China’s anti-Ebola efforts not only showcased its capabilities in biotechnology but also provided an opportunity for the Asian giant to stage a major humanitarian intervention outside of its borders. For the first time in its history, China sent a military convoy to set up and operate an infectious disease hospital overseas.1 The hospital was set up at a stadium in Monrovia (the Liberian capital) and run as if it were a Chinese army hospital. It had 100 beds, was air conditioned and boasted a digital medical record storing system. After about six months, the hospital, or the Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) as it was formally called, was decommissioned. Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was present at the ceremony marking the end of the ETU’s service and thanked the Chinese government for being one of the first countries to come to Liberia’s aid during the Ebola crisis. She lauded the Asian country saying, “Today we witness the formal closure of a treatment center, evidencing further departure from those very difficult days…China, I want you to know that in those days, you really responded to a very critical need.”2

President Sirleaf is not the only high-powered official to praise China’s medical efforts. When China dispatched a mobile laboratory team to Sierra Leone in September 2014, Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization praised, “[China’s donation] is a huge boost, morally and operationally.”3The laboratory increased the country’s capacity for testing for the Ebola virus and included a 59-person team comprised of laboratory experts, epidemiologists, clinicians and nurses.

Although China’s medical assistance of USD 120 million was the largest since the country’s founding,4 some said that China’s efforts were much less than expected. For instance, in the early stages of the epidemic, China’s private sector, particularly the country’s billionaires and corporations were conspicuously silent. While the CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, and his spouse donated USD 25 million towards the effort, their Chinese counterparts were nowhere to be found. The World Food Program’s representative in China, Brett Rieson, lamented, “Where are the Chinese billionaires and their potential impact? Because this is the time that they could really have such a huge impact.”5

There is no readily available information on whether China’s wealthy made any grand gestures against Ebola. But China’s online users (netizens) made a big splash in donating money to combat the epidemic. Chinese internet users number more than double the entire American population (about 649 million people).6

Tencent (one of China’s largest internet companies), the World Food Program (WFP) and the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (CFPA) raised USD 194,958 in 24 hours in a campaign that engaged Chinese netizens. The campaign even set a new Guinness World Record for the most individual donations on a single online platform in 24 hours.7 The amount of money raised is not what is impressive; what is extraordinary is the fact that 105,803 individuals participated in a mere 24 hours. This illustrates that the Chinese, once isolated from events around the world, are increasingly making their voices heard in the international arena, and they feel more connected to the world than ever before.

Footnotes

  1. Tan Yingzi, Wang Xiaodong, “China army medics join Ebola battle“, November 15, 2014
  2. Xinhua, “Chinese Ebola Treatment Unit Decommissioned in Liberia“, May 14, 2015
  3. World Health Organization, “WHO welcomes Chinese contribution of mobile laboratory and health experts for Ebola response in West Africa,” September 16, 2014
  4. Xinhua, “Interview: UN official lauds China’s efforts in helping Africa combat Ebola,” July 21, 2015
  5. Megha Rajagopalan, “China’s Companies, Billionaires, Must Step Up to Fight Ebola”,  October 20, 2014
  6. Euan McKirdy, “China’s online users more than double entire U.S. population,” , February 4, 2015
  7. World Food Programme, “Chinese Netizens Set a New Guinness World Record“, January 28, 2015