For weeks, Shanghai has made international headlines as an outbreak of Covid-19 has forced the city’s 25 million residents to lock themselves in their homes, many in great anguish over how to obtain food and medical care.
However, in the rest of China, it’s easy to get the impression that nothing out of the ordinary happens in Shanghai.
Seen through the lens of state media, Shanghai authorities are delivering food parcels and ensuring everyone’s well-being with few technical problems. There is little in the statements of the authorities that indicate a crisis. Official narratives have framed the resilience and ingenuity of Shanghai residents in securing essentials, often through grassroots efforts such as group buying and bartering, as examples of positive energy.
Much of the venting from Shanghai residents frustrated by weeks of hardship is removed from social media. For example, on Friday night in China, a six-minute video clip showing an empty Shanghai, overlaid with what appeared to be a dozen audio recordings of residents, briefly went viral on Chinese social media. It seemed to epitomize the sense of despair and anger that many in Shanghai say they have felt during the city’s lockdown, which is entering its fourth week.
In a recording from early April, a woman’s voice was heard saying, “All the hospital wards are very tense, there are no rooms available in the quarantine centers.” Another woman thanked the community volunteers for her help. There were also short clips of people yelling, “We need supplies.” A man’s voice said: “Today I feel that covid cannot kill people, but people can starve to death.”
Around midnight, searches for the video’s title, “April Voices,” returned no results on the Twitter-like platform Weibo..
Many of the complaints and requests for help from Shanghai residents have also circulated on WeChat.,
which is owned by Chinese tech giant Tencent Holdings Limited.
and has over a billion users. However, any information shared there is highly dependent on the user’s social circle, leaving many outside of Shanghai with no idea of the situation there.
A teacher in Hangzhou, about 100 miles from Shanghai, who identified herself by her surname Wang, said when her friends in Shanghai posted their panic over food shortages on social media, she bought a freezer and stocked up on food. case your city. she was hit with similar blocking measures. But when she urged her parents, who live in the same city, to do the same, they were not receptive.
“They have no idea what people in Shanghai are going through,” Wang said, adding that his parents, who are in their 80s, mainly consume nationalist content on WeChat..
“On WeChat, the kind of information you get depends on your friend choices, the chat groups you’re in, and the public accounts you follow,” said Kecheng Fang, who teaches journalism at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and studies the online speech in Porcelain. She said that in the absence of credible news sources, she has been relying on friends living in Shanghai for first-hand information.
Media censorship and controls mean people with no personal connection to anyone in Shanghai are unlikely to understand the situation there, said Guobin Yang, a professor of communication and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania.
Recently, some WeChat groups have spread notices from the authorities banning discussions about Shanghai that contain “negative and confidential information”.
The number of daily Covid-19 cases reported by Shanghai health authorities, which had hovered below 20,000 for much of the week, rebounded to 23,370 on Friday, with 12 new deaths. Shanghai has reported a total of 48 deaths during the current outbreak. City officials have outlined plans for aggressive Covid containment measures to continue, including more rounds of mass testing and the addition of more quarantine beds.
“Shanghai has always been seen as an outlier for its flexible covid policy, effective governance and economic might, so people find it hard to believe that Shanghai would go through the same restrictions as the rest of China,” Wendy said. Zhou, researcher. in a doctoral program at Georgia State University that focuses on public discourse in China.
Claire Li, a high school teacher in the western Chinese city of Xi’an, said that during her city’s month-long lockdown that ended in January, she looked at Shanghai with envy. While Xi’an’s 13 million residents were confined to their homes, Shanghai practiced more targeted measures, in one case closing a milk tea shop where infections were found but not the surrounding buildings. “I was so jealous,” she says.
Now, he said he has little idea what is happening in Shanghai.
“I feel like there is an invisible hand trying to show me only what it wants me to see,” Ms. Li said. When she sees complaints on social media about the difficulty finding food in Shanghai, she says, “I don’t know what information to trust.”
The state media gives little idea that residents are struggling. A news segment aired over the past week on the national nightly news broadcast by China Central Television, the state broadcaster, showed shoppers at Shanghai grocery stores plentiful with produce. On social media, many noted that the shelves seen in the background were largely empty. In a local Shanghai TV news clip, web users noticed what appeared to be the same woman shopping at various locations, raising questions as to whether it was a local official acting like an average consumer.
In response to allegations that the CCTV segment was staged, Shanghai authorities said the grocery store scenes were filmed in a suburban area far from downtown Shanghai. Local media in Shanghai also interviewed the buyer, who said that she was not hired to act and that she was not a neighborhood official.
In the early hours of Saturday morning in China, the “April Voices” clip continued to circulate on WeChat, where users reposted it to their personal feeds. In an apparent effort to evade censors, some reversed the frame, saved the clip on other Chinese apps, and shared the links on WeChat. As of 2 a.m. in China, the video had been minted as a non-fungible token, or NFT, suggesting that, in theory at least, it will be kept permanently.
By mid-morning in China on Saturday, most traces of the video clip had disappeared from the Chinese internet.
write to Shen Lu at firstname.lastname@example.org and Liyan Qi at email@example.com
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