Under lockdown in China – The New York Times

At the height of China’s worst Covid outbreak, authorities in Shanghai took over gleaming office buildings and turned them into mass isolation centres. Floor after floor, room after room, the buildings were filled with people, their beds arranged in tight rows.

These buildings, and Shanghai’s broader lockdown, have bolstered the power of the ruling Chinese Communist Party to marshal resources in its quest to stamp out Covid. But they have also fueled deep frustration with government failures and excesses.

In eastern Shanghai, police in white protective gear clashed angry residents who demonstrated driven from their homes while their buildings were used as isolation sites.

Inside these centres, silence, privacy and even showers were lacking. Shanghai resident Yolanda Zhou said her 86-year-old grandfather cried when he was sent to one of these office buildings. “There were a lot of people in that environment, so he was very scared,” Ms. Zhou said.

The week-long lockdown in Shanghai, China’s largest city with 25 million people, is the most extensive the country has imposed in more than two years. Businesses and factories closed, leaving the streets of the financial capital empty out, a daily reminder of the heavy costs of the party’s “zero-Covid” policy.

The New York Times

“Welcoming all who should be welcomed”

Chinese leaders have imposed mass quarantines, urging officials to “welcome all who should be welcomed”. This meant that anyone who tested positive would be sent to hospitals or isolation facilities set up in schools, exhibition centers and other public places.

In the west of Shanghai, mover 100 people slept on the beds crammed into a converted office building. There were only four bathrooms, no showers, and only one breakfast option: plain bread.

Another site, in a convention center, contained thousands of beds arranged in zones that were bounded by purple signs. Floodlights were on 24 hours a day, forcing residents to use cardboard to block their hard gaze.

Leona Cheng

Leona Cheng, a student in her 20s, said nurses and doctors were so busy it was hard to get help. The lack of staff also created dire living conditions.

The portable toilet cubicles soon filled with so much human waste that Ms. Cheng said she stopped drinking the water for several days so she wouldn’t have to use it as frequently.

Leona Cheng

Conditions were similar at an isolation site at a middle school in Shanghai’s Baoshan district.

On the inside the gym, people were lying on beds lined up about an arm’s length apart. In a hallway, garbage was piling up next to an occupied bed.

u/1859404834 via Storyful

Across the city, barriers kept residents indoors and forced others out.

Many delivery drivers have been sleep in tents on the streets, unable to return to their own residential compounds because they had been locked down.

The New York Times

These drivers have been a lifeline for millions of homebound residents, transporting much-needed food, supplies and medicine for very little pay.

“We want to eat, we want to work!

The hastily ordered lockdown has caused widespread shortages of food and basic necessities and halted medical care for people with other illnesses. Residents responded with a rare outburst of anger.

Videos of protests are rare on the Chinese internet, where government censors work around the clock to suppress dissent. But during the lockdown, a number of these videos were shared and viewed widely by Chinese social media users.

The Times found and analyzed three different angles of videos capturing a protest in late March in a community called Datang Huayuan in Shanghai’s Baoshan district. In one video, a large group of people gathered outside. “We want supplies!” a woman shouted into a megaphone. “We want to survive!” Videos of the incident have since been removed from Weibo, the popular Twitter-like platform.

In some neighborhoods, government subsidies have been inconsistent and scarce. Even the wealthiest residents rushed to get groceries. Many elderly residents who do not use smartphones or online shopping apps have suddenly found themselves cut off from daily life and food sources.

Others protested restrictions that prevented them from working even as they had to continue paying rent in one of the world’s most expensive cities. The Times has analyzed and verified the location of another protest video, originally posted on Weibo, in which residents of Luoyang Sancun, a middle-class community in southwest Shanghai, gathered outside and chanted in unison: “We want to eat, we want to work, we want the right to information!”

At times, altercations erupted between residents and officials who had sealed off the entrances to some apartment complexes using green metal fences.

The New York Times

People have pushed back with increasing intensity what they see as authoritarian excess.

When Shanghai separated the children from their families, parents organized online petitions, forcing authorities to make concessions. When health workers fatally beat a corgi they thought had been infected, locals complained, prompting community workers to acknowledge the killing had been excessive.

One night, four banners were hung on a normally busy road, hinting at the city’s weariness, grief and anger. A banner listed those who died after being denied care and hinted at wider oppression. Another criticized Chinese censorship.

Pictures banners circulated widely on Weibo and in private groups on WeChat, the Chinese messaging app, but were quickly censored. Gao Ming, a Shanghai-based podcaster, said Chinese police asked him to delete a tweet containing photos of the banners. He refused.

“Oppose unlimited confinement”

“A nurse at Shanghai East Hospital, an asthma patient, a violinist,…”

“A nurse at Shanghai East Hospital,…”

“Wuhan, Shanghai, Fengxian, Ukraine, you and me”

“This content violates the rules and cannot be viewed.”

By morning, the banners had disappeared.

“The biggest human rights deficit”

To root out signs of discontent, authorities have turned to a proven playbook, flooding the internet with feel-good propaganda while erasing critical content.

State media released videos highlighting the dedication of Chinese health volunteers and showing patients at quarantine sites dancing to keep their spirits up. Censors rushed to erase videos and online discussions of food shortages.

But some Chinese netizens were able to stay one step ahead and reverse the propaganda. Users started using the hashtag “The United States is the country with the greatest human rights deficit” to voice their criticism of the government’s actions in Shanghai.

@用名用名 user: #美国是最大的人权赤字国# 嗯 嗯 , 我们 虽然 给 人家 门口 贴 封条 , 杀宠物 , 医疗 医疗 资源 更 多 急重症 患者 错失 , 但 但 我们 数字 可是 可是 0 呢!!

@用名用名 user: #the United States is the country with the greatest human rights deficit# Alright so we’re sealing people’s front doors, killing pets, wasting medical resources so patients with acute and serious illnesses can’t get treatment, but our death toll is apparently zero !

The Times hid the usernames.

The Whac-A-Mole game between censors and online users intensified with the emergence last week of “Voices of April” a six-minute video that superimposed the voices of residents pleading for help from officials and community workers against black-and-white aerial footage of Shanghai.

“This virus won’t kill you, but starvation will,” says one man.

“I’m frustrated that I can’t help you,” a neighborhood worker told a resident. “If anything, I’m even more heartbroken than you.”

Translation by China Digital Times, via YouTube

Censors went into overdrive to take down the video. But users persisted. They kept posting the video over and over again, reverse it, rotate it and embed it in other videos.

For a brief moment, the wave of censorship even sparked heated debates about free speech.

Soon these were also censored.

Comments are closed.