‘The Operating Room Filled With Money:’ Banner Displayed at Chinese Hospital Celebration Draws Criticism

By Gu Qing-er
Gu Qing-er
Gu Qing-er
and Xinan Li
Xinan Li
Xinan Li
January 29, 2022 Updated: February 2, 2022

In a new year celebration event by the staff of a hospital in southern China on Jan. 21, a banner displayed has drawn controversy.

“Welcome the Majestic Year of the Tiger, The Operating Room Filled with Money,” a banner read. A photo of this banner displayed at a gathering of the hospital staff went online on Jan. 26, and immediately drew waves of criticism on Chinese social media Baidu and Weibo.

The hospital, Dongguan Kang Hua Hospital, apologized through its online account the next day, but that only caused more netizen comments.

One person nicknamed “Susu” said, “Why apologize? It’s just a fact that was accidentally revealed: It’s an unspoken rule—a well-known secret; you’ll get nowhere in the hospital if you don’t have money.”

Another, using the name “Do you know” wrote, “Don’t bother explaining it. If this phenomenon didn’t exist, how could such a banner be displayed? … It involves the issue of red envelopes in the hospital’s operating room. It happened to me when my family was sick … the chief surgeon, anesthesiologist, and all other assisting doctors, you will need to provide everyone with a red envelope. That’s an unspoken rule that everyone knows.”

The “red envelope” is a Chinese new year tradition when the elderly celebrate the holiday by giving children cash in a red envelope. Under the communist regime, it is also a term for bribery.

Netizen “Demolition” wrote, “The hospital said the banner was the nurses’ good intention to build a relaxing atmosphere. But, how can it be relaxing? The hospital was built to make a profit, not for saving lives. It is a shame.”

“Big Game” stated, “The banner only speaks of their minds. How would the nurses decide on a banner like that? It won’t get there without the manager’s approval.”

The hospital issued a statement saying that the staff of the operating room spontaneously organized a gathering in a restaurant to celebrate the new year, “In order to create a relaxed dining atmosphere,” some nurses made the banner and hung it in the dining room; the hospital “apologized” to the public for the “inappropriate content” of the banner.

Kang Hua Hospital, founded in Sept. 2002, is a high-class private hospital with research capacity, in Dongguan City of Guangdong, a coastal province in south China.

Money-Driven System

Dr. Lin Xiuyan (pseudonym), a doctor from Hebei Province in northern China, said the hospital’s emphasis on money-making as indicated by the banner was emblematic of a medical system in China that is fueled by financial incentives.

According to Lin, a doctor’s income is comprised of salary, bonuses, and prescriptions. Prescribing certain medicines is a gray income, “which could be an average of an additional $10,000 a year,” she told the Chinese-language edition of The Epoch Times on Jan. 28.

Lin said, “Hospitals rely on medicines, equipment, and supplies for making money.”

The practice of giving “red envelopes”—envelopes that contain money gifts—has always existed in hospitals in China. All doctors involved in an operation will receive one—the signing doctor, the chief surgeon, and the anesthesiologist. “The wealthy patients in the north will give more, typically thousands of dollars,” Lin said.

She said, “A minor surgery used to be simple, sedation would be sufficient. But now, they use general anesthesia, along with various blood tests, respirator, vascular screening, electroencephalogram, and so forth. The total cost could add up to thousands of dollars. That’s why the operating room is full of money.”

She indicated that hospitals use all possible means to increase the fees to patients. Some doctors even serve as a medicine sales agent for extra earnings.

Lin said that the banner actually tells the other side of the mentality: authorities hope that all operating rooms will make money. “I have heard that some local governments borrowed money from hospitals to pay civil servants,” Lin said.

According to Chinese media, the Chinese civil servants have experienced as much as a 25 percent decrease in pay this year because local governments are running out of cash.

Gu Qing-er
Xinan Li