How Will China Vaccinate 560 Million People? Start With Free Ice Cream

In Beijing, the vaccinated qualify for buy-one-get-one-free ice cream cones. In northern Gansu Province, a county government published a 20-stanza poem extolling the virtues of the jab. In the southern town of Wancheng, officials warned parents that if they refused to get vaccinated, their children’s schooling and future employment and housing were all at risk.

China is deploying a medley of tactics, some tantalizing and some threatening, to achieve mass vaccination on a staggering scale: a goal of 560 million people, or 40 percent of its population, by the end of June.

China has already proven how effectively it can mobilize against the coronavirus. And other countries have achieved widespread vaccination, albeit in much smaller populations.

But China faces a number of challenges. The country’s near-total control over the coronavirus has left many residents feeling little urgency to get vaccinated. Some are wary of China’s history of vaccine-related scandals, a fear that the lack of transparency around Chinese coronavirus vaccines has done little to assuage. Then there is the sheer size of the population to be inoculated.

tame the virus early on, and now the authorities hope to replicate that success with vaccinations.

Already, uptake has skyrocketed. Over the past week, China has administered an average of about 4.8 million doses a day, up from about one million a day for much of last month. Experts have said they hope to reach 10 million a day to meet the June goal.

“They say it’s voluntary, but if you don’t get the vaccine, they’ll just keep calling you,” said Annie Chen, a university student in Beijing who received two such entreaties from a school counselor in about a week.

survey in February, co-authored by the head of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, found that less than half of medical workers in the eastern province of Zhejiang were willing to be vaccinated, many citing fear of side effects. By mid-March, China had administered only about 65 million doses for a population of 1.4 billion.

Even with the recent surge in vaccinations, China still lags far behind dozens of other countries. Though China has approved five homegrown vaccines, it has administered 10 shots for every 100 residents. Britain has administered 56 for every 100; the United States, 50.

Prominent doctors have warned that China’s sluggish pace threatens to undermine the country’s successful containment measures.

“China is at a very critical moment,” Zhong Nanshan, a top respiratory disease expert, said in a recent interview with the Chinese news media. “When other countries have been very well vaccinated, and China still lacks immunity, then that will be very dangerous.”

The warnings have been accompanied by a sweeping propaganda campaign and copious consumerist bait.

On Monday, the Wangfujing shopping district in Beijing was teeming with bargains for the vaccinated. A Lego store offered a free kit to assemble a chick emerging from an egg. A street stall touted a 10 percent discount on tea. A state-run photo studio even advertised a discount on wedding photos.

The promotion seemed to be working at one vaccination center, where people lined up for two-for-one soft serve at a bright yellow McDonald’s ice cream truck parked outside.

government bulletin in the city of Haikou, in Hainan, said companies with less than 85 percent vaccination rates would be issued a warning and could be suspended for “rectification.”

The city of Ruili, in southwestern China, last week became the first to adopt mandatory vaccination for eligible residents, after a small outbreak there. An official said the city expected to vaccinate the entire population of more than 200,000 people in five days by running vaccination sites 24 hours a day.

Some social media users have complained that the pressure campaigns restrict their right of choice. But Tao Lina, a vaccination expert and former immunologist at the Shanghai Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said it was justifiable to impose somewhat punitive measures in the name of public health.

“At this time, overly emphasizing freedom of choice is not a good idea,” Dr. Tao said. “Look at America: They wanted to choose not to wear face masks. That seems like a kind of freedom, but then what happened?”

Governments and companies in other countries have also adopted what some see as coercive measures. The Italian prime minister recently issued a decree requiring vaccinations for health care workers. A waitress in New York City was fired for refusing vaccination. Many countries are considering issuing vaccine passports for entry into public facilities.

opinion piece last week denouncing “one-size-fits-all, simple and crude methods” that it said could engender even more public opposition.

“These harmful developments are in reality the product of a small number of regions and companies that are anxious to complete their vaccination responsibilities,” it said. (The Wancheng government later apologized for its warning about children’s futures.)

It’s unclear how many of the promised restrictions are being enforced. Wu Kunzhou, a community worker in Haikou, the city where businesses were threatened with suspension, said he had marked a few businesses with red posters. “Company that does not meet vaccination standards,” the posters said. But there were no accompanying fines, and he said he could not force anyone to get vaccinated.

“The main thing is, there are orders from above,” Mr. Wu said.

Some residents have remained staunchly opposed to vaccination, despite the barrage of messaging.

Lu Xianyun, a 51-year-old construction industry employee in Guangzhou, cited a number of revelations in recent years of children in China being injected with faulty vaccines. “I don’t trust them,” he said of the vaccine manufacturers.

often compared to China’s Dr. Anthony S. Fauci — who had been publicly vaccinated. It doesn’t help that Chinese vaccine companies have been slow to share clinical trial data.

