reverse migration from shanghai?

According to viral social media, reverse migration is the latest Shanghai initiative to achieve ‘zero-Covid.’ In turn, the government has explicitly denied that migrant workers are being forced to leave the city, calling these posts disinformation. That said, migrant workers can apply to return to their registered hometown, specifically their hukou residence. A TikTok video (below) includes the following data (translated from above image), suggesting that 8,630,500 people (roughly the population of NYC) could be directly impacted if migrant workers leave:

Shanghai is about to Release the Flood Gates!

Anhui:         2,602,000          Guangdong:     79,000
Jiangsu:      1,504,000          Yunnan:             70,000
Henan:            783,000          Hebei:                67,000
Sichuan:         624,000          Liaoning:           63,000
Jiangxi:           487,000          Jilin:                    59,000
Zhejiang:        451,000          Guangxi:            49,000
Hubei:             408,000          Shandong:        45,000
Shandong:     370,000          Xinjiang:            29,000
Fujian:             264,000          In. Mongolia:    24,000
Hunan:            229,000          Beijing:               23,000
Chongqing:    228,000         Tianjin:                13,500
Guizhou:         148,000          Qinghai:              11,000
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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.

lock(ed) down thinking

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.”

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check out ‘Aves’

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.

‘social reset’

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’?

At this writing, the art channel, 一条 has posted an exhibition of photographs of the abandoned city.

shanghai voices of spring (updated)

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.

The version with English subtitles has been released!!

word of the day, “unwilling”

I first saw the chat record in a chat group,, dated April 16. Two days later, I saw it in my moments in a circulating WeChat post. The group leader said, “I’ve received an urgent notification from the top, everyone in the building is required to go down stairs for a corona test. Please respond with whether or not your willing to go downstairs.” He followed with his response, “unwilling.” It was followed by 50+ “unwillings.” The chat leader then said, “Thank you everyone. There have been enough responses. I’ll go negotiate with them.“ After three thank you emogis, he added. “Some leaders notified the neighborhood office at 5:45 p.m, to have us all go downstairs at 6:00. The teachers in the community office are helpless, so don’t blame them. Many of them only get 6 or 4 hours of sleep a night.” The same day that I saw the circulating WeChat post, I also saw a series of “will not participate in any more corona tests,” circulating on TikTok post, with music.

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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shenzhen covid update for inquiring minds

“What’s up in Shenzhen?” You and other inquiring minds want to know.

Well, for starters, we have a new conspiracy theory about how Shenzhen’s successfully prevented a massive omicron outbreak on the scale of Hong Kong and/or Shanghai.

Your curiosity gets the best of you and you impishly ask, “What’s the tea?”

I lean forward and whisper, “Apparently, the city’s zero-Covid strategy has served to cover-up the fact that Shenzhen was caught unprepared, just like Hong Kong and Shanghai. At the beginning of the outbreak, the city didn’t have enough quarantine centers to house all the positives, symptomatic and not. So instead of treating patients, they sent everyone home to wait it out, without ever releasing true statistics. The basis of this conjecture is the unstated question: how could Hong Kong and Shanghai have so many positives and Shenzhen not?”

And my voice is rising along with my excitement, “I mean, you can hear the rhetorical force of the conspiracy theory, which pivots on what the numbers mean. And let’s be real. Statistical abnormalities should be ringing our bells because so much of who we think we are is tied up in hypotheses about populations, which are in fact statistically imagined entities. So, to my mind, which is a curious mind, the reasoning behind this theory of what is actually happening is mischievous satirical impeccable. Especially, if your point of epistemological departure is that omicron spreads+government can’t be trusted. Which, who doesn’t believe?

Anyway, the post (which counts as rumor mongering within official social media, but that’s another story for another day) reads:

I finally understand, and here’s the story:
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hallucinating in shanghai

The stories coming out of Shanghai are increasingly distressing. Thousands of people are being rounded up and forcibly moved to quarantine centers, which are still under construction. Once inside the centers, detainees are told that they are on their own until testing can be arranged because it takes two consecutive negatives to get out. Indeed, the situation is so fraught that it has brought the specters of Xinjiang and the Cultural Revolution into the conversation. Some have started commenting under pictures of the Big Whites (大白 nickname for those in hazmat suits), “the red guards have arrived!” Offline, the outraged assumption that Shanghai (SHANGHAI!) could be treated like Xinjiang is more vocal, and occasionally mentioned online. But I’ll get to that, below. There’s much to unpack in all of this, especially Xi Jinping’s fraught relationship with the CR, Xinjiang and, of course, Covid. After all, the 20th Party Congress will be held (presumably) some time in October, and Xi has hitched his coronation third term to zero-Covid. Today, however, I’m translating and commenting on a copy of a chat record that’s low key circulating on WeChat. I’ll be responding in the next post.

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