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China and Covid19

What’s Happening in Dandong? Tragic Trending Stories from the Border City

Frustrations mount in Dandong: “All of these things happening are not being followed up on. It’s just settled it by leaving it unsettled.”

Manya Koetse



The border city of Dandong has seen one of the strictest lockdowns in China. Despite eased restrictions, stories from distressed residents keep flooding social media.

The account of a young man from Dandong claiming to be an end-stage leukemia patient has attracted the attention of Chinese netizens this week. In a Tiktok video, the man stated his only wish is to be able to go home to die, but that he is being prevented from returning to his loved ones.

The man, who said he is dying soon, was on his way home to his parents after seeing a doctor in Beijing. Authorities and caregivers had allegedly been lying to him about taking him back to Liaoning province. Instead, they had been driving around Hebei province.

In various videos which have been circulating on Chinese social media since July 1st, the man can be seen struggling to breathe, blood stains showing through his face mask.

Because the videos are short and lack context, this unverified story has raised a lot of questions and concerns – especially because the original TikTok account no longer seems to be online. Hashtags used to discuss the story (such as #丹东白血病男孩#, #辽宁丹东一白血病男孩归家受阻#) were also taken offline on Monday, July 4th.

“Let him go home! He just want to die by his parents’ side!” some commenters said, with others writing: “Where is he now? Who is helping him?” “This feels like another world, not like China in the 21st century,” another Weibo user posted.

This online account of an allegedly terminally ill patient being unable to go back to Dandong, Liaoning province, strikes a chord with netizens at a time when people in the city have gone through a lot already.

Dandong, China’s biggest city bordering North Korea with a population of 2.3 million citizens, has seen one of the strictest lockdowns in the country.

Dandong has seen successive waves of Covid-19 since April of this year. Although there has been an easing of the strict rules on June 24 – those in risk-free regions can move around within the city as long as they have a negative test result within 48 hours -, residents are still facing many hurdles related to Covid restrictions in their everyday life.

Dandong sunset shared by Weibo user @洪水清波- on June 24.

In a recent report by state media outlet Global Times, the epidemic situation was still described as “grim and complex” since the city has not been able to identify the source of transmission of local Covid cases. Because the Covid outbreak in North Korea is seen as a possible source of infection, Dandong residents living near the border have previously even been advised to close their windows.

By June 14, when Dandong had been under lockdown for 50 days already, the city’s mayor Han Jianjun apologized for failures in the city’s response to the lockdown.

There have been various trending stories about residents clashing with community leadership and local authorities recently, and some reports about people allegedly committing suicide.

On June 21, a local woman and her father clashed with police after the daughter insisted on taking her dad to the hospital to pick up medicine and get a check-up despite her yellow health code (meaning movement is restricted due to possible heightened Covid infection risk). The incident went viral, made headlines, and the woman was later given ten days of administrative detention for refusing to cooperate and abide by the epidemic prevention regulations.

On July 2nd, netizens posted about an elderly lady jumping from the 13th floor of a building in the city’s Zhenxing district (振兴区).

A few days prior, on June 30, a 93-year-old resident living in the city’s Taonan community (桃南社区) was allegedly prevented from getting medicine at the hospital for his hernia pain because he did not have the right papers. The man, wanting to show community workers his condition, was accused of being indecent (‘a hooligan’), after which the old man was taken away by the police.

Feeling wronged and humiliated, the man hanged himself by the community gate the following day. That story also went trending on social media. Although some related hashtags were taken offline (#丹东桃南社区阻止93岁老人看病#, #丹东93岁老人受辱上吊#), the incident was later also reported by Chinese media and local authorities started an investigation into the case (#丹东回应93岁老人疑受辱后自杀#).

The community where the 93-year-old Dandong resident took his own life.

On July 3rd, a delivery driver who was unable to make enough money during the Covid outbreak allegedly also committed suicide by jumping from a bridge into the Ai River after he was no longer able to pay his rent.

There was also controversy over a box containing the Covid test samples of 186 residents of Dandong’s Taoyuan community (桃源社区) being left by the side of the road for an entire night and day on July 1st (#丹东186人核酸样本疑被搁置路边#).

Although not all of these stories come up in official media reports, and some are unverified at time of writing, they attract a lot of attention on Chinese social media, where Dandong recurringly is a hot – and censored – topic.

“Again, it’s [happening] in Dandong. Three months of stillstand, countless of contradictions are accumulating and it’s intensifying. You’re willing to give careful consideration to some people’s lives while blatantly disregarding the lives of others,” one commenter wrote.

“We are doing daily testing here in Dandong, and we do not know why (..), is it really necessary to do it every day? Why not just twice a week?”, one Weibo user from Dandong wrote on July 5th, with another person writing: “It will be the 8th day of continuous testing tomorrow.”

On Tuesday, the city reported one new (asymptomatic) Covid case. On Sunday, there were nine new Covid cases. The city reported the highest number of new local cases on April 25-26 of this year, when 102 new asymptomatic cases were reported within a day and 24 symptomatic cases.

“I want to ask God, will something good still happen in Dandong? Will I be able to return home in August? In October? Will I be able to go home to my family at all again this year?”, one Weibo user wrote.

The daily trending topics concerning Dandong recently are a sign of built-up frustrations. Many Dandong residents are expressing discontent, worry, and stress on Weibo about the strict Covid measures of the past few months.

On July 4th, a man in Dandong’s Maokuishan, Zhenxing District, could be seen frantically throwing objects from his 6th-floor window, damaging the cars parked underneath the building.

On July 3rd, the story one netizen shared about a family being forced to isolate, leaving behind their farm animals, also shocked social media users. In a home security video shared online, anti-epidemic workers can be seen dragging dead sheep away. Instead of feeding them, the sheep were apparently electrocuted and disposed of.

One thing that many people are venting about is the lack of official responses or follow-ups to the stories that have been circulating recently: “All of these things happening in Dandong are not being followed up on, [they] just settle it by leaving it unsettled, this is the way that the Dandong government and related departments are handling things,” one commenter wrote.

Looking at lockdown mismanagement, lack of access to medical care, and the heightening tensions between local community workers and residents, there seems to be some resemblance with the hopelessness and despair people expressed during the lockdown in Xi’an in early 2022 and the handling of the Covid outbreak in Shanghai in Spring.

After so many weeks of hardship, many people are longing for good news. “I just want life to return to normal,” some netizens write, with one person adding: “Just give us some hope.”

To read more about Covid-19 in China, check our articles here.

By Manya Koetse
With contributions by Miranda Barnes

For information and support on mental health and suicide, international helplines can be found at


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Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on Contact at, or follow on Twitter.

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China and Covid19

Repurposing China’s Abandoned Nucleic Acid Booths: 10 Innovative Transformations

Abandoned nucleic acid booths are getting a second life through these new initiatives.

Manya Koetse



During the pandemic, nucleic acid testing booths in Chinese cities were primarily focused on maintaining physical distance. Now, empty booths are being repurposed to bring people together, serving as new spaces to serve the community and promote social engagement.

Just months ago, nucleic acid testing booths were the most lively spots of some Chinese cities. During the 2022 Shanghai summer, for example, there were massive queues in front of the city’s nucleic acid booths, as people needed a negative PCR test no older than 72 hours for accessing public transport, going to work, or visiting markets and malls.

The word ‘hésuān tíng‘ (核酸亭), nucleic acid booth (also:核酸采样小屋), became a part of China’s pandemic lexicon, just like hésuān dìtú (核酸地图), the nucleic acid test map lauched in May 2022 that would show where you can get a nucleic test.

Example of nucleic acid test map.

During Halloween parties in Shanghai in 2022, some people even came dressed up as nucleic test booths – although local authorities could not appreciate the creative costume.

Halloween 2022: dressed up as nucliec acid booths. Via @manyapan twitter.

In December 2022, along with the announced changed rules in China’s ‘zero Covid’ approach, nucleic acid booths were suddenly left dismantled and empty.

With many cities spending millions to set up these booths in central locations, the question soon arose: what should they do with the abandoned booths?

This question also relates to who actually owns them, since the ownership is mixed. Some booths were purchased by authorities, others were bought by companies, and there are also local communities owning their own testing booths. Depending on the contracts and legal implications, not all booths are able to get a new function or be removed yet (Worker’s Daily).

In Tianjin, a total of 266 nucleic acid booths located in Jinghai District were listed for public acquisition earlier this month, and they were acquired for 4.78 million yuan (US$683.300) by a local food and beverage company which will transform the booths into convenience service points, selling snacks or providing other services.

Tianjin is not the only city where old nucleic acid testing booths are being repurposed. While some booths have been discarded, some companies and/or local governments – in cooperation with local communities – have demonstrated creativity by transforming the booths into new landmarks. Since the start of 2023, different cities and districts across China have already begun to repurpose testing booths. Here, we will explore ten different way in which China’s abandoned nucleic test booths get a second chance at a meaningful existence.


1: Pharmacy/Medical Booths

Via ‘copyquan’ republished on Sohu.

Blogger ‘copyquan’ recently explored various ways in which abandoned PCR testing points are being repurposed.

One way in which they are used is as small pharmacies or as medical service points for local residents (居民医疗点). Alleviating the strain on hospitals and pharmacies, this was one of the earliest ways in which the booths were repurposed back in December of 2022 and January of 2023.

Chongqing, Tianjin, and Suzhou were among earlier cities where some testing booths were transformed into convenient medical facilities.


2: Market Stalls

Market stalls instead of nucliec acid testing booths. Image via Sina.

In Suzhou, Jiangsu province, the local government transformed vacant nucleic acid booths into market stalls for the Spring Festival in January 2022, offering them free of charge to businesses to sell local products, snacks, and traditional New Year goods.

The idea was not just meant as a way for small businesses to conveniently sell to local residents, it was also meant as a way to attract more shoppers and promote other businesses in the neighborhood.


3: Community Service Center

Small grid community center in Shizhuang Village, image via Sohu.

Some residential areas have transformed their local nucleic acid testing booths into community service centers, offering all kinds of convenient services to neighborhood residents.

These little station are called wǎnggé yìzhàn (网格驿站) or “grid service stations,” and they can serve as small community centers where residents can get various kinds of care and support.


4: “Refuel” Stations

In February of this year, 100 idle nucleic acid sampling booths were transformed into so-called “Rider Refuel Stations” (骑士加油站) in Zhejiang’s Pinghu. Although it initially sounds like a place where delivery riders can fill up their fuel tanks, it is actually meant as a place where they themselves can recharge.

Delivery riders and other outdoor workers can come to the ‘refuel’ station to drink some water or tea, warm their hands, warm up some food and take a quick nap.


5: Free Libraries

image via sohu.

In various Chinese cities, abandoned nucleic acid booths have been transformed into little free libraries where people can grab some books to read, donate or return other books, and sit down for some reading.

Changzhou is one of the places where you’ll find such “drifting bookstores” (漂流书屋) (see video), but similar initiatives have also been launched in other places, including Suzhou.


6: Study Space

Photos via Copyquan’s article on Sohu.

Another innovative way in which old testing points are being repurposed is by turning them into places where students can sit together to study. The so-called “Let’s Study Space” (一间习吧), fully airconditioned, are opened from 8 in the morning until 22:00 at night.

Students – or any citizens who would like a nice place to study – can make online reservations with their ID cards and scan a QR code to enter the study rooms.

There are currently ten study booths in Anji, and the popular project is an initiative by the Anji County Library in Zhejiang (see video).


7: Beer Kiosk

Hoegaarden beer shop, image via Creative Adquan.

Changing an old nucleic acid testing booth into a beer bar is a marketing initiative by the Shanghai McCann ad agency for the Belgium beer brand Hoegaarden.

The idea behind the bar is to celebrate a new spring after the pandemic. The ad agency has revamped a total of six formr nucleic acid booths into small Hoegaarden ‘beer gardens.’


8: Police Box

In Taizhou City, Jiangsu Province, authorities have repurposed old testing booths and transformed them into ‘police boxes’ (警务岗亭) to enhance security and improve the visibility of city police among the public.

Currently, a total of eight vacant nucleic acid booths have been renovated into modern police stations, serving as key points for police presence and interaction with the community.


9: Lottery Ticket Booths

Image via The Paper

Some nucleic acid booths have now been turned into small shops selling lottery tickets for the China Welfare Lottery. One such place turning the kiosks into lottery shops is Songjiang in Shanghai.

Using the booths like this is a win-win situation: they are placed in central locations so it is more convenient for locals to get their lottery tickets, and on the other hand, the sales also help the community, as the profits are used for welfare projects, including care for the elderly.


10: Mini Fire Stations

Micro fire stations, images via ZjNews.

Some communities decided that it would be useful to repurpose the testing points and turn them into mini fire kiosks, just allowing enough space for the necessary equipment to quickly respond to fire emergencies.

Want to read more about the end of ‘zero Covid’ in China? Check our other articles here.

By Manya Koetse,

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

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China and Covid19

The Hottest Place in China: How Zibo Became a Popular Tourist Destination and an Online Hit

There are even special Zibo BBQ trains now. This is how Zibo barbecue suddenly became the hottest meal of the country.

Manya Koetse



The old industrial city of Zibo treated students well during their zero Covid quarantine. This spring, they came back to celebrate the city. Their enthusiasm and social media posts were so contagious that the entire country now wants a taste of Zibo barbecue.

In central Shandong province, bordering the provincial capital Jinan to the west, you will find the city of Zibo (淄博). With its 4.7 million inhabitants, the old industrial and mining city was not exactly known as a trendy tourist destination. But that has all changed now. Everybody is talking about Zibo.

