As the situation in Shanghai continues to deteriorate, residents have been pushing back against the CCP's authority in ways that are rarely seen in China. Since the start of the pandemic, and the CCP's decision to adopt a "war like" position to enforce its "zero COVID" policy, has rarely elicited much resistence. Until now.
Yesterday, videos of Shanghaiers taking to their balconies to sing in protest of the local authorities' decision to order an 'indefinite' lockdown went viral in the West (they were quickly censored on Weibo).
As seen on Weibo: Shanghai residents go to their balconies to sing & protest lack of supplies. A drone appears: “Please comply w covid restrictions. Control your soul’s desire for freedom. Do not open the window or sing.” https://t.co/0ZTc8fznaV pic.twitter.com/pAnEGOlBIh— Alice Su (@aliceysu) April 6, 2022
Authorities counted nearly 20K cases in Shanghai alone on Wednesday, nearly matching the number for all of China from the day before. It marked the sixth daily record for the city, according to the SCMP. Symptomatic cases climbed to 322, up from 311 a day earlier, while the vast majority of the cases showed no symptoms. Local authorities have counted more than 70K cases since March 1.
We noted a few days ago that the situation in Shanghai has evolved to become more than just a public health crisis. Instead, it has become a political test for the CCP, as it fights to protect the legitimacy of its "zero COVID" approach. In that sense, the battle for Shanghai has become "too big to fail."
The NYT said as much Thursday.
As the coronavirus races through Shanghai, in the city’s worst outbreak since the pandemic began, the authorities have deployed their usual hard-nosed playbook to try and stamp out transmission, no matter the cost. What has been different is the response: an outpouring of public dissatisfaction rarely seen in China since the chaotic early days of the pandemic, in Wuhan.
The crisis in Shanghai is shaping up to be more than just a public health challenge. It is also a political test of the zero tolerance approach at large, on which the Communist Party has staked its legitimacy.
For much of the past two years, the Chinese government has stifled most domestic criticism of its zero tolerance Covid strategy, through a mixture of censorship, arrests and success at keeping caseloads low. But in Shanghai, which has recorded more than 70,000 cases since March 1, that is proving more difficult.
Shanghai is China’s most populous metropolis, its shimmering commercial heart. It is home to a vibrant middle class and many of China’s business, cultural and academic elite. A large share of foreign-educated Chinese live in Shanghai, and residents’ per capita disposable income is the highest in the country. Even in a country where dissent is dangerous, many there have long found ways to demand government responsiveness and have a say over their own lives.
"I’m just too angry, too sad,” said Kristine Wu, a 28-year-old employee of a tech company who was visited at home by two police officers after she criticized the city’s Communist Party leader on social media. She recorded her defiant confrontation with them, in which she asked why they were wasting time harassing her, when they could be helping people in need of care. She then shared a photo of the encounter on social media, despite the officers’ warnings against doing so. (It was later censored.)
"I thought, whatever, I’ll just go for it," said Ms. Wu, who had not considered herself political before the lockdown. "I used to live pretty comfortably, and before anything had happened, everyone was very polite, very rule abiding. Now all that has just crumbled."
The CCP is caught in a difficult dilemma. Public health experts are keenly aware of the fact that China is unprepared to live with the coronavirus: just over half the of Chinese age 80 and over are fully vaccinated as of late March. And Chinese vaccines have been shown to be less effective than their western counterparts.
Already, the people of Shanghai are struggling with crippling food shortages as they're forced to rely on the government for essential supplies, according to the AP.
Residents of Shanghai are struggling to get meