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China and Covid19

Weibo Discusses: How Has the Covid Epidemic Changed Your Life?

China’s zero-covid approach does not come at zero cost.

Manya Koetse

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It has been nearly two years since China was hit with the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Like most countries in the world, the epidemic has also had a profound impact on people’s lives in China.

Life in China was already ‘normalized’ in numerous ways in April of 2020, which is when Wuhan allowed people to leave the city again for the first time since the lockdown began on January 23 of that year. Most schools reopened, theatres started to open their doors again, temporary emergency hospitals closed their doors, and a big light show was organized in Wuhan to celebrate the end of the lockdown, which was yet to begin for many Western countries.

In comparison to other countries, China has seen very few Covid deaths – the official number is below 5000, while the US number of Covid19 deaths is now over 750,000. China’s low Covid19 death toll can be ascribed to the country’s commitment to a ‘Covid Zero’ strategy.

But this zero-tolerance covid approach does not come at zero cost; China’s fight against Covid19 is still ongoing and requires constant vigilance, lengthy local lockdowns, mass testing, strong contact tracing, strict quarantine measures, and an everyday public life that includes face masks, temperature checks, and QR health codes.

The impact of this strategy and the epidemic at large was the topic of one trending topic this week titled “How Big is the Difference in Your Life Before and After the Epidemic?” (#疫情前后的生活差别有多大#), a hashtag that drew in over 320 million views on social media platform Weibo.

The topic triggered thousands of comments from people sharing their thoughts and experiences, but the post that started the discussion (@人间投影仪) simply said:

I’d like to go back to a world where we don’t need to wear masks.”

The post came with various images comparing life before and after the Covid19 outbreak.

Playing in the snow (top), epidemic worker in the snow (below).

People without masks in the cinema, waving national flags (top), moviegoers wearing masks (below).

Singing on the subway (top), masked up on subway (below).

Playing in Disneyland (top), getting tested for Covid19 in Disneyland Shanghai (below).

Another commenter (@电联吗) replied to the Weibo post:

Looking at countries such as Thailand or South Korea, they’ve already re-opened, and I can’t help but feel a bit jealous. After all, it’s been over two years since Covid19, and there’s no trend of it weakening – it only seems to get stronger instead. I’ve become numb to the daily controls and prevention of this virus. I’m getting the feeling it’ll never go away. Will there ever come a day when other countries besides our own will lift all restrictions? To fully open? To just co-exist with the virus? And then, should we just continue to go on this way? Although our country is so safe now and our epidemic control is very timely, it still feels like people are living in fear. The slightest thing can cause a panic about the virus spreading. It can totally disrupt your plans. All activities can be delayed or canceled. All youthfulness, enthusiasm, perseverance, and dreams, can be stuck. But life is also very important. This perhaps is what is such a contradiction.

While many netizens agreed with the previous commenter, saying they are also struggling with anxiety and pressure that comes from the current Covid19 situation, there are also commenters who do not agree:

The freedom you see [in other countries] is not real. The opening up in many countries is simply because their economy otherwise can’t carry the weight, it’s not because they want to live with the virus. You think the epidemic is affecting your youth and passion, but I’d say youth and passion don’t only exist at a certain time, and it won’t be affected by an epidemic – otherwise, there wouldn’t be an awakening era. In times of an epidemic, people just do all they can to keep on living.

Another Weibo user from Ganzhou writes:

During the epidemic, it seems that when I don’t go out, there’s so much to do, yet when I go out, there doesn’t seem anything to do. At the time of the epidemic I wanted to go out so bad, I almost felt like exploding, and then when [measures] relaxed, I didn’t really feel like going out anymore. Before the epidemic, I liked to go out to eat a lot and whatever I wanted to eat I could have without doing anything. During the epidemic, I discovered I could fry chicken, make my own nuggets, and discovered skills I didn’t even know I had. Before, I wanted a two-month winter holiday, and then I got 4-6 month holiday I never could’ve imagined. I used to feel like not working, and then I felt so panicked without work and really wanted to work. Before, I never thought I could study at home and then discovered I could study till night. In the end, I still want to return to a world where we don’t need to wear masks.

Other commenters also look back on the pre-Covid19 with nostalgia:

I once thought 2019 was the most difficult year. But it was actually the happiest one of the last three years. Because there was no epidemic and we were free to go out as we pleased. We didn’t have to rigidly stick to our face masks, and there were no complicated processes to request a leave of absence.”

Then there are those who are longing for simple pleasures of the pre-covid era, such as this Weibo user (@柴柴鱼与柴):

I want to travel out of Shanghai and to other countries without any fear, I want to take off my mask in the theaters so that the performers can see when I am crying or laughing, or when I’m admiring them and cheering for them. I want to shout out during live performances and music festivals, I want  concerts to be able to be organized without issues, and I don’t want my twenty-something years to slip away in an era of masks and epidemic.”

Some also comment on how differently they experience the passing of time during the pandemic, like the original poster of the hashtag (@人间投影仪):

I have the feeling that since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, these past two years just went by in a flash. I don’t really have any memories that stick. But then when I look at photos from before covid19, it feels like a different life.”

But then there are also those who defend China’s zero-covid approach, saying (@风的节奏吹):

Everyone wants more freedom. If the world would’ve copied China’s homework, the epidemic would have ended long ago.

And (@种花家的兔子要嚣张):

Seeing so many people talking about (..) how others are opening up, are their countries populated as densely as our country is? With [us being] one-fifth of the world population, are you kidding me? If we’d open up, and you get sick and need to pay for your treatment, would you want that? Only if your country’s social benefits are so good, you’re able to be unreasonable on social media. Already now, there’s too much pressure on people at the basic level, do you even realize? If you say you feel envious, just move to another country and experience it for yourself, just don’t come back here spreading the virus!

One of the most popular comments in the top threads on this comment currently says:

If other countries had started to control it [the virus] like our country, we might not have to wear a mask now.”

Meanwhile, the hashtag “An Illustrated Handbook of the Maskless Era” is also getting many views on social media (#无口罩时代图鉴#), with people sharing photos and videos of the pre-covid19 times. Even ordinary everyday scenes from the subway in the pre-covid19 era are making people feel nostalgic: “I’m just cherishing the memory of those days.”

Read more about social trends relating to Covid19 in China here.

By Manya Koetse

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.

©2021 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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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.

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