed an electronic display at a crematorium, rolling out the names of the deceased and the stage of the cremation. One name represents the ending of a life. And it just hit me, and my tears started flowing. I’m afraid of parting, I’m afraid of loss, I just want the people I love and who love me to stay by my side forever. I don’t want to leave. I’m afraid I’ll be alone one day, and that nobody will ever make me feel warm again.”

One person captured why the information board perhaps causes such unease: “The final moments that people still spent on this earth take place on the electronic screen in the memorial hall of the funeral home. Then, they are gone without a sound.”

 

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By Manya Koetse 
with contributions by Zilan Qian

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 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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China and Covid19

The “Final Round Players” of China’s Covid Outbreak

Those who still haven’t had Covid have made it to the “finals,” but it’s not always easy to stay positive about still testing negative.

Manya Koetse

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This Chinese Lunar New Year period, as millions of people are traveling across the country, Hangzhou Daily (杭州日报) posted a video on Weibo of a 13-year-old boy dressed in full protective clothing at the Hangzhou train station.

The young man told the reporter that he was on his way to visit his grandparents for the Chinese New Year. When asked why he was dressed in protective clothing from head to toe, he answered: “Because I haven’t had Covid yet.”

According to the video posted by Hangzhou Daily, the boy has made it to the “Final Rounds” (决赛圈) as he has managed to stay Covid-negative at a time when so many people have already been infected with Covid-19 (#挺进决赛圈的男孩穿防护服坐火车#).

Since China ‘optimized’ the last stringent measures of its ‘Zero Covid’ policy back in early December – including an end to mandatory mass testing, – a wave of Covid infections spread across the country. The number of infections and emergency department visits reportedly reached its peak in late December of 2022 and in early January of 2023.

According to Wu Zunyou (@吴尊友ChinaCDC), chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center of Disease Control and Prevention, 80 percent of China’s population has now been infected with Covid (“这一波疫情已经使得全国约80%的人感染过”).

As it is getting rarer to come across someone who has not had Covid yet, travelers dressed in full hazmat suits and protective gear are bound to stand out. “So many people on the train, and there are still two people in the crowd wearing protective clothing,” one Weibo user from Guangdong wrote. Others also post photos on social media of some of the few travelers still fully dressed in protective gear.

One blogger photographed a child wearing protective clothing at Chongqing West Station on Jan. 24, calling the protective attire “exaggerated,” and wondering how the child was supposed to go to the toilet.

Photo posted on Weibo by @杨品-光线摄影学院 on Jan 24., 2023.

Traveler wearing protective clothing at Hangzhou East Station, photo by @百鸣老屈.

Hangzhou Daily is not the only media outlet dubbing those who managed to stay negative “final round players” (决赛圈选手). In early January, Beijing Daily (北京日报​​​​) and People’s Daily (人民日报) also published a short article using the same phrase. In the article, the Beijing expert physician Dr. Li Dong (李侗) answered some questions about the so-called ‘finalists.’

According to Dr. Li Dong, some of the people who claim to have managed to stay ‘Covid free’ were never infected due to protective measures. But there are also those who may have actually had Covid-19 without realizing it, as they barely had any symptoms or were completely asymptomatic.

“Final round players, protect yourself!” one Weibo commenter writes: “Who else has managed to reach these finals?”

“As a ‘final player,’ I finally went out to eat and visit the shopping mall today. I’ll have to wait and see if I reach the championship level. If I haven’t caught [Covid], I can go on and lead a normal life; if I did catch it, I’ll need to wait a while, and will also be able to lead a normal life.”

Other persons who did not have Covid yet also share on social media that they went out for the first time during this Spring Festival period: “I cautiously went out and saw my first movie in 2023, Wandering Earth II, I picked a morning screening so that the cinema is not so crowded yet.”

Now that the Covid infections in China have peaked and the number of infected critically ill patients is quickly dropping, the fears over catching Covid are also seemingly fading among those who were not yet infected.

But some people who have not had Covid yet are still being careful, especially if it concerns elderly family members. It’s not always easy to stay positive about still testing negative – also for loved ones who did previously have Covid and want to protect their family.

One Fujian-based social media user writes: “I recovered from Covid and I’m spending the Spring Festival with three ‘final round players.’ We’ve been stuck inside the house for days. I’ve been looking at the lanterns and the lights in the neighborhood, watching them from the balcony, and I really wanted to go down and see.”

“Looking at WeChat Moments, all my friends are out traveling, but my family still hasn’t had Covid and we’re afraid to go out,” another netizen writes: “It’s sad to celebrate the New Year without going out. Guess we’re final-round players now, let’s hope it brings good things.”

Meanwhile, the group of ‘finalists’ is still shrinking. One Weibo user from Guangxi wrote: “I’ve left the finalist circle. It’s only been two days since I returned to my hometown and I’m already infected.”

