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We Want Milk! Australian Baby Formula Sold Out Due to Chinese Demand

A great demand for milk powder in mainland China has lead to baby formula shortages in different countries. Now, the shelves in Australia are empty.

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The great demand for milk powder in mainland China has led to baby formula shortages in different countries. The major milk shopping spree on China’s Singles Day has now left the shelves in Australia empty. The milk shortages lead to heated online discussions, both in Australia and in China.

Unofficial Chinese exporters are busier than ever buying baby formula in Australian supermarkets and pharmacies to ship to China. It is a highly lucrative market for them: the average price for a tin of milk powder is AUD 25 (±18 US$), but Chinese mums are willing to pay up to AUD 80-100 (58-72 US$) per tin.

Due to the high demand of baby powder in China, Australian-based Chinese, especially international students, frantically buy boxes of milk powers to sell to their Chinese contacts. It has left shelves empty in local supermarkets, triggering the anger of Australian mums.

 

“Some parents have to visit up to 15 different supermarkets and pharmacies before they can buy milk powder for their baby.”

 

The demand for milk powder recently intensified in the lead-up to Singles Day, China’s biggest shopping day of the year. It has become hard to find baby formula in many of Melbourne supermarkets such as Coles or Woolworths. Popular baby formula brands including Bellamy’s, Karicare or A2 Platinum have become particularly difficult to obtain. According to Australian news reports, some parents have to visit up to 15 different supermarkets and pharmacies before they can buy milk powder for their baby.

One furious parent reportedly was so fed up with the situation, that she snapped pictures of two women buying 50 cans of A2 Platinum baby formula at a Melbourne supermarket, and uploaded them to Facebook. “My blood was boiling for the mothers having problems finding A2 for their babies. I was feeling sensitive because I’ve got a newborn,” the woman told Fairfax Media.

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The pictures sparked heated discussions on Facebook (comment screenshots by Esposito & Fu, 2015).

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As Chinese media reported on the issue, the shortage of baby formula in Australia also became a much-discussed topic on Sina Weibo under the hashtag of “Australian Milk powder Shortage” (#澳洲奶荒#) and “Australian Mums Hate Singles Day” (#澳洲妈妈最恨双11#).

 

“20 million babies are born in China every year, and only a quarter of them are breastfed.”

 

The reason that so many Chinese parents are buying baby formula from overseas dates back to the disastrous melamine poisoning cases that affected 300,000 Chinese babies in 2008. Many Chinese no longer trust Chinese manufactured milk powder. They therefore look to buy “clean and green” baby formula from countries such as Australia, The Netherlands, New Zealand or Hong Kong. Richer parents are willing to pay as much as five times the retail price for a tin of baby formula. For those who do not have the money, however, made-in-China formula is the only option.

With 20 million babies born in China every year, and only a quarter of them being breastfed, the demand for baby formula is growing rapidly.

Supermarkets and pharmacies in The Netherlands have already limited individual sales of baby formula: every customer can now only purchase one pack of baby formula from brands such as Nutrilon. In some Amsterdam pharmacies, an ID registration is required to purchase milk powder in order to avoid the same person buying different packs in different stores across the city. Some stores of supermarket chain Jumbo has set a rule that people can only buy milk powder if they spend at least 25 euro (±26 US$) on other groceries. It keeps unofficial exporters away.

Due to empty shelves, Nutrilon has now made it possible for Dutch citizens to order milk power online, with a limit of two packs a week.

The sales limits have made it more difficult for unofficial sellers to obtain large amounts of milk powder, making countries such as Australia a more attractive place to buy and sell baby formula.

 

“The penalty for unlicensed export of milk powder is up to 12 months imprisonment.”

 

When you search for “Australia buyers” (澳洲代购) on Taobao, Weibo or WeChat, thousands of results pop up. Chinese people living overseas make huge profits in purchasing commodities for their customers in mainland China.

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Even Australian souvenir shops operated by Chinese have now turned to the ‘grey market’, with boxes of formula stacked up. While supermarkets are running out of formula, courier companies have so many parcels of formula in stock that they almost reach the roof, ready to be shipped overseas.

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Australian-based Weibo netizens provide their services as ‘Australia buyers’ for customers in mainland China.
 

