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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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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90s nostalgia

I walked Nanshan Road, from Daxin to the Shekou suburbs via one or two side roads. Below, impressions of “Old Nanshan,” which was built during the late 80s and early 90s, now appears highly nostalgic–the narrow roads, the shade trees, and mom and pop shops.

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 people’s education textbook incident

So, on Friday, May 27, the People’s Education Edition of forth grade textbooks set the internet ablaze. Seriously, despite everything else that was going on in the country–bank failures and Covid-crazy, rumors of upper level infighting and a tanking economy–the entire country was united in outrage over textbook illustrations. And frankly, the disgust is understandable. It’s as if some cynical artist whose work deconstructs authoritarian childhood was asked to draw the illustrations for books aimed at ten-year olds. There’s a whole level of critique going on that may not be accessible to children, even as their parents moan about aesthetic standards. “Ugly, ugly, ugly,” the crowd screams. And from where I sit that seems to be the point of the images. Just not the place? Or audience?

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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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Shanghai Music Party, 28 April 2022

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.

describing the crazy to u.s. americans

When I speak with U.S. Americans about China’s commitment to zero-Covid, I find myself comparing it to north American support for second amendment rights. We are no longer talking about a policy that is or is not working, but rather about a belief that the country itself is in danger. In China, the central government is acting as if any form of living with Covid will harm the country more than disrupting daily life for millions of people; and many agree. Similarly, the NRA acts as if the foundations of U.S. American democracy will be permanently damaged by background checks on people who want to purchase guns; and many agree. In both cases, what seems from the outside as an irrational escalation of commitment to an outdated policy, from the inside looks like a fight to maintain an imperiled way of life.

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provisional governance in shanghai

It seems that a Shanghai community has established its own provisional community office because of the incompetence of the official community party secretary. The above photo is a picture of the first edition of their community bulletin, which is called “Tiandi Estate Epidemic Prevention.” The headline is, “Announcing the Establishment of the Provisional Autonomous Community Office for Phase 1 and 2 Second Tiandi Estates.” How cool is that?!

refiguring the healthy population

Yesterday, Xinhuashe circulated #动态清零怎么看怎么干# (image below), which translates as #how to understand and implement dynamic zero-Covid. Inside the parentheses, the question is raised: “if so many countries are ‘lying down,’ #why are we persisting with dynamic zero-Covid#? The answer to the question hinges on how population governance works in China. According to the article to which the weibo tweet refers, there are over 50 million elderly Chinese who have not yet been vaccinated. They are all vulnerable to catching and dying from Covid. Anyone who doesn’t comply with current protocols is (implicitly) threatening the health of those 50 million elders. Indeed, the rhetorical power of these tweet hinges on an unspoken assumption: what is more anti-social than threatening the lives of elders? Thus, alternative opinions on how the outbreak should be handled are not simply debates about public health protocols, but also and more importantly pose a serious challenge to social stability because they are intrinsically anti-social behaviors.

In trying to think through the logic behind the connections between public debate about health protocols and social stability, re-reading Susan Greenhalgh‘s work on population governance has proven incredibly useful. Her basic point is that the politics of reproduction is a key feature of modern government, especially how we imagine embodied relationships between past and future. Population governance touches on all aspects of citizen rights and obligations, specifically access to birth control and abortion. However, during the late 20th century, population governance has expanded to include how societies organize access to healthcare, economics (workforce ratios), environmental issues (population densities) and the meaning of human life (gerontology as an expanding field of study, for example). Population governance also shows up how eugenics have shaped modern politics throughout the world. In other words, population governance has become central not only to how we imagine ourselves as belonging (or not) to society, but also to how governments justify which public health programs to pursue and how to implement them.

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