did a campaign start when we were online for our daily corona test?

Throughout 2022, as corona testing has become normalized (常态), testing status and QR codes have increasingly been used to prevent possible political “outbreaks.” The most recent case involved depositors who were unable to withdraw money from their banks in rural Henan. This case broke over a month ago. It concluded several weeks later, when depositors went to provincial capital, Zhengzhou in order to make official complaints. As the depositors converged on Zhengzhou, their health codes turned red, which prevented them from using public transportation, getting rooms in hotels, or entering buildings with strict compliance.

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rhythms of the bug

Yesterday morning between midnight and noon, 4 positives were reported in Shenzhen. One each in Pingshan, Xiangmihu, Nanhu and Dongmen Street Offices. So basically in the east, but citywide rapid response: neighborhoods went into lockdown, emergency corona testing was mandatory in those those street offices, and everyone in the city was notified that all day Sunday, June 19 access to public transport and spaces would require a 24-hour QR code, or green horse. Government sponsored events, including a planned Handshake guided tour of Shatoujiao were cancelled. Blink. The information was delivered to our phones.

I took the above photo while waiting online to get tested. For the first time in several months, we waited over half an hour. Fortunately, it wasn’t raining. Sigh.

going through the motions…unless it’s something else?

Once-every-three-days Covid testing continues in Shenzhen, but we seem to be going through the motions. We are now up to twenty cotton swabs per test and many have noticed that the swabbing isn’t as “sincere 认真” as it used to be. Moreover, although it is possible to go an extra day or two without testing, however, after the fifth day, you have to go to a designated test station. There are, of course, differences between stations depending on location. Some health workers still jab, while others seem more careful. But. Regardless if the hand that pokes the throat is strong or gentle, testing at all the stations that I’ve used seems so cursory. Even when boarding the metro (the buses never checked covid passports), the security guards look at the QR code and just wave a thermometer in one’s general direction, begging the question: what purpose are these tests serving? (Other than the ongoing transfer of wealth to biotech enterprises.)

Dark sci-fi paranoia du jour: All this bio-monitoring has me wondering about the kinds of data that are being collected, how it is being stored, and the reliance on cellphones for this system to work. Indeed, the entire system hinges on the belief of direct link between an individual and a particular phone, which is true in my case. But. Easily hacked, I would think. If that was your goal and/or skillset. It seems to me that if the goal is bio-surveillance, then the logical step would be to chip us all, guaranteeing that the data you’re seeing is linked to a specific body. Although, there are no doubt technologies at play I don’t know about. Kind of like gene-editing cockroaches, we could be gene-edited to transmit selected information. And on dark and rainy nights, these ideas don’t even feel fanciful, but rather inevitable. Sigh.

of guessing games and scapegoats

So what’s happening at the top? Inquiring minds want to know.

First, I come across this image of the Hunan Health Commission Vice Director Huang Huiyong being convicted of accepting 24.87 million yuan in bribes and kickbacks in corona testing. And yes, I too am wondering about the optics of wearing a Big White suit to the sentencing when no one else is dressed up to conduct a building sweep or poke throats. The image implies that the Big Whites, their ops and their actions are under the supervision of the CCP. Those pesky and anonymous Big Whites are responsible for the crazy and THEY will be held accountable for social disruption. Because they independently enforced extreme testing? Kind of like Shanghai wasn’t officially re-opened…hmmmmm.

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the gaokao cometh

June 7-9, 51,200 senior three students are scheduled to sit the gaokao in 49 ordinary and 31 special test centers throughout Shenzhen. Years past, organizing the gaokao would have been given many more pixels on social media, but Covid. In fact, Gaokao cheating stories have long been some of my favorite urban myths. But this year. Covid. And ongoing prevention. (Although I heard a rumor that as of July medical insurance funds can no longer be tapped for mass testing, so it may end in July? Fingers crossed.) Thus, this year all the gaokao trauma drama I have to report is that we have been notified that phone signals will be blocked near testing stations to prevent cheating. Residents who have to report emergencies have been instructed to use landline phones or move out of range. There was also the odd article about how cheating on the gaokao is a criminal offense that carries severe (not quite explicit) penalties. But these scare tactics are just part and parcel of moral standards that hold teenagers accountable for minor mistakes, but allows powerful adults to make fortunes from unsavory business practices, such as a fraudulent Covid testing. Sigh.

从天命观看疫情:is talking about the mandate of heaven superstitious?

A speculative what if: what if the Covid had happened during the late Qing? Would there have been discussions about loosing the will of heaven? Would we be having more serious conversations about ecological responsibility? And would we maybe understand all this Covid testing and infrastructure as some kind of attempt to suppress the expression of heaven’s mandate?

I know, kind of conspiracy theory-esque. But. Also, kind of sci-fi in the speculative way of questions such as: “how does science and technology reshape political ecologies within and against historical cultures?” Indeed, the ongoing management of the pandemic after pandemic’s end has my mind following Sun Wukong into imaginative black holes that aren’t explicitly Euro-North American, but rather all about the mandate of heaven 天命.

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gaslighting 101: shanghai hasn’t reopened because it was never locked down…

That’s what they’re going with? This is a popular gloss on the press conference that didn’t announce that the city had reopened. Instead, government spokespeople performed a master class in gas lighting.