Several retailers including Woolworths and some pharmacies have now also introduced purchase limits to 2 tins of baby formula per customer.

In response to the massive import of milkpowder, the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources issued an online statement this month, warning unofficial exporter that the penalty for unlicensed export of milk powder is up to 12 months imprisonment.

[learn_more caption=”Statement by the Australian Department”] “The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources understands that the community may have concerns about shortages of infant formula on Australian supermarket shelves.

The department understands supermarkets are taking measures to make sure adequate stock of infant formula are available and have been talking to their suppliers. These are commercial arrangements between retailers and the manufacturers of infant formula. The role of this department is to ensure goods exported comply with the Export Control Act 1982, meet foreign government requirements, are safe and accurately described. The penalty for failing to comply with the conditions of export orders—including exporting a prescribed dairy product without an export permit and sourcing from an unregistered establishment—is up to 12 months imprisonment. If the exporter also provides false information to an authorised officer the penalty is up to 5 years imprisonment.

Background

Exports of Australian-made infant formula to China that are over 10 kg (or 10 L liquid) must be sourced from registered export establishments and export documentation is only provided where export consignments comply with China’s requirements. that the penalty for failing to comply with the conditions of export orders—including exporting a prescribed dairy product without an export permit and sourcing from an unregistered establishment—is up to 12 months imprisonment. If the exporter also provides false information to an authorised officer the penalty is up to 5 years imprisonment. Exports of Australian-made infant formula to China that are over 10 kg (or 10 L liquid) must be sourced from registered export establishments and export documentation is only provided where export consignments comply with China’s requirements.”[/learn_more]

 

“The government has to think about why the majority of people have no trust in the milk produced here”

 

On Sina Weibo, netizen Elynpao urges Chinese to think about the issue of Australian baby formula shortage: “We have enough milk in China to supply our own people. Why should we burden such a big country [as Australia], causing them to scold Chinese businessmen for earning money like that? China should really reflect on itself.”

Another Weibo netizen named MELIFE also says that it is a shame how Chinese buy up all baby formula from Australian supermarkets and sell it to China just to earn money, leaving the local babies without any supplies.

“The government has to think about why the majority of people have no trust in the milk produced here,” another user comments. “It’s a national humilition,” another commenter says: “If a country cannot even safeguard the milk for its babies, making people go abroad for it; it’s really dreadful.”

– by Jennifer Tang

featured image: http://news.china.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/640-1059.jpeg

©2015 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. edwin castelblanco

    March 17, 2016 at 2:36 am

    looking to start exporting powder milk to china , im in the USA any info would be a great help

  2. Oliver

    April 24, 2019 at 12:59 pm

    New update : 1child policy is stopped… and there is a new increase of demand for Western Baby formula Brand.
    the top five infant formula firms in China are all based in the U.S. and Europe, accounting for 40 percent of the market.

    • max

      May 4, 2019 at 4:29 am

      It is a Brand Market you are right

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China and Covid19

Fangcang Diaries: China’s Makeshift Covid Hospitals, from Wuhan to the Future

Fangcang hospitals are here to stay as long as China sticks to its current zero-Covid path.

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By mid 2020, many thought Fangcang, China’s Covid-19 makeshift hospitals, had become a thing of the past. Instead, they have become a part of the country’s future. Through the course of the pandemic, perceptions of China’s ‘square cabin’ Covid hospitals have drastically changed. Chinese social media users get a glimpse of life inside the Fangcang hospitals thanks to patients’ online diaries, videos, and photos.

 
This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, original publication in German by Goethe Institut China, visit Yi Magazin: Fangcang ohne Ende: Chinas Covid-Krankenhäuser damals und heute.
 

In February of 2020, the impressive construction of two enormous emergency field hospitals in Covid-stricken Wuhan captured the world’s attention. The Huoshenshan and Leishenshan Hospitals were constructed in a matter of days and combined they could take in 2,500 patients. The construction process was live-streamed by state media and sped-up drone footage of a large empty field transforming into a fully functioning hospital received millions of clicks around the internet.

Along with mass-testing and local lockdowns, the so-called ‘Fangcang’ shelter hospitals are seen as a key solution in ‘fighting Covid-19 the Chinese way’ to alleviate the pressure on public hospitals and lower Covid-19 mortality rates by quarantining and treating patients with confirmed infections.

Within a matter of 2,5 years, Fangcang emerged as a novel concept on China’s coronavirus battleground and then became a part of everyday life in a zero Covid society. Here, we will zoom in on China’s Fangcang phenomenon and changes in the public’s perceptions of it.

 

MORE THAN MASH: THE NOVEL FANGCANG CONCEPT

 

Fāngcāng (方舱) literally means ‘square cabin,’ referring to a modular or prefabricated mobile cabin hospital. Although the concept of an emergency field hospital or makeshift hospital is not new, Fangcang hospitals are labeled as a “novel public health concept” due to their specific use during China’s Covid crisis (Chen et al 2020).

Some studies say that China’s Covid-19 Fangcang hospitals were modeled after emergency cabins used during the Wenchuan and Yushu earthquakes in 2008 and 2010 (Wang et al 2020, 2). According to the biggest Chinese-language online encyclopedia, Baidu Baike, the term actually comes from the United States, where the U.S. Army first started developing such cabins – Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals (MASH units) – in the early 1950s and used them during the Korean War. The Chinese Fangcang hospital, however, is not really the same and the concept was implemented for the first time in Wuhan in February 2020.

Aerial view of the American 46th MASH unit (photo by Robert L. Emanuele, published at https://bulletin.facs.org/)

In China, Fangcang hospitals are large, temporary hospitals for the isolation, treatment, and disease monitoring of Covid-19 patients with mild-to-moderate symptoms. By taking in and quarantining people who have tested positive for Covid-19, they are meant to reduce the transmission of the virus within households and communities, while also providing treatment to patients with mild symptoms (Fang et al 2020, 2). In doing so, they dramatically reduce the pressure on regular hospitals, which need their beds to solely treat patients with severe and critical conditions.

Construction of Huoshenshan Hospital, image via Sohu.com.

The 1,000-bed Huoshenshan Hospital (火神山医院) was constructed within a matter of days, starting on January 23, 2020, and ending on February 2. The first patients were admitted a day later. The construction of the 1,500 bed Leishenshan Hospital (雷神山医院) started on the 26th of January and was completed on 6 February 2020.

Many other Fangcang hospitals were not constructed like these shelter hospitals but were built by converting large (public) buildings such as exhibition centers, stadiums, or schools into healthcare facilities. In Wuhan, over a dozen more Fangcang hospitals were opened in February of 2020 to provide beds for Covid-19 patients before all being suspended on March 10 of that year when the crisis was under control.

 

FANGCANG ON SOCIAL MEDIA: A CHANGING IMAGE

 

In the early stages of the pandemic, Chinese social media users got a glimpse of life inside the Fangcang hospitals through official media videos and through footage and photos posted by people staying there. Up to the present day, patients share their quarantine experiences on social media using hashtags such as “Fangcang Diaries” (#方舱日记#).

Medical workers leading a dance exercise session for COVID-19 patients at a Fangcang in Wuhan, March 2020. Photo posted on Weibo (@滨州文旅).

In the Wuhan days, there were videos of patients dancing together inside the hospitals, with people cheering on the positivity of patients and the dedication of the healthcare workers.

Photo posted from a Wuhan Fangcang by Weibo user (@121314人生需要转折) on February 29, 2020.

One photo of a patient reading Francis Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order even went viral on Weibo. Many admired the patient for reading such heavy literature during his Fangcang stay and the man became famous overnight as ‘the invincible Wuhan-er.’

The Invincible Wuhan-er, see more here.

A young woman known as A Nian (阿念) also wrote on social media about her quarantine stay at one of Wuhan’s Fangcang hospitals in February of 2020. When her grandmother fell critically ill during her stay at the city’s Huoshenshan hospital, A Nian asked to be transferred to the same Fangcang so that she could take care of her. Despite having A Nian by her side, the grandmother passed away. A Nian’s experiences at the Wuhan Fangcang hospitals were eventually published in the book Wuhan Girl A Nian Diary (武汉女孩阿念日记). The book paints a picture of the Fangcang where resilience, warmth, and optimism dominate the overall atmosphere.

The Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan was a national war against the virus, and the Fangcang hospitals were described and represented as a necessary and praised tool within this united fight. The medical staff members working there were the heroes on the frontline, and many social media users honored and thanked them for their efforts.

