Yesterday evening between 7 to 9, depending on the housing estate, Shanghai people took to their balconies and clanged on pots and pans to demand food. The event, “Music Party” seems to have been widespread, with organizers making and circulating individualized posters, telling neighborhood participants when their group would be playing. “Music Party” allowed Shanghai residents to tactically fill the city with alternative sounds–sounds that were meaningful to them, rather than the sounds of impersonal management.
As Jing Wang observed, sound has become a critical feature of locked-down Shanghai. Robotic dogs and drones carry loudspeakers through neighborhoods, instructions blaring. On repeat. Everyday. In a city where isolation has become the new normal and cell phones mediate intimacy, the materiality of a common voice (or clamor) shared across time and space allows for the mutual recognition that makes us human. Videos of the clanging and robotic dog (and yes the ‘bitch’ speaks with a female voice) as well as some of the posters, below.
It turns out that Covid-19 is good to think if your goal is to understand ‘China’ as imagined, perceived and, of course, enforced. (Winning?) After all, even if there are no countries outside are heads, nevertheless, there are test stations, checkpoints, police, and all sorts of social monitoring. Moreover, how different groups–both at home and abroad–are responding to the lockdown shows up interesting aspects of my experience in Shenzhen. So, I’m providing a round-up of some of the Covid related blogs, essays and books that I’ve been reading to embed Shenzhen’s experience into national and international discourses about biological governance, moral geography and new forms of self expression. And yes, they’re all over the place because we don’t really know how the ground has shifted. Moreover, I find comparison and contrast both necessary and useful because the intellectual and political challenge is to provide rich, on the ground accounts of lived experience within and against political-economic systems that are (to use a harsh neologism) always already glocal–the suffering caused by Covid-19 is universal, but responses to and cultural expressions of pain have been highly specific.
The cartoon caption which comes via the 2022 Shanghai lockdown reads, “Who dares call a meal with pig feet and bear’s claw anything less than a feast? You can’t hide that we’re living in a flourishing age.”
Aves (小鸟文学) has published a special edition, which has collected many accounts of the Shanghai lockdown, including poetry, essays and camp (方舱) diaries. Many of these pieces have been previously published via WeChat and weibo, but. By bringing the works together in one place, Aves has taken an important step in giving a more comprehensive form to the lockdown. These are not individualized twitterings; they form a chorus.
Posting a link to an essay on Covid 2020 chez SZ that I wrote about a year and a half ago because I have been struck by the differences not only in approach to zero-Covid, but the overall attitude of the city during Covid 2022. Then, we were locked down, but we weren’t isolated, and the Big Whites hadn’t been mobilized for social control. What did I do? I crocheted and made imaginary worlds of string, where ‘Catzilla’ could play. Now, we are much more isolated, and I am much more actively following social management because I worry about the expansion of authoritarian policies. Anyway, if you have time for a re-read, click here to read Unmasked in Shenzhen.
Question du jour: how do we translate ‘社会面清零’? As conventionally used, my sense is that it means something like ‘zero-Covid in society,’ with the unspoken predicate ‘because all the positives have been locked away.’ It’s the unspoken half of the phrase–the unspoken threat of violence–that has me thinking we should translate directly–社会面 means “social aspect’ and 清零 means ‘clearance’ or ‘reset.’ I’m hearing that the people with the most power in Shanghai today are security guards, representatives from neighborhood offices (居委会), and the ‘big whites (大白)’ whose presence has become equated with arbitrary violence and detention. Apparently, these are the people enforcing zero-Covid, while most low and mid-level cadres are being replaced with people who do not question the policy. This means that when Shanghai re-opens (whenever and however), there will be a new political hierarchy in place, in addition to the completely devastated economic situation. So, why not be translation literalists (in this particular case), and call what’s happening in Shanghai a ‘social reset’?
Today, two videos are circulating on WeChat, one “四月之声 [April Voices]” is a delicate and relentless compilation of the Shanghai crisis through telephone calls for help that remain unanswered. As one of the voices says, “I’m sorry teacher, there’s nothing I can do.” The second, “2022 上海晚春 [Late Spring in Shanghai, 2022]” is much more direct–scenes of violence put to the nihilistic, “Cheer Up London” by the Slaves. Both videos are worth taking the time to view because although their aesthetics are very different, they make the same, chilling point: Shanghai is violently divided and the party and the government (those who should be trusted) are not backing down .
Update: yesterday, all day Shanghai people continuously re-uploaded “April Voices” and the authorities continuously took it down. I has been an ongoing 24-hour battle for the right of ordinary people to tell their stories.
Short but very sweet story about a friend’s cat, who is pregs with first litter–hee! Originally, my friend had planned to have the kitten neutered, but. By the time the kitten was old enough to safely undergo the procedure, friend’s building was locked down. And so, she had to wait for the lockdown to lift in order to bring her cat to the vet. Meanwhile, kitty went into heat and made a great escape into the urban village, where apparently the semi-feral community was having a good, good time. About a week later, the cat returned, much to my friend’s relief. My friend had secured her balcony (no more escapes) and settled in to wait out the outbreak. A few weeks later, however, kitty began showing. If all goes well, kitty will give birth next week.
All that we do not know haunts us. In some sense, social media has only made us more aware that our knowledge about what is happening next door or in the next city is limited. Nevertheless, we still extrapolate feelings from posts and insinuate critique into memes. This means that we require a basic lexicon to decode texts that were intentionally written to avoid censorship. Currently circulating is a poem about the courage to write directly about what’s been happening. And yes, I’m aware that the poem has circulated anonymously. Translation, below: