4 December 2023
AnalysisFact check

Analysis: Geolocating China’s medical insurance reform protests

Annie Lab tracked down a dozen protest videos allegedly about China’s medical insurance reform in Wuhan and Dalian.

A series of health insurance protests sprung up in Chinese cities in February.

The mass gatherings began in Wuhan of Hubei province in central China on Feb. 8 after insurance reform measures took effect.

People took to the streets again on Feb 15, and the protests spread to at least one other city.

Many were staged by retirees distraught by the changes to their employee medical insurance schemes, but participants’ accounts were few and far between.

Annie Lab can verify the locations of at least three demonstrations in two major Chinese cities. In our investigation, we also found one mislabeled media clip used by a news outlet.

1. Verified: Protest outside Wuhan city government on Feb. 8

Protest outside Wuhan city government

A Twitter video posted on Feb. 8 showed a group of people rounding up what appeared to be a police vehicle in cold and rainy weather.

They were heard singing the Internationale in Mandarin, a communist movement anthem.

The tweet claimed that about 10,000 retired senior citizens took to the streets that day in Wuhan to protest against medical insurance reform measures.

It was shared over 2,000 times at the time of writing and was cited in numerous media reports.

We geolocated the area and can confirm the protest took place on Feb. 8 around 8 a.m. outside the Wuhan city government office.

Key building features in the protest clips matched with the street view photos of Yanjiang Avenue and Yiyuan Road we found on Baidu Map (right).

The clip provided key visual clues which led us to look for the Wuhan municipal government, the intersection of Yanjiang Avenue (沿江大道) and Yiyuan Road (一元路).

We tracked down three other videos capturing the same protest at the same location from different angles as well.

One was initially posted in early February on Twitter but was later removed. It showed protesters holding umbrellas gathering at the government building.

A male voice can be heard saying that, when translated to English, “This is probably not [instigated] by the U.S. or other foreign forces but the government alone.”

We found another video posted on Feb. 10 that shows a similar scene. A man can be heard saying he was outside the city government and there were “up to ten thousand retirees petitioning for medical expenses, life-saving money, and their rights.”

The third video shows a heavy presence of police vehicles outside the city government while the voice in the video says it was 8:15 a.m.

Annie Lab found and interviewed an eyewitness who was driving in the area on that day.

He said he saw groups of middle-aged people arriving in batches shortly after 8 a.m. on Feb. 8 at the Wuhan government office that was heavily guarded by the special police force.

He refused to be named in this article for fear of retribution.

2. Verified: Protest outside Zhongshan Park in Wuhan on Feb. 15

Protest outside Zhongshan Park

A Twitter video posted on Feb. 15 presents an aerial view over throngs of people gathering in front of what looked like a gate with pillars.

It was posted by a former state broadcaster CCTV journalist Wang Zhian who claimed that Wuhan residents staged a second rally targeting the city governments’ medical insurance reform measures.

The video was shared over 500 times, but some users questioned whether a second protest occurred in Wuhan.

In our investigation, we found another tweet that enabled us to geolocate it at Zhongshan Park.

Wuhan Union Hospital of China

We could match the Wuhan Union Hospital building from Baidu Map with that of the tweeted video.

We could identify the “Wuhan Union Hospital of China (協和醫院)” from the clip and learned its address is 1277 Jiefang Avenue in Jiangshan district. It sits right next to Zhongshan Park.

1277 Jiefang Avenue
The crowd was seen in the video (left) moving toward the hospital.
Comparison between the Twitter video (left) with the Baidu map showing Zhongshan Park.

We can confirm the crowds in the clip were gathering at Zhongshan Park’s No. 3 South gate.

Zhongshan Park’s No. 3 South gate
No. 3 South Gate in the Twitter video (left) matches with images of the same gate from the Baidu Map street view (right).

These three videos show people gathering in mass, scuffling with police, and singing the Internationale outside Zhongshan Park.

We also found another clip that identifies the date and time of the protest at 10:22 a.m. on Feb 15. This video featured the nearby Wushang Mall.

Nearby Wushang Mall
Comparison between the screenshots of the Twitter video (left and upper right) with the image of Wushang Mall.

3. Mislabeled: This clip shows Wuhan, not Dalian

Protest in Wuhan

Radio France Internationale’s Chinese language service tweeted on Feb. 15 a compiled video supposedly showing retirees protesting in Wuhan and Dalian.

It has more than 200 likes and dozens of reposts.

But Annie Lab found that part of the RFI’s clip had mistakenly identified a Wuhan protest as happening in Dalian.

The mislabeled footage began at 1:21.

A protest in Wuhan

The video caption reads “China’s Dalian”, with a subtitle in Chinese saying the protestors in Dalian were appealing to local authorities to give them their medical insurance benefits.

But we found the protest displayed in the video was actually outside Wuhan’s Zhongshan Park.

4. Verified: Protest in Dalian on Feb.15

Protest in Dalian

A Twitter video posted on Feb. 15 showed people gathering in front of a building and claimed they were “chanting the Dalian mayor’s name outside the government building at Xigang district’s People’s Square.”

The video has over 200 shares and 1,300 likes at the time of writing.

We followed the visual clues with keyword searches, which led us to find identical buildings seen in the video.

 Dalian municipal government
The white Soviet-style building that stretched widely in front is Dalian municipal government.

The red-brick building with a similar structure is the Dalian city public security department, and the plaza where protestors gathered is the People’s Square.

Dalian city public security department
Screenshot of the location on the Baidu map

We can also confirm the protesters were indeed chanting the name of Dalian mayor, Chen Shaowang, in the video as claimed by the tweet.

The series of street protests came after China initiated a complex plan to restructure its medical insurance scheme three years ago.

It is expected to affect about 260 million employees and close to 1 million retirees across the nation.

Recently, the provincial governments of Guangdong, Hubei, and Sichuan rolled out their versions of reform measures and triggered widespread public concerns.