After the shelter hospitals in Wuhan gradually closed, the social media focus shifted to how the Covid crisis became a pandemic and caused chaos in the rest of the world. By April of 2020, Wuhan had returned to a state of normalcy, and schools across the country reopened. When Huoshenshan and Leishenshan closed their doors, Fangcang soon seemed to become a thing of the past.

Although there were local outbreaks of Covid-19 in China throughout 2020 and 2021, the Fangcang hospitals did not really return to the public spotlight until Xi’an saw cases spike in late 2021 and early 2022, with the city becoming the epicenter of the biggest Covid outbreak and lockdown since Wuhan.

By January of 2022, the city of Xi’an had started to construct large sites for isolation of people who tested positive for Covid-19, in addition to designated hospitals. Besides ‘Fangcang,’ these were also called ‘Centralized Isolation Points’ (集中隔离点).

As later explained by Dr. Wu Jinglei, director of Shanghai Municipal Health Commission, Fangcang hospitals can also be used as ‘Isolation Points.’ The two are the same but using ‘Isolation Point’ instead of ‘Fangcang Hospital’ emphasizes the need to also isolate and observe patients who are asymptomatic at these health locations, besides treating those with mild-to-moderate symptoms. Later on, these locations also started to be referred to as ‘Fangcang Isolation Points’ (方舱隔离点) or ‘Isolation Fangcang’ (隔离方舱).

One story that attracted major attention on Chinese social media and indicated changing perceptions of the Fangcang phenomenon was the midnight eviction of residents of the Xi’an Mingde 8 Yingli community (明德八英里小区) in Xi’an. Just after midnight on January 1st of 2022, residents received news that they would be transferred by buses, and quarantined away from their compound due to new infections in their proximity.

Residents voiced their concerns on social media about the incident, saying they were unsure of where they were heading, and that they were put in buses together for hours until being driven off to a remote Fangcang without proper supplies. The term ‘bèi lāzǒu’ (被拉走) was used, ‘being dragged away.’

Old people, young children, and pregnant women were among those being taken away for quarantine without being provided with the things they needed, and without any measures to protect them against the dangers of infection. An image of an old man with a walking cane standing in line to be taken away for quarantine went viral online as many worried about his wellbeing. He was seemingly all alone and did not seem to have any luggage or food supplies with him.

Seeing photos of old buildings without proper facilities being turned into Fangcang, many residents wondered what the point of this kind of isolation was. One popular post by a Weibo user nicknamed ‘In Between Memories’ from January 2nd of 2022 said:

“I don’t understand why negative-tested families should be dragged away for isolation? Isn’t isolation at home also isolation? The Fangcang hospitals were built to focus on treating the mildly ill, separately from the seriously ill. But nowadays, after discovering one positive case, Xi’an wants to pull away the entire neighborhood to a centralized quarantine with poor conditions – even if everyone has already been in home quarantine for over a week. Is this all just so that Xi’an can say it has zero infections while ignoring the scientific basis that many families tested negative multiple times? While disregarding the special needs of families with elderly, young, sick, disabled, and pregnant people? Before transferring people, you never provided them with a policy basis, nor was there any warning or reminder given to the citizens of Xi’an that you would implement [this policy] on the spot in the middle of the night. Now that everyone is at risk, perhaps some will support this, hoping that there can be zero cases within the community in a time frame of three days. But there are more residents who are only worried that the next one to be dragged away will be them. After all, we will be taken away even if we stay well at home and test negative ten times for the nucleic acid test, what about the elderly and our children, what about our pets? No one cares, they only care about their hard target to clear the city of Covid within three days.”

Within three weeks of lockdown, Xi’an was the first city to have so many patients admitted to Isolation Points: nearly 50,000 people were isolated at 443 different Fangcang quarantine locations across Xi’an (Southern Weekend 2022).

January 5 2022, a Fangcang or Isolation Point with over 1000 separate isolations rooms is constructed in Baqiao District of Xi’an (Image via Renmin Shijue).

The fears of being taken away to Fangcang hospitals and Isolation Points also became a reality for Shanghai residents after an unprecedented Covid-19 spike in the city, starting in March of 2022. As the city entered a phased lockdown, photos and videos of a local quarantine site where babies and small children were kept in isolation – separated from their parents – went viral on Chinese social media.1

Not long after, patients at Fangcang hospitals started posting on social media about their experiences, complaining that there was a lack of basic supplies, that they were not given the medicine they needed, and that vulnerable patients were left to their own devices without proper care.

As the Covid-19 cases continued to spike throughout March and April, videos also started surfacing showing chaotic scenes at some Fangcang sites in Shanghai where patients were fighting over supplies such as blankets, water, and food, some crying when they were unable to get anything but some bottles of water – or nothing at all.

The apparent disorganization at quarantine facilities from the city’s Pudong to Minhang Districts triggered discussions on Chinese social media about why asymptomatic patients were taken off to these ill-equipped centralized Fangcang locations at all and why they were not allowed to isolate at home instead.

Chaotic situation at a quarantine location in Shanghai’s Pudong in early April 2022 (video).

One Weibo user wrote in April 2022:

“They took us to an isolation site. If the conditions had just been a bit better, we’d be okay with it, but this is just unimaginable. These are the facts. Over 800 people have entered this facility since April 9, their ages varying from seventy or eighty years old to babies just a few months old. 1. Inside the factory building, there are plank beds without mattresses, there are no people to clean. 2. There is no supervisor, we need to fight over our food. 3. There are not enough supplies, not even enough toilet paper. 4. 80% of the toilets are clogged, there’s nobody to clean them. 5. There are no doctors and nobody to take care of patients with a fever. 6. There is no one to dispose of the garbage. 7. The weather’s hot, but there’s no place to shower or change clothes.”

Patients shared a photo of the toilets at one Pudong quarantine location (more here).

Stories also started coming out of patients being taken away to Isolation Points many days after they had first tested positive for Covid. By the time they were finally taken away for quarantine, they had recovered and tested negative for Covid-19, yet still had to go and stay together with patients testing positive.

To create more beds for patients, Shanghai opened China’s largest-ever Fangcang hospital on April 8 at the National Exhibition Convention Center. This Fangcang, built by the same people who had helped build Huoshenshan and Leishenshan in Wuhan, had a capacity of 50,000 beds for Covid-19 patients.

These bigger, modern, and central Fangcang locations are generally neat and orderly, providing regular meals and medicine, as well as offering various activities or even setting up classrooms for quarantined students.

But photos, footage, and online diaries posted on social media exposed the stark differences in living conditions between different Fangcang hospitals. By late April of 2022, patients staying at one Fangcang location in the city’s Putuo District – an office building converted into a makeshift hospital – complained about the crowded living conditions, the lack of washing rooms and showers, and the inadequate supply of food and drinking water. At other facilities, patients posted videos of water pouring into the building after heavy rain.

Wide-angle view of the Shanghai office buildings that have been converted to Fangcang hospitals (What’s on Weibo).

Inside the office converted into Fangcang, photo via Weibo.

From Wuhan in 2020 to Shanghai in 2022, the public perception of the Fangcang phenomenon in China changed dramatically. While it was initially seen as an effective, efficient, and celebrated response to the outbreak of Covid, many Shanghai-based residents, during the peak of the city’s Covid crisis, feared the Fangcang more than the virus itself, as stories about overcrowded, disorganized and unequipped facilities kept surfacing online.

 

THE FUTURE OF FANGCANG

 

By mid-May of 2022, after seeing over 60,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases in total, Shanghai retired half of its Fangcang locations due to rapidly declining cases. Nevertheless, the restrictions to keep Covid under control are still stringent.

As Chinese leadership remains adamant on sticking with its zero-Covid strategy, state media emphasize the need to uphold the mandatory quarantine system as part of this public health policy, which basically means the country will not opt to ‘live with the virus’ but instead will continue to implement strict measures to eliminate a Covid outbreak as fast as possible once it emerges.

Fangcang are here to stay as long as China stays on its current zero-Covid path. The country’s top epidemiologist Liang Wannian (梁万年) maintains that patients need to be isolated at a centralized location because they can be easily monitored and treated that way, while also minimizing the risks of them spreading the virus to others in their household or community.

In preparation for potential future outbreaks, cities across China are building new Fangcang or are improving existing ones. Authorities are making sure that the country is ready to manage more local outbreaks, avoiding messy Fangcang scenes like the ones in Xi’an or Shanghai.

