Why are China’s Covid Hazmat Volunteers called ‘Big White’?

Right now, many Chinese cities are battling outbreaks of Omicron. Big cities like Shanghai have been brought to a standstill with over a month of quarantine, and many other cities are conducting daily testing to identify any potential outbreaks.

You may have seen pictures of hazmat-suited volunteers administering Covid tests, cleaning the streets, and otherwise helping out in Chinese cities…

What are these Covid hazmat volunteers called in Chinese?

Covid hazmat volunteer: 大白 Dàbái (Big White)

Of course, they are all wearing white hazmat suits and masks, hence the nickname “Big White.”

But 大白 is also the Chinese name of a famous Disney character…the healthcare robot Baymax from the Disney movie Big Hero 6.

Dabai, both on-screen and off-screen, play important roles in healthcare. Naming China’s Covid volunteers after a cuddly fictional robot also gives real-life healthcare workers a positive and friendly image. Many Chinese do have great affection and respect for the white-suited volunteers who are using their own time and energy to tackle Omicron.

Dabais perform important roles in China’s Zero-Covid system. They alert residents to the next Covid test times and administer the tests.

Covid test: 病毒检测 Bìngdú jiǎncè or 核酸检测 hésuān jiǎncè

Time to take a Covid test: 来做核酸啦! Lái zuò hésuān la!

Covid Hazmat Volunteers Big White

They also deliver government-organized food and supplies to locked-down residents.

Covid Hazmat Volunteers deliver food

Most public workers in Chinese cities with Covid outbreaks wear the white hazmat suits–healthcare workers, police officers, and even officials and delivery drivers. But private citizens can also volunteer to be part of the city’s anti-Covid effort!

My WeChat moments (news feed) is full of pictures of people volunteering to be 大白. Former classmates, teachers, and friends are all taking turns to wear the white suit and help out in their city.

This picture is of Chinese ping pong Olympic champion, Li Xiaoxia 李晓霞, serving as a volunteer.

Covid Hazmat Volunteers - Dabai/Big White

Read More About Covid in China

How To Say Vaccine In Chinese? 疫苗 (Yìmiáo)
9 Chinese Idioms About Covid-19
Covid-19 Chinese Vocabulary: Discuss Vaccines and Symptoms
When can international students go to China?

Savannah Billman has a master's degree in Chinese Law and Society at the Yenching Academy of Peking University. She holds a B.A. from NYU Shanghai and has also written for The World of Chinese, TechNode, SupChina, and Sixth Tone.
Savannah Billman
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