For the upcoming May 1st holiday, hotel bookings in Zibo went up 800% compared to 2019, making it one of the most popular destinations in Shandong. The city has especially attracted online attention since March of 2023, with hashtags and hot searches peaking over the previous week.

How did Zibo become such an online sensation, especially among China’s young travelers? The city’s hit status is widely discussed on Chinese social media apps these days. The emergence of such an overnight sensation is usually the result of various factors coming together at the right time, and this is also the case with the hype surrounding Zibo.

Zibo Barbecue

Its appealing barbecue culture is the first and main reason why Zibo is so hot nowadays. The city has been known for its barbecue restaurants for years, and creating a thriving open-air BBQ entertainment environment is also something the local authorities have invested in. They are publicizing Zibo as an ambassador city for “Friendly Shandong” (“好客山东”), the slogan the province uses to promote its image and boost tourism.

The Zibo BBQ experience includes every table having its own small stove and it has that ‘do it yourself’ factor that hotpot-style dinners also have: when the skewers are served, the diners have to grill them themselves and then wrap them in thin pancakes, usually with spring onions.

Zibo barbecue, images via social media.

As one of its tourism promotion initiatives, Zibo has set up special tourist trains and dedicated BBQ bus routes to attract groups of tourists and boost local tourism after the pandemic years. Train ticket sales for May 1st already doubled that of Spring Festival, and tickets for the Beijing South-Zibo route sold out online within a minute the moment they became available.

A Kind City in Difficult Times

Another reason for Zibo’s sudden fame was suggested by some Chinese netizens (including the popular @地瓜熊老六), who said that Zibo played a special role during China’s zero-Covid policy.

Zibo first went trending after a group of students from Jinan went there in March of this year. They came to Zibo because this was where they apparently were quarantined for a while during Covid, and they were well taken care of during their stay.

According to one Zibo local, the students also celebrated their last night in Zibo at the time with a major BBQ feast.

It is said that the students from Jinan wanted to go back to Zibo at this time and spend time there as a way to thank the city – not knowing they would start a viral sensation.

Power of TikTok

Douyin, the Chinese TikTok app, is also at the heart of Zibo’s recent success.

As reported by 36kr, Zibo first became a hot topic on Douyin in early March, when the videos of the initial groups of students taking the high-speed train to Zibo to eat barbecue went viral.

In April, Zibo again hit the hot trending lists on Douyin after one vlogger tried out ten different food stalls in the city and found that they all gave him the right portions or even gave him some extra food for free, reinforcing the idea that Zibo is a hospitable city.

What followed was a snowball effect, from Douyin to Xiaohongshu to Weibo, with videos showing Zibo diners singing together while eating and having a good time spreading all over social media, only increasing the appeal of the city. “Zibo is just all over my timeline,” some commenters wrote on April 15.

Crazy Travel after Covid

According to the Chinese media platform DT Finance (DT财经), Zibo is a destination that especially resonates with Chinese students who have new wishes when it comes to traveling.

Especially during the pandemic and China’s stringent Covid measures, many people have spent a lot of time indoors, quarantined, locked down, and/or unable to travel. Now that spring is here, people want to seize the moment and go out and enjoy their leisure time. This also means that instead of planning longer holidays well in advance, people book shorter, last-minute trips.

Social media pics of Zibo trips.

This is also one of the reasons why Zibo is especially popular among students from Shandong, who can hop on a train, reach their destination, and find themselves enjoying a beer and barbecue within a matter of hours.

Stories from Zibo

In light of the craze surrounding Zibo, there are various stories emerging from the thriving city that only add to its charm. For example, there are many videos showing the lively scenes around BBQ restaurants which went viral.

One visitor needed to catch his train but still wanted a taste of Zibo BBQ, so one female shop owner hurried things along and made sure he got his Zibo dinner (#淄博老板娘为赶高铁小伙1v1烤串#).

Then there was a 95-year-old veteran who visited the Zibo BBQ scene and his visit also made its rounds on social media (#95岁老兵体验淄博烧烤被围观#).

Another trending hashtag is about Zibo’s music events (#淄博音乐节#), about some of the planned events and (rock) concerts taking place in Zibo in late April and early May. “Zibo’s cultural tourism office really understand how to do it,” various commenters wrote, praising how Zibo is not just known for its barbecue restaurants but also for its lively music scene.

Then there are the videos showing an entire crowd singing ‘happy birthday’ because one person is celebrating their birthday.

All in all, it’s clear that Zibo did something right. Especially in these times when so many cities across China are doing all they can to promote their town as a tourist destination (read all about it here), Zibo has proven that consistency is key to success: stay kind, be reliable, but most of all, keep the barbecue hot.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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