It's 10:00 AM Wednesday morning and a handful of people in downtown Beijing are gathered in the shade of a van that's decked out with a huge poster of basketball star Yao Ming, showing his stretched out arm as he gives blood.
It's World Blood Donor Day and all around the city the scene was repeated as the Capital's blood plasma is now collected solely on a volunteer basis.
In the shade of the van, 52-year-old Wang Yanqin fills out forms as she waits her turn to donate. "I succeeded in persuading my husband to join the group," grinned the bespectacled, chunky lady.
In the 1980s when blood-giving quotas were set in state-owned work units, the former saleslady and her colleagues used to draw straws to decide who would get 'pricked."
"The unlucky ones were rather miserable and I even cried on my way home," she recalled.
Her attitude changed after she was hospitalized. Even though it was one of Beijing's best hospitals she says, "Blood was always in short supply."
That was when she made up her mind to do something "good for the patients".
Since her hospital stay Wang has volunteered to donate her blood five times.
Like Wang, many Chinese people are changing their attitudes about blood donation.
At 77 years old Wang Shuiying remembers how people used to try everything to avoid giving blood when she was a volunteer nurse at the Beijing Red Cross Blood Center. She was insulted and called "vampire" by people who grudgingly gave their blood despite receiving gifts and time off work.
"They feared that donating blood would harm their health and spread disease," she said.
The gray-haired lady is glad more positive publicity is helping to raise people's awareness. All across the country celebrities have been recruited to promote the dire need, the ease and the safety of donating blood.
On World Blood Donor Day last year, Wang Yanqin remembers seeing Yang Lan, a popular TV host donating her blood in Xidan. Earlier this week 58 well-known actors showed up en masse at the the Red Cross clinic to give blood.
According to Beijing Red Cross all blood used in hospital now comes from volunteer donors and younger people are the most generous. "In the first five months of this year, 86 percent of volunteer donors were under the age of 35," said Ma Guodong, vice director of the clinic.
After giving their blood, Wang and her husband left the van with a package of gifts: an umbrella, a mug, a computer mouse and a cup of yogurt. "I'll be back next year," she said.
(Xinhua News Agency June 15, 2006)