China’s Blood Famine

by Christina Bowllan, Maya Scandinaro, Thompson Wu, and Zelda Montéville

“There is no better way to touch someone’s heart than to have your blood circulating through their body.”

Lei Feng, propaganda icon, still being incorporated in modern blood donation advertisements and a view of the inside of a blood truck by Xizhimen.
Our group members in front of a blood truck in Beijing.
A glimpse of blood donation in Beijing

A Blood Merchant

The Chinese government banned the selling of blood in 1998. But has the blood donation process changed much since then? Yu Hua, well-known Chinese writer, tells the story of a silk factory worker and his family in Chronicles of a Blood Merchant. The story takes place in the middle of the 20th century, and Xu Sanguan, the main character, sells blood regularly to help his family.

Of course, the fact that Xu Sanguan sells blood makes this story different from our research results. But, throughout the story, other points also show that blood donations are not what they used to be. In the novel, the only requirements to sell your blood to a “blood head” are to appear young and healthy. There is no check-up, no tests, and no notion of HIV or other diseases. In the reality, it is an entirely different process. You need to fill in a form, your blood is tested and there is an age limit (55 years old). Moreover, you don’t go to an hospital, but to an organization, such as the Red Cross. 
Xu Sanguan doesn’t hesitate to sell his blood several times in a month, because he thinks that his blood is infinite. Nowadays, the law states that you need to wait at least eight weeks between each donation, but sadly, some country folks are still illegaly selling their blood on a monthly basis, convinced that their blood is limitless.

Xu Sanguan’s habit of drinking water before donating and eating iron rich foods after donating are similar and consistent with contemporary practices. While water does not directly turn into blood, as Xu thinks, doctors nowadays still recommend patients to drink water before donating, to keep a normal blood pressure and prevent fainting. Eating after a donation, mostly sugary snacks, is necessary to raise blood sugars levels, and a donor nowadays would be encouraged to eat and rest for fifteen minutes before leaving the Red Cross. Xu Sanguan tries to always eat pork after selling his blood, one strong way to replenish himself. However, he also drinks alcohol, which is usually forbidden up to eight hours after a blood donation.

Both Xu Sanguan and current donors have similar motivations for selling their blood: helping others and yourself. Of course, Xu Sanguan sells his blood for money, but he uses it to care for his family. A donor today will save some strangers’ lives.

Times have changed since the author wrote this book. People are more aware of blood related diseases, and blood donations are made under better, cleaner, and safer conditions. Procedures are designed with the patient’s safety and health in mind; the donor can even gain advantages for his or her own health. Donating blood is all about saving lives, and donors’ lives are as precious as patients’. — Zelda Montéville

Red Cross Adventures

The Beijing Red Cross Blood Center is literally the heart of the city. Up to 500 people go there every day to their donate blood so that it can it be pumped into the arteries of another person’s body. Besides the Beijing Red Cross, there is only one other organization in the city that is authorized to collect blood.

Last week, my ILP group and I visited this center in hopes of learning more about the role of blood in Beijing. The place itself is large. In addition to its spacious donation center, there are fully stocked aquariums, high-tech conference rooms, red coach buses solely for self-promotion, and fully decorated, blood-themed classrooms for children. We met with Xu Wen, a manager for a volunteer organization called “Compassionate Home”. Although she’s well-known for rallying various blood donation events around the city, her primary agenda is actually finding people carrying the rarest type of blood in China: AB negative. Nowadays, only 0.03% of the Chinese population are AB negative, meaning that doctors must often search outside of the country for donors. To make matters more complicated, the search for all types of blood is becoming increasingly difficult. Xu claims that common Chinese diet is partly to blame, explaining that it has become too greasy, especially with the rise of fast food chains.

In order to address these issues, Xu and the Beijing Red Cross use a variety of methods to attract more donors. For example, Compassionate Home owns 25 blood “house” trucks that are dispersed throughout the city. These “houses” are giant vehicles, fully furnished with everything one would need to collect blood as comfortably as possible: reclining armchairs, puffy sofas, sugary snacks, and a refrigerator containing packets of freshly extracted blood. For the entire year, these “houses” will remain in the same location and gather pedestrians who are willing to donate blood. This process alone accumulates over 90,000 liters of blood per year.

Xu also works with thousands of other volunteers to help educate locals about Beijing’s blood problem. These volunteers consist of all ages, from young elementary students to seniors. Even foreigners have participated in the organization’s awareness events. By the end of each year, these people will manage to complete over 9000 services, ranging from community fund-raisers to recruiting more blood donors.

When we wanted to find out more about blood donation, Xu said that we only had to look outside, and she was right. If you look at the city’s billboards, posters, and subway stations, there is a good chance that a Red Cross advertisement will be there. Some of the ads even have a cartoon mascot, a sparkling blood droplet grinning cheek-to-cheek while holding two thumbs-up.

Maya, Zelda, and Christina at the Red Cross

Since the Beijing Red Cross Blood Center’s establishment in 1957, the organization has become the biggest blood hub in the entire country. There is no other city in China that can compete with Beijing’s blood quantity. However, on a global scale, Xu explains that China is still far behind developed countries. While the Chinese blood trade still remains a serious concern nationwide, the numbers alone are proof that progress is being made year after year. — Maya Scandinaro

China’s Underground Blood Black Market

China’s blood black market has been around for a while and it doesn’t seem to be dying out; to find what the Chinese blood black market looks like, how it was formed and what the future of it is like, we took to the city of Beijing to interview doctors, teachers and regular people on the streets.