“If our country wants to improve public enthusiasm,” Dr. Tao said, “it would be best to share videos of leaders, cadres and Communist Party members getting vaccinated.”

Liu Yi, Joy Dong and Elsie Chen contributed research.

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How China’s Outrage Machine Kicked Up a Storm Over H&M

When the Swedish fast-fashion giant H&M said in September that it was ending its relationship with a Chinese supplier accused of using forced labor, a few Chinese social media accounts dedicated to the textile industry took note. But by and large, the moment passed without fanfare.

Half a year later, Beijing’s online outrage machine sprang into action. This time, its wrath was unsparing.

The Communist Party’s youth wing denounced H&M on social media and posted an archival photo of slaves on a Mississippi cotton plantation. Official news outlets piled on with their own indignant memes and hashtags. Patriotic web users carried the message across far and varied corners of the Chinese internet.

Within hours, a tsunami of nationalist fury was crashing down upon H&M, Nike, Uniqlo and other international clothing brands, becoming the latest eruption over China’s policies in its western region of Xinjiang, a major cotton producer.

sanctions imposed on Chinese officials last week by the United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada in connection to Xinjiang. China has placed hundreds of thousands of the region’s Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in indoctrination camps and used harsh methods to push them into jobs with factories and other employers.

“The hate-fest part is not sophisticated; it’s the same logic they’ve followed going back decades,” said Xiao Qiang, a research scientist at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, and the founder of China Digital Times, a website that tracks Chinese internet controls. But “their ability to control it is getting better,” he said.

“They know how to light up those ultra-pro-government, nationalist users,” Mr. Xiao continued. “They’re getting very good at it. They know exactly what to do.”

rejected the notion that Beijing had led the boycott campaign against H&M and the other brands.

“These foreign companies refuse to use Xinjiang cotton purely on the basis of lies,” Mr. Zhao said at a news briefing. “Of course this will trigger the Chinese people’s dislike and anger. Does the government even need to incite and guide this?”

After the Communist Youth League ignited the outrage on Wednesday, other government-backed groups and state news outlets fanned the flames.

They posted memes proposing new meanings behind the letters H and M: mian hua (cotton), huang miu (ridiculous), mo hei (smears). The official Xinhua news agency posted an illustration depicting the Better Cotton Initiative, a group that had expressed concerns about forced labor in Xinjiang, as a blindfolded puppet controlled by two hands that were patterned like an American flag.

The buzz quickly drew notice at Beijing’s highest levels. On Thursday, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman held up a photo of slaves in American cotton fields during a news briefing.

shared a clip showing a worker removing an H&M sign from a mall. A user in Beijing who posts about television stars highlighted entertainers who had ended their contracts with Adidas and other targeted brands.

“Today’s China is not one that just anyone can bully!” he wrote to his nearly seven million followers. “We do not ask for trouble, but we are not afraid of trouble either.”

A fashion influencer named Wei Ya held a live video event on Friday hawking products made with Xinjiang cotton. In her Weibo post announcing the event, she made sure to tag the Communist Youth League.

By Monday, news sites were circulating a rap video that combined the cotton issue with some popular recent lines of attack on Western powers: “How can a country where 500,000 have died of Covid-19 claim the high ground?”

One Weibo user posted a lushly animated video that he said he had worked through the night to make. It shows white-hooded men pointing guns at Black cotton pickers and ends with a lynching.

“These are your foolish acts; we would never,” a caption reads.

Less than two hours after the user shared the video, it was reposted by Global Times, a party-controlled newspaper known for its nationalist tone.

Many web users who speak up during such campaigns are motivated by genuine patriotism, even if China’s government does pay some people to post party-line comments. Others, such as the traffic-hungry blog accounts derided in China as “marketing accounts,” are probably more pragmatic. They just want the clicks.

tests conducted by China Digital Times, internet platforms have been diligently controlling search results and comments related to Xinjiang and H&M since last week.

An article in Global Times urged readers to “resolutely criticize those like H&M that make deliberate provocations, but at the same time, stay rational and beware of pretend patriots joining the crowd to stir up hatred.”

The Communist Youth League has been at the forefront of optimizing party messages for viral engagement. Its influence is growing as more voices in society look for ways to show loyalty to Beijing, said Fang Kecheng, an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Communications at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

apologized for the “bad impact” her post had made.

“Don’t just support Xinjiang cotton, support Xinjiang people too!” another Weibo user wrote. “Support Xinjiang people walking the streets and not having their phone and ID checked.”

The post later vanished. Its author declined to comment, citing concerns for his safety. Weibo did not respond to a request for comment.

Lin Qiqing contributed research.

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