The past two months are being presented as if neighborhood offices acted independently of the municipal government and Sun Chunlan 孙春兰 never came to take charge of the pandemic; and indeed, unlike in Wuhan and Hong Kong, Sun’s tenure in Shanghai was brief and remarkably not lauded. There is no official position on the not-lockdown, which reads like blaming the victim with Chinese characteristics. So to speak.

In response to the blatant buck-passing, testimonial videos about what happened during the lockdown have been posted. In addition, stories about how the Shanghai government has not taken responsibility for the recent lockdown are also circulating. The pleasure of these second category of stories is that they show an actual representative of the Party and government telling the truth. Below I’ve translated one of those stories that I’m calling, “Speechless 无语 in Shanghai.”

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rumor has it… the government had a hell of a night on the town

It’s true, unlike the 2020 lockdown when the government subsidized the lockdown, during the 2022 lockdowns in Shanghai and elsewhere (Shenzhen, for example) the actual costs of game of germs are being passed on to ordinary citizens and entrepreneurs. Owners of cars that were parked in commercial lots, for example, are being held responsible for fees accrued during the lockdown, fees which be over 3,000 rmb. Indeed, one of the jokes currently circulating describes post-lockdown accounting for mass testing as a case of different government bureaus passing the buck:

[The government went out for a night on the town.] The medical insurance department believed that the finance bureau would pick up the tab, while the financial bureau assumed that the medical insurance department would foot the bill. The two sat down for dinner, ordering wine, dishes and escorts. They uncorked bottles of foreign spirits, sang karaoke, had massages and paid for sex. Indeed, they ordered everything on the menu. When it came time to settle the account, however, the finance bureau slipped out the door and the medical insurance department pretended to be drunk. And this is how the absurdity ended. 医保以为财政请客,财政以为医保请客,二人落座后加酒加菜要三陪,开洋酒、点歌、按摩、打炮......所有的项目都点了,拿出店家账单找人结账的时候,财政要遛,医保装醉,荒唐的一幕就这样结束了。

the animated pandemic: big whites on shenzhen social media

 “Big Whites (大白)” are the omnipresent and seemingly omnipotent figures of China’s 2022 lockdown, so named for their white full-body hazmat suits. Big Whites have been the Chinese government’s social interface for managing the Omicron outbreak. Big White teams consist of medical workers, police officers, community office representatives, and volunteers who come (as the government repeatedly emphasizes) from all walks of life. In their capacity as service providers, Big Whites conduct COVID tests, deliver food to residents in locked-down buildings, and coordinate other public services within a designated area. However, Big Whites are also the public face of COVID security. They conduct building sweeps for testing holdouts, they act as gatekeepers at locked-down estates and neighborhoods, and they patrol locked-down areas to ensure everyone else is in their homes. 

The moniker “Big White” has a double origin story. First, it derives from the gear that the management teams wear. In addition to being fully masked, hands are gloved and shoes are covered. There is a turquoise blue stripe which runs along suit seams and some Big Whites have personalized their suits with magic marker inscriptions. Second, “Big White” is also the Chinese translation for the plus-sized inflatable healthcare robot named Baymax, a character from the 2014 Disney film Big Hero 6. In the film, Baymax teams up with 14-year-old robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada to save their hometown San Fransokyo from an evil supervillain. Baymax and Hiro team-up with four other nerds to form a band of high-tech warriors against evil uses of technology especially biotech. 

In a 23 March post on the English language WeChat account, EyeShenzhen, author Li Dan explained the connection between pandemic work teams and an animated film: “Chinese netizens use it [Big White] as a nickname for frontliners who are fighting the COVID-19 pandemic because they wear white protective coveralls on the job, and they work selflessly to protect the safety of the public.”

This essay touches upon two interrelated issues in the social media representations of Big Whites in Shenzhen—the gender of caregiving and the role of animation in conceptualizing pandemic management.

Hiro and Baymax
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shameful dis-ease: over the counter cold meds and covid

Body shaming and its ills are familiar: eating disorders in the pursuit of an ideal body-type; feelings of inadequacy and low self esteem caused by fat-phobic, misogynistic, racist and anti-trans bullying; and the intense pain and despair that come from being isolated from those around us simply because of who we are. Indeed, shame is an important component of social control precisely because it shifts responsibility for indifferent and cruel treatment of others from the shamer to the shamed. The logic is insidious, direct and more often than not internalized before we finish elementary school: I am treated like shit because this body is fat/ ugly/ female/ trans/ black/ old…

Recently, I’ve realized that mandatory covid testing manipulates body shame to achieve political and social goals. It has also changed previous expressions of care for family and friends.

Inquiring minds want to know: How does zero-covid play upon extant forms of body shame in Shenzhen? Well, if you lived through the US AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s, you have (because you read Susan Sontag) a pretty good understanding of how illness and shame work to prevent the ill from receiving necessary care, while allowing the healthy and the powerful to justify their indifference to the pain of others. Below, I track how regulation of over the counter cold medicines is part of a bio-governance regime that has made it shameful to catch a cold.

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