In order to find out more about the history of the black market and how it was formed, we interviewed a dentist at Chaoyangmen Hospital. She explained that during the eighties and nineties, a blood black market was formed in the heart of the Chinese healthcare and blood donation system by greedy officials, also known as blood heads, that roamed the countryside looking for desperate people willing to sell their own blood. Because these blood heads only seemed to care about money, they lacked hygiene while performing these blood transactions; this ultimately led to an epidemic of both HIV and AIDs being spread among millions of Chinese people. Eventually, in 1998, the Chinese government passed The Blood Donation Law, which made it illegal for one person to sell their blood and required hospitals to test the blood for diseases before use. Despite the implementation of this new law, the black market actually grew at an even faster rate because of the amounts of money being offered and how easy the law was bypassed.

Although The Blood Donation Law was passed in 1998, blood heads have not backed down. As a matter of fact, because The Blood Donation law prohibits one from receiving money in return for their blood, more blood heads have emerged in the past two decades. The only compensation that the Chinese government has offered is a certificate that allows you and your family to receive free blood to a certain extent. I used articles I found online in order to obtain a real blood head’s perspective. Though this certificate and it’s benefits may seem like a fair compensation, the blood donations have stayed at a consistent low; compared to the 1000 yuan, or 160 dollars, these blood heads receive for 100 milliliters of their blood, this certificate is unimportant to these blood heads.

Today, the blood selling black market continues to grow. You may think that the Chinese government would put in an effort to crack down on these blood heads and their black market, but surprisingly, according to a blood head, selling blood is quite easy. He explains that blood heads are comfortable working around hospitals, even if police are around. According to another blood head, bypassing the police, though considered easy, is actually the hard part. The Blood Donation Law states that the only time blood can be transferred from one person to another directly is if they are family; once these blood heads find a patient, all they need to do is enter the hospital and lie, simply saying that they are related to their client.

As more people move away from donating blood, and towards the money promising black market, the blood donation rate in China is still relatively low. Also, you never know, as blood continues to be bought and sold, the risk of another outbreak of blood diseases is very possible. So far, the future of the blood black market looks bright in the eyes of the blood heads, but dark in the eyes of the Chinese government. — Thompson Wu

Panda Blood — And it’s not what you think

The first time I heard about panda blood, I envisioned the black and white bear. What I later learned is that panda blood is actually the name the Chinese have given for Rh — blood types. Just like pandas are endangered in China, so is the blood supply of Rh- because it is so rare. If Rh, a protein, is found in your blood, it is signaled as a + sign, and the absence of it is signaled as a — sign. Because China is facing a blood shortage right now due to a lack of donors, there is an urgency to gather as much blood as possible. In fact, only 0.6% of the population carries this protein, the + sign.

People in China are often not told by their doctors if they are Rh+ or Rh -because it is assumed that everyone just has it. That explains why when I was speaking with Tie Laoshi, she did not understand why I put a negative sign next to my dad’s blood type. Women generally find out when they are pregnant if they don’t have the Rh factor, meaning they are Rh -, but that does not automatically make the situation better. It is hard enough in China to find donated blood, let alone for Rh- people, who can only accept Rh- blood.

On a Chinese cultural blog, one woman in Shanghai explained how she dealt with this issue. Six weeks before she was expected to give birth, her doctor told her that she would need a C-section. Any procedure that involves Rh — blood is very risky, because hospitals only have limited amounts. So, this woman was very nervous because she might not have lived to see her daughter grow up. Fortunately, she found a wechat group that had people with her rare blood type and one of the members donated 200mL to her. Most Rh- patients have a harder time finding blood.

If an Rh negative patient cannot find blood, most times, they are left with one option — to look to the black market. Even though selling and buying blood in China is illegal, what other choice is there? The Shanghai Rare Blood Alliance does whatever they can to help patients, but they are inundated with calls. We did not find any equivalent in Beijing.

Blood shortage in China is not just a problem for rare blood type groups, but also for common blood types. There are many reasons why donors are limited, but the simple answer is that people are just not aware of the problem. Students have said that they would be more likely to donate had they learned about the impacts of a blood shortage in school, but the only time blood shortage is emphasized is during a natural disaster. So, Chinese officials now have started to encourage more people to donate. — Christina Bowllan


虽然小说的故事和现在的情况有很多不同,但是还有一些一样的部分。你卖血或者献血以前应该喝很多水。你卖血或者献血以后应该吃补身体的东西。许三观和现在献血者都希望帮助别的人,而不是为了自己。- 屈思汀


总之,现在北京是中国的最重要的献血地方,因为别的城市没有北京这么多献血者。但徐文认为北京比别的发达国家还是落后的。虽然中国还有献血人很少的问题,但有的方面表示中国的情况已经有了进步。- 海笔





因为越来越多人不献血,所以去黑市买血的问题越来越严重。- 小天儿

我的文章的话题是熊猫血。熊猫血就是没有Rh 蛋白质的血, 熊猫是稀有动物,没有Rh 蛋白质的血也是很少见的。只有0.6%的 中国人是熊猫血 ,所以这些人有很难的生活。如果他们需要血做外科手术,他们可能找不到血。有的时候,他们得在黑市买血。


Thank you ! 谢谢!

Sources Used