what to make of covid videos?

One of the most difficult things to figure out is what to make of video clips on WeChat. Whoever took the time to take out their cellphone and film these moments, clearly thought that they reveal some truth about Shenzhen under lockdown. But here’s the rub: these clips often circulate without captions, as if the content was self-explanatory. When they do have captions, these videos are still difficult to understand because its difficult to know who the protagonist and antagonist are. Who should we sympathize with? Who should we condemn? However, unless I actually know the person who produced the video clip, there is no way to confirm who filmed the video and why, when it was filmed, what provoked it and what came next. I watch a clip, thinking, “Now I understand.” But what I’ve understood slips away the moment I click on the next post. Indeed, the lack of third party confirmation haunts all Covid posts on Shenzhen social media, especially because there are few ways to actually visit sites and ask. We have puzzle pieces, but no way of knowing what box they came from or even if they’re part of the same puzzle. The city seems more ephemeral than ever.

So, some videos that feature Covid management teams in hazmat suits. Make of them what you will:

4 thoughts on “what to make of covid videos?

  1. The clash of values is clearly manifested in the last but one video. The resident believes in ‘A man’s home is his castle,’ whereas the bureacrats in hazmat suits believe in an unchalleneable, collective, uniformed norm. Yet the most interesting part is, despite their differences, both sides seemed to have faith in the ‘rule of law’, as the man adamantly defended himself ‘I didn’t break any laws,’ while the staff responded equally adamantly ‘yes, you did.’

    What this incident has shown, along with many others happened over Zero Covid, is that there is a gap in interpretations of laws (& rules) made by an increasingly authoritarian state in an increasingly liberal society: for the citizens, rules are weapon to defend their freedom, yet for the bureacrats, rules are the means to achieve their goals without repercussions.

    • Yes, I think the clearest message in the last video is that both individuals and government representatives believe in the rule of law.

      My understanding of the last video is that the man hadn’t been answering his door, so his apartment was sealed off. He had to break the cordon in order to get food. Once that happened, the management team saw that there was someone living in the apartment and forced him to open the door, leading to the confrontation.

      However, in terms of how people are curating their narrative about the application of rule of law under graduated management, I have questions that the video doesn’t answer. I wonder: who filmed the video? who edited it and added titles and captions? who released it? in what context? once the man had been remanded, where was he taken?

      The narrative reads very differently if one of the management team members filmed and leaked the video, then it does if one of his neighbors filmed and released it.

      • I think it is more likely the management team members leaked the video, there is no way that they would allow a ‘neighbor’ can film that without their permission.

      • Hi chenperry, thanks for the comment.

        You point to an interesting question. If a team member leaked the video, then who did they leak it to? Who did the editing? These questions hover at the edges of this video because official Shenzhen coverage of the outbreak and its management is highly sanitized. In these videos, workers are hardworking and polite and residents are compliant and grateful. If anything, I suspect that Shenzhen’s trying to run the most civilized lockdown on the planet.

        The thing about ‘leaking’ on WeChat is sometimes a video is only posted to a chat or work group (in a particular context) and then someone from one of those group reposts in a decontextualized context… provenance is difficult to track. Sometimes videos and posts aren’t intentionally leaked, but shared to a specific context and then picked up by others. So if a team member posted the video, was the point ‘look what we have to deal with’? Indeed, making people unsympathetic is a key strategy in how enforcement is executed, shifting responsibility from the management team to the holdout.

        Also, I agree that the perspective is intimate, suggesting a team member did the filming. However, handshake building hallways really are that small. In our Xiasha building (we were there from our 2019 Baishizhou eviction until 2020 Covid), we couldn’t keep our door open because that would block the neighbor’s entrance. So if a neighbor did film that video from their doorway, it could have to be from that perspective–all they would have had to do is open their inner door and film through the bars of the security door.

        Moreover, during most public confrontations people gather and videotape what’s happening. In video #2, for example, there were multiple videos posted from different perspectives, including up close and personal.

        All this begs the question: who do you think the video was posted to support? Are we to sympathize with the management team? Or with the remanded holdout?

        I often think that management teams leak videos to say, ‘look what I have to deal with.’

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