China is in the midst of a push to vaccinate 560 million people—40 percent of its population—by June. However, facing slow vaccine uptake (a February survey found the majority of medical workers unwilling to take it) and a minor outbreak in the small Yunnan border city Ruili, authorities have adopted increasingly creative—and, in some cases aggressive—methods to boost vaccination rates.
Free eggs, flour, grocery coupons, chicken wings, and dumplings have been used to entice citizens to get the shot. In Beijing’s Shijingshan neighborhood, residents were offered free entrance to all parks. But there have also been coercive measures. As one college student told The New York Times, “They say it’s voluntary, but if you don’t get the vaccine, they’ll just keep calling you.” The Times’ report also notes that a Chongqing company said those who refused the vaccine would be “held accountable.”
Some localities have gone even further. A Hainan government notice threatened “rectification.” A viral image, purportedly from a village in Hainan, threatened to blacklist non-vaccinated residents with the “Five Won’ts”:
Important Notice on the Coronavirus Vaccine “Five Won’ts”
1. If you are not vaccinated, you won’t have a seat on public transportation.
2. If you are not vaccinated, you won’t be allowed into markets, shops, or hotels.
3. If you are not vaccinated, your restaurant, hotel, or business won’t be allowed to open.
4. If you are not vaccinated, you will be placed on a blacklist and won’t receive government subsidies, in accordance with the village understanding of the rules.
5. If you are not vaccinated, your children’s ability to go to school, work, join the military, and get a home will be impacted both today and in the future.
Wancheng Village Pandemic Prevention Brigade [Chinese]
The image caught the attention of one netizen, who wrote about it on the public WeChat account @与归随笔. The essay, titled “Should We Treat the Unvaccinated Like Deadbeats?” has been translated by CDT:
When I saw this picture early this morning, I felt a jolt.
In my heart, I recited a silent mantra three times: “I hope this is photoshopped. I hope this is photoshopped. I hope this is photoshopped.”
Don’t take my recitations the wrong way. Implementing good policy by inappropriate, unjust, or even illegal means is exactly like misreading the holy texts or smashing your rice bowl.
Furthermore, if the above picture is real it’s a bald-faced case of governing to your superiors, a real slap to the face of “serve the people.” These days, the government has consistently propagandized its new four-word policy: “Informed and consensual, voluntary and free.”
Shanghai has mandated a vaccination campaign under the following principles: “step-by-step implementation, orderly advancement, with cooperation between local and regional actors with locals in the lead, informed and consensual, voluntary and free.”
Shanxi has proposed that the province’s vaccination campaign adhere to “informed, consensual, voluntary, free” as it proceeds.
During a recent press conference, the National Health Commission said: “When vaccinating the 60+ population, adhere to informed, voluntary, free.”
So I have to ask, if we’re following the “Five Won’ts Notice,” where is the word “voluntary”? Wouldn’t, “you must take the shot, even if you don’t want it” be more accurate?
We would never treat foreigners with the same ferocity that some treat our own people with, right?
Recently, campaigns to promote free vaccinations have sprouted across the country like tea leaves, spreading like wildfire. It’s similarly important to stop local governments from ratcheting up the pressure on lower levels to complete the campaign, which will end up turning “voluntary” into “forced.”
We must be cautious of recklessly pushing to finish the vaccination campaign. There are too many lessons from similar campaigns in our past.
For example, when there was a desire to speed up demolition and relocation work, some local governments thought up devious plans to use family members’ government-connected jobs to pressure families. Although they feigned ignorance, it was a naked violation of people’s rights.
In 2011, a number of teachers in Zhenjiang, Jiangsu were placed on leave with suspended salaries after their family members refused to relocate.
In 2013, four middle school teachers in Fujian Province’s Minhou County were suspended from class for over 40 days and forced to transfer to the county demolition and relocation office to tear down their parent’s home.
Are these methods the right way to enact policy? No, they aren’t. This is, “I’ll always be able to use the law against you.”
All of these crude measures are classic examples of using power to oppress.
Furthermore, “village understandings” aren’t laws. They cannot replace the law, nor should they be placed above the law.
These past few years, local government’s have brandished “village understandings” under the slightest pretext to punish villagers—often in ways that passed far outside the boundaries of the law.
There are too many examples of this to count.
If the contents of the photograph at the beginning of the essay are authentic, it’s easy to see the legal violations.
Let’s be clear: the court’s policy towards “deadbeat” debtors only limits big expenditures, for example high-speed rail or airplane tickets. But the flyer says, “you won’t have a seat on public transportation.”
When the “Five Won’ts” are taken together, one could say even deadbeats aren’t treated like that. The court doesn’t have that type of authority. But this so-called “Five Won’ts Notice” was nonetheless printed in crude gigantic black characters.
This isn’t propaganda, this is force. It is a threat, and it is collective punishment.
If this arbitrary style is okay, future policies—good or bad—can be forced on every single person. As soon as your own interests are pinched between their fingers, you have no resort to defend yourself.
A final warning: I looked it up and there is a Wancheng Town in Wanning, Hainan. I don’t think there are any other Wancheng Towns in the rest of the country.
I hope that local authorities give a definitive response.
If it’s true, change it. If it’s false, refute the rumors. If it’s a rumor, nothing’s wrong. If something is wrong, then there’s nowhere to hide. [Chinese]