By Manya Koetse 

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

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China and Covid19

Chinese Social Media Users Respond to Covid-Related Death Toll

While many commenters support Chinese authorities for providing data on Covid-related deaths, some questioning the accuracy were censored.

Manya Koetse

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On January 14, 2023, Chinese health authorities officially disclosed the number of Covid-related deaths between 8 December and 12 January. According to Jiao Yahui (焦雅辉), director of the National Health Commission’s Bureau of Medical Administration, a total of 59,938 Covid deaths were recorded. This number only covers Covid-related deaths in Chinese hospitals.

This is the first time China has given an exact number on the number of Covid-related deaths since the ending of its ‘zero Covid’ policy in December.

Earlier this month, Chinese official media stated that it is difficult to accurately assess the death rate during the early stages of an epidemic, and that an accurate assessment would later be made. The last report only recorded 37 deaths between December 7 and January 8.

According to Jiao Yahui, the death toll includes 5503 cases of death due to Covid-related respiratory failure, and 54,435 cases already had underlying medical conditions before getting Covid. The reported average age at the time of death was 80.3 years old, with the overall majority of patients (90.1%) being 65 and older. 56.5% were 80 years or older.

These statements were made during a press conference, where the peak of the current Covid outbreak was also discussed. On January 2, 2023, emergency departments across China saw a peak in visits – over 1,5 million emergency department visits in one day, – after which the number started to decline again. That downward trend was also visible in the number of hospitalizations of Covid patients, which peaked on January 5 of this year with more than 1,6 million patients hospitalized with Covid.

The top comments on Weibo, underneath a post about the death toll by state media outlet Xinhua, all spoke out in support of authorities releasing these numbers.

“It’s good to seek truth from facts, I hope the deceased can rest in peace and condolences to those left behind,” the most popular comment said, with another saying: “The country really did all they could and paid a high price to protect the largest number of people possible.”

“Open and transparent,” was another recurring reply within the comment section, which was controlled and only displayed the comments that were selected by Xinhua (“以下为博主精选评论”).

On TikTok (Douyin), the topic also attracted online discussions, with some threads less controlled than the Xinhua one, such as one underneath a post by the China Business Newspaper (华商报): “This number only counts hospital [deaths], there’s still those who died at home. I hope there’s no illness in heaven,” one Douyin user wrote, another one adding: “This data is not clear. Going back home to the countryside, the whole journey to the county town, there were really too many funerals.”

There were also many commenters sharing their own stories about loved ones they have lost. “This morning, my maternal grandfather passed away because of Covid, I no longer have a grandfather now, it’s so hard to bear.” “My grandfather died, he passed away at home,” others shared.

“Among these deaths is my husband, he was only 32 years old,” one woman wrote.

The fact that China’s recent data on Covid-related deaths only counts those patients who were hospitalized is something that is mentioned a lot by Chinese netizens, who suggest the actual number of deaths must be much higher if it would include those who died at home. Other comments also suggested that the number of deaths in the hospitals might also be underreported, asking for more clarifications on how these deaths had been counted.

This was something that was also reiterated by the well-known political commentator Hu Xijin (@胡锡进), who published a commentary on the issue on Saturday. He wrote that the recent numbers should be regarded as “incomplete statistics” (“不完全统计”) at a time when accurately counting the deaths in the midst of this Covid outbreak is very difficult. Authorities therefore only released the number of Covid-related hospital deaths in a “great effort to be objective.”

But the well-known blogger ‘Burn Superman Abao’ (@烧伤超人阿宝), a burn specialist at a Beijing hospital, suggested that the numbers do not make a lot of sense:

In 2021, we had a total of 36,570 hospitals in the entire country, including 3275 tertiary hospitals; 10,848 secondary hospitals; 12,649 primary hospitals; 9798 non-classified hospitals. During the epidemic, most hospitals fully opened and all departments treated patients with respiratory problems in order to take on this epidemic wave. What’s the concept of 60,000 Covid-related deaths in hospitals in over a month? If we assume all deaths occurred in secondary and tertiary hospitals and other hospitals had no deaths, then in five weeks’ time, every secondary or lower-level hospital in China only had an average number of 4 patients dying of Covid. In other words, on average, less than one patient per week per hospital dying of Covid.”

Later, the post was no longer online and his account was temporarily locked. On Sunday, the doctor wrote: “I won’t say anything else. I feel drained.”

Some also refuted Abao’s critique, saying that many tertiary hospitals in places such as Suzhou, Hangzhou or Hefei were not nearly as crowded as those in Beijing, Shanghai, or Guangzhou, and that his claims could not be backed up by data.

One Weibo user wondered: “Is it possible, 60,000? Actually, it is not difficult to count the number [of deaths] – the crematoriums have all the data.”

Besides the discussions on the accuracy of China’s Covid death toll, there are also many commenters who just want to express sympathies and grief over all the lives that are lost: “I just hope they can rest in peace.”

Read more about the end of China’s ‘zero Covid’ policy here.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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

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