On May 13, China’s National Health Commission called on all provinces to build or renovate city-level Fangcang hospitals, and to make sure they are equipped with electricity, ventilation systems, medical appliances, toilets, and washing facilities.

The country-wide Fangcang preparation plan is now in full swing. In Zhengzhou, for example, construction workers are building a new Fangcang from the ground up. The city of Zhoukou recently issued a promo video on Weibo showing off their local brand-new Fangcang location with 356 private rooms equipped with air disinfection systems, private showers, and free Wi-Fi. Meanwhile, Shanghai even introduced its first Fangcang location for pets.

Zhengzhou’s new Fangcang, construction work in mid-May 2022 (Weibo via @顶端新闻).

When it was announced that China would withdraw as the 2023 Asian Cup host due to the pandemic, netizens joked that the stadiums constructed for the sports event could now be turned into Fangcang instead.

“The Fangcang will become a regular facility in the next few years,” some social media users commented. Others wrote: “This is good news. It’s better to be prepared for what’s coming,” and: “Better to prepare to build the Fangcang now than to prepare to build our future graves.”

Weibo user sharing photo from one Shanghai Fangcang (@路漫漫的碎碎念)

Generally, despite worries over a lack of medical care and supplies at facilities, many people do support the idea of their cities being prepared for an immediate Covid response once it’s necessary. “I don’t get why people are being negative about building new Fangcang,” one Weibo user from Hebei Province writes:

“People think that they should stay home if they get infected but want other people to quickly go away to a Fangcang hospital if they’re sick. Our little town is now also building a Fangcang, and I think it’s a good thing. Before, there were too many infections in the neighboring village, and they took them for isolation to the hotel in our city center and all stores in the vicinity had to close. (..) It was scary, people didn’t want to visit the center anymore. Now, they’re building a Fangcang at the town border, away from the people, and it’s a relief for all of us.”

Meanwhile, Fangcang patients keep sharing their journals online. “Today is day seven for me,” one Shanghai resident wrote on Weibo: “I finally had an egg for the first time here. I’ve been constipated all week (..) This morning, I heard I meet the conditions to be discharged [two negative tests in a row], but due to the lack of capacity I’m still waiting, and it might still take two or three more days before I get to go home.”

“It’s day twelve. I can’t wait until I’m released from ‘prison’,” one person wrote.

Kids playing inside a Shanghai Fangcang Isolation Point, pictured shared on Weibo.

“It’s my first night at the Fangcang,” one Weibo user writes in another online ‘Covid journal’: “There’s too much light and noise, and my dad and I took turns in waking up. Eventually, he decided to get up, thinking it was 5 am, until we discovered it was just past 2 am. I felt light-headed as I headed to the bathroom.”

One patient at another Shanghai Fangcang writes: “My stay at the Fangcang is better than I had expected. I am sleeping better than at home and don’t have to think about what I am going to eat. But there are many elderly people inside here, and I see them suffering. I’m not sure if this policy really helps them.” They also write: “I’d better record all of this. I think this is going to be an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

 

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

 

1 On April 6, 2022, Shanghai changed the policy and announced that parents can apply to accompany their children during central quarantine after signing an agreement, regardless of whether they’ve tested positive for the virus or not.

 

References (other sources linked to inside the text)

Chen, Simiao Chen, Zongjiu Zhang, Juntao Yang, Jian Wang, Xiaohui Zhai, Till Bärnighausen, Chen Wang. 2020. “Fangcang Shelter Hospitals: A Novel Concept for Responding to Public Health Emergencies.” The Lancet, April 2             https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30744-3/fulltext [May 12, 2022].

Fang, Dongpin, Shengjie Pan, Zaishang Li, Ting Yuan, Benran Jiang, Di Gan, Bai Sheng, Jing Han, Tao Wang, Zhongmin Liu. 2020. “Large-Scale Public Venues as Medical  Emergency Sites in Disasters: Lessons from COVID-19 and the Use of Fangcang Shelter Hospitals in Wuhan, China.” BMJ Global Health 5:  1-7.

Luo, Hanbin, Jiajing Liu, Chengqian Li, Ke Chen, Ming Zhang. 2020. “Ultra-Rapid Delivery of Specialty Field Hospitals To Combat COVID-19: Lessons Learned from the Leishenshan Hospital Project in Wuhan.” Automation in Construction 119 (103345):  1-10.

Southern Weekend 南方周末. 2022. “The Largest Centralized Quarantine: 49,678 People in  nearly One Month, What Has Xi’an Invested 最大规模集中隔离:近一月49678人,西安付出了什么” [In Chinese]. Sina News, January 13  https://news.sina.cn/2022-01-13/detail-ikyamrmz4934227.d.html [May 13].

Wang, Ke-Wei, Jie Gao, Xiao-Xiao Song, Jiang Huang, Hua Wang, Xiao-Long Wu, Qin-Fang Yuan, Xiao-Shan Li, Feng Cheng, Yang Cheng. 2020. “Fangcang Shelters Are a One  Health Approach for Responding to the Covid-19 Outbreak in Wuhan, China.” One Health 10 (100167): 1-6.

Featured image by Ama for Yi Magazin.

This text was written for Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.

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China Health & Science

“Experts Are Advised Not to Advise”: Why Weibo Users Are Fed Up with ‘Expert Advice’

Experts say this, experts say that, but many social media users wish experts would say nothing at all.

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Over the past week, the topic of “experts are advised not to advise” (建议专家不要建议) has been trending on Chinese social media. The topic came up after netizens got annoyed over a bunch of news items containing contradicting or ungrounded advice and suggestions from ‘experts.’

One column published by Worker’s Daily stated that three different expert advice topics went trending on Weibo on the very same day, on May 19: “Experts recommend young people not to spend all of their family money on a downpayment for a house,” “Experts advise buying a house is more profitable than renting,” and “Experts suggest that from June to October is the best time to buy a house.”

‘Expert advice’ goes trending on Chinese social media on a daily basis in hashtags. The source is mostly Chinese state media quoting an expert’s opinion on a certain topic.

Looking at some Weibo hashtags including the ‘experts suggest that..’ sentence include: “Experts advise to go to bed between 10 and 11 pm”, “Experts suggest not to eat too much at night,” and “Experts advise not to do new year’s resolutions in January,” “Experts recommend not to wait to drink water until you’re thirsty,” “Experts advise to release the ‘Three Child Policy’ asap”, “Experts suggest that eating too many mandarin oranges will turn the skin yellow,” “Experts advise single rural men to move to the city,” “Experts recommend retirement age to be set to 65,” “Experts advise national exam’s foreign language subjects to change into a chosen subjects,” “Experts advise not to use air fryers too much,” and many, many more.

According to this Weibo column, the most common topics that experts give their recommendations about are eating and drinking, sleep, childbearing, education, retirement, women’s issues, young people, and housing.

“Advise experts not to advise” sign (Image via CFP供图, Bwanjia)

The main reasons why people are getting tired of ‘expert advice’ headlines are that alleged expert views are often used by (state) media to publicize their own standpoints or views. Others are also concerned that some ‘experts’ are only speaking out on certain topics because they are getting paid for it, and then many people think that self-proclaimed experts are giving unfounded advice.

Another reason why expert advice is becoming much-dreaded is that experts are often giving contradicting advice. Instead of being helpful, their recommendations are only confusing to readers, and they only lose more trust in experts because of it.

The distrust in “experts advise” news became all the bigger when one ‘expert’ quoted in a news item by Lizhi News about the risks of using air fryers posted on Weibo herself that she was never interviewed and never even said anything about the topic at all.

By now, the hashtag “Advise Experts Not to Give Advice” (#建议专家不要建议#) has been viewed over 930 million times on Weibo.

“I advise the media not to use one expert after the other just to spread their own views,” one commenter says, with another person writing: “First of all, is there an academic degree for being an expert? Or is it a title? Is it based on years of experience, does it require an assessment? (..) Why is it that every time someone opens their mouth you say they’re an “expert” without first giving a clear account of the person’s life and background?”

“Jus advise experts not to advise anymore,” another commenter writes.

But not longer after the online discussions, Chinese media outlets started their ‘experts suggest..’ posts again, leading to the creation of a whole new hashtag: “Here come the experts again!” (#专家又来建议了#).

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes

Image via Weibo

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