Sixteen hours of flights, eight days quarantine at the hotel, and three days quarantine at home — my journey home sounds exhausting but worth it. After all, it's been more than three years since the last time I saw my parents in person due to the impact of Covid-19.
Gathering with my loved ones is one of my purposes for visiting China. Another is to experience the Dynamic Zero-COVID policy first-hand and record my observations and thoughts on the front line.
After a mammoth quarantine time in hotels, I finally got out. I walked around my hometown Jinan, Shandong Province. The development of China seems frozen in time right after the outburst of Covid.
When I went back to China once or twice a year pre-Covid time, I was always shocked by the fast development in my city (a tier-2 capital city with a population of 9 million which is famous for its spring water and Confucius and Buddhism culture): newly built-up skyscrapers, cutting-edge digital solutions, high-speed commuting infrastructures, flourishing business scenes both online and in brick-and-mortar shops…
However, this time, the same old physical world as I last left, yet people are here no more: lonely and desolate streets, depressed and dull malls and shops, masked men and women in white protection suits. Those newly emerged “Big Whites” are busy guarding each neighbourhood and running endless daily mass testing and biomedical surveillance.
Empty street in city centre, Jinan
When I woke up this morning, I received many friends' messages asking me if I was okay because they saw Chinese protesting video footage and images spread all over the internet. #Beijing and #Shanghai have become trending topics on Twitter.
Although the Chinese state media reported nothing on this issue (of course), tech-savvy Chinese citizens still have a way to inform themselves about what happened outside the Internet Wall (we call it “fan qiang, jump out of the wall” or “ke xue shang wang, scientific way of browsing the internet”). So I spent a couple of hours browsing online and chatted with my friends in Beijing and Shanghai to double-check the accuracy of the information.
While writing this piece, friends told me the government immediately set up speed checkpoints on many roads and streets in Shanghai to check passersby, particularly university students, to see if they installed Twitter, YouTube, Telegram and other banned apps and the Firewall bypassing VPN apps. I don’t know the exact consequence once they find out we use those apps in mainland China but pretty bad for sure.
Like when the BLM movement happened in America. The rest of the world thought most Americans were going through riots and looting and living in a chaotic situation. Not true. The mainstream media selected topics and distributed concern with framed issues, filtered information and emphasised tones to "inform" citizens. The same applies in China. Thousands of protests out of 1.4 billion obedient citizens, so the majority of places are still "in peace”.
People queuing for mass covid test everyday
Based on my research and understanding, the fire that broke out last week in an apartment building in Urumqi, Xinjiang Province, killing at least ten people, was the straw that broke the camel's back. People blamed the government's strict covid policy for blocking and controlling the exits of apartment buildings which led to this deadly event.
Chinese people shared their frustration and resentment and criticised the government's zero covid stance. Large-scale protests are rare in China. However, in the past weekend, many demonstrations were reported in Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing and Nanjing, asking the government to abandon the lockdown policy and seek freedom.
According to China's Dynamic Zero-Covid policy, residents must add their name, identity card number, travel history, health status, and contact with infected people to WeChat. A QR code will then be generated to dictate whether a person can travel freely.
Different provinces or cities/towns may have different rules. Still, in general, a red code means a person's virus test result is positive and must go to the quarantine camps to observe five days of quarantine. A yellow code implies a person might contact infected people and need to stay home and conduct a five-day isolation. In contrast, a green code means no restrictions are imposed.
This health-tracking app is now required for entry almost everywhere, including offices, transport stations, stores, malls and taxis. Even with a green code, it will expire in 24 - 48 hours, so people have to go for the test every day. Without it, ordinary life grinds to a halt.
My green covid pass and people waiting to get tested in order to get the green code
I was mentally prepared to do daily virus tests and scan the health tracking code everywhere I went. After three weeks, I was drained and shattered. Imagine Chinese people who have had to go through this for THREE years!
What's worse, during three years of lockdown (though there were a couple of months in the summertime when people enjoyed a bit of freedom), students were stuck at home and received online education without in-person interaction; small business owners were forced to shut down their business without any income. When disaster hits the country, individuals pay the price.
Disrupted economy, demoralised spirit, deteriorating mental health… There are numerous problems facing Chinese citizens. On the other hand, the government hasn't figured out the right solution to prevent the situation from going steadily downhill.
Going through my Twitter feeds and watching those brave young people's demonstration videos, it's hard not to think about what happened at Tiananmen Square in 1989. History always repeats itself, and what will happen this time?
Most people might forget those protests, like many other tragedies in this land. If you look at the demographics of protesters, the majority are students, full of zeal and enthusiasm. I adore their spirits, and I was one of them. However, without a solid crowd foundation and rational strategy, the result was either failing or as ugly as the French Revolution.
I'm a typical middle-class representative in China. People with similar upbringing as me either choose to go overseas or establish their comfortable life in China, which means we wouldn't want to see a violent and chaotic revolution to end the CCP's regime.
With that said, although western media added fire to the fuel while reporting those protesting, China is still "at peace", and most people will queue at the test centre and obey the rule to exchange for their normal daily activities.
A couple of days ago, I refused to go to do the virus test and persuaded my family not to go to protest this stupid dynamic zero-covid policy. The next day my parents received a warning text from government officials and asked them to test immediately; otherwise, they would bear legal responsibility.
Big brother is watching you.
The chance for individuals to escape the totalitarian ruling under this sky is rare but still possible. I hope everyone who dares to express their true will is well. I hope one day, a single spark can start a massive blaze and bring real peace to this land.
Note: thanks @richardreeze @BerkeleyWanner @linggih_ngurah, for proofreading this piece and making constructive feedback.
While researching China's protesting, I found many Twitter accounts use old footage or share misleading information about what truly happened in China. Good reminder for my readers to cultivate media literacy and never be fooled by those evil media manipulation and disinformation.