Medical emergency in Shanghai and power of Weibo

Since we are on the topic of China’s medical emergency response system.  A Dutch living in Shanghai has just ran into a medical emergency involving with a British guy.  He tells his experience on his blog, the following is a guest post by Joop Dorresteijn via


We found a Brit in a pool of blood this morning, on our way to the bakery. He was looking really ill, surrounded by Chinese people, but he was just lying there. At that point he wasn’t able to speak much or move around, later we discovered that he had cut his wrist by accident inside his apartment, where he lost a considerable amount of blood, made his way downstairs and basically fell on the curb where he was bleeding for 30 minutes more.

Of course the group of bystanders, of which two Chinese/New Zealand students, had called an ambulance 30 minutes earlier but they were told that there were no ambulances available. We decided to call again nevertheless but didn’t get through. Luckily for him, the police drove by and they proposed to drop him off at the hospital. We lifted him in the back of a police car, on our way he told me that he felt he was going to die.

I identified his blood type incase he would pass out and we got him inside the ER and arranged the paperwork. He didn’t carry much on him but had some ID and insurance info in his pocket. I felt helpless trying to explain the English details to the Chinese staff, they couldn’t understand me. A few minutes later, the two New Zealand / Chinese bystanders arrived at the hospital with my wife to help out. The hospital was sure to confirm insurance before treating him after which he was properly taken care off. We stayed for a couple of hours and saw to it that he got the proper care.

I also called the British consulate, who apparently put me though to the emergency call center in London. The operator didn’t speak Chinese so explaining him the Chinese hospital name and Chinese street details lead to a very confusing call. Seemed like a sluggish system, considering the amount of Brits that live in P.R.C.? Anyway, I have to say that the Shanghai police really helped him out, first of all taking him into a car (taxi wouldn’t allow that) and trying to locate his friend. Anyway, In a situation like this, you cannot depend on the ambulance to come and pick you up. I’ve seen pedestrians hit by cars and eventually put inside taxi’s to the hospitals. It’s not rare if bystanders don’t react. If you see an actual ambulance, they are poorly equipped and drive much slower then they could.

My wife has studied Chinese for quite some time now, she mentioned they studied a lot about culture and history, but never did they talk about what to do in a medical emergency, something that would have been useful. All you foreigners abroad, be sure to carry your ID and insurance with you at all times, preferably with a person to call in case of emergency. Better yet, have cash and a mobile phone with you as well.

Part 2: It started with a Weibo repost

About 3 hours after bringing the British patient in we went back to find him still in ER alone. The doctor knew that we were strangers but asked if we could find someone to pick him up eventually. The patient didn’t carry a phone, but we did get the name of his boss.

We left and headed back home, calling the UK consulate again hoping to get a direct number for the doctor in the hospital but they couldn’t disclose information and said that the company is responsible for him, they couldn’t do anything from London until Monday morning.

Back home we went online but found this company had hardly any information online, but found the profile of his boss at however, this business network prohibits contacting strangers directly. Dead end? We decided to put a message on Twitter and Sino Weibo around 6PM. We called out for his boss by name and also mentioned the company.

On Twitter, it got people in HK and UK involved, however, it gained traction on Weibo as some microbloggers started translating and reposting my message to sometimes over 50.000 followers.

At around 10PM, one person on Weibo actually traced a telephone number and called it, but no result. People kept reposting and updating and around 10:30 PM, a customer recognized the company’s name and contacted a sales representative. The sales rep. send me a Weibo message around 11PM, about to contact all the people necessary. In no time, help was under way to the patient in the hospital. We could relax now someone from the company was headed to the hospital, due to weibo. It struck me how Weibo is indeed enabling social participation in this country. For the readers not familiar with the Chinese microblogging service, right now almost everyone online in China is using Weibo:

The Chinese Twitter-like service saw a penetration of more than 88.8% among China’s digital populace aged more than 20 […] almost every Chinese netizen has a weibo account. […] China has more than 538 million Internet users and 388 million mobile Internet users. (Technode, 28 July 2012 )

It reminded me of a BBC radio podcast by Duncan Hewitt I came across recently, regarding a Beijing Weibo user who spotted a truckload of dogs headed for consumption in a morning in April. He took a photo and put on his microblog. Around noon, people starting reposting it, leading to people gathering and blocking the truck. In the evening, the group of Weibo users bought the dogs from the truck driver, they are now safely in a kennel. Be amazed and listen to the full episode on the BBC website or direct link to MP3.

Joop took a picture in the police car


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  1. man why cant a man commit suicide and die in peace without getting rescued
    fucked up world if you ask me if freedoms like that can be taken away

  2. I want to complain about the uselessness of embassies here. The British guy got no help from his embassy, which should have sent somebody to the hospital to at least make sure he got registered if he could not speak Chinese.

    Where I work we had a situation where a co-worker disappeared, and his wife called the American embassy to report him missing. They said they couldn’t give her any information because it would be a breach of the guy’s privacy. They also did not seem interested in liasing with Chinese police or helping find the guy. Their attitude was that if he wanted to disappear, that was his right (which I guess it is, assuming he had not been injured, etc.). In the end, it turned out the guy had returned to the US and later committed suicide. If someone had known where he was maybe it could have been prevented. Thanks for nothing, American embassy!

  3. Don’t bother to go to a Canadian embassy for help anywhere in the world, they won’t do anything to help.

    But that is a good thing, you can sue the Canadian govt and become a millionaire at the Canadian tax payers expense.

    Most of the ex refugee new Canadian citizens do this a lot.

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