musing out loud about the past three years: wtf happened?

I’ve been talking with friends about what happened during zero Covid. Friends outside China say, “You have to let us know what really happened.” Friends inside China share personal stories and rumors. However, it seems pretty obvious that no one knows what happened. We know what we saw on our WeChat feeds. We know what family and friends have told us. We know what we saw and overheard while waiting in line for our daily test. But. That seems to be all we know.

The usual data that we use to imagine social change doesn’t seem to be available; and it’s hard to say if that’s because there is no data or if the data is classified. The most obvious example, of course, is that the Chinese government isn’t counting Covid-related deaths since zero covid lifted. In Shenzhen, we also don’t know how many people had breakdowns or committed suicide during the three years. We don’t know the effects of not attending school for three years on young children. We don’t know how many small businesses went under during those three years. Is anyone researching answers to these questions? And if so, what scale of data are they gathering/ looking at? We don’t even know how many long term residents left and haven’t returned because of economic hardships. What is Shenzhen’s current population, anyway? Who knows? That said, how would ‘they’ know?

So, I find myself turning to science fiction and alternative ways of imagining the world in order to think about Shenzhen. Like most of China, I’m watching the television adaptation of 三体 (with English subtitles). Moreover, it seems that people who aren’t really interested in talking about Covid, were addicted to The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin. The story is about a secret military project to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion.

We were exhausted by daily testing, and now just want to move on. It’s over, seems to be the general thinking, why keep beating a dead horse? Especially because we all know who the dead horse is. (Wait, we do?) Wink wink, motherfucker, there’s dystopian fiction about end of days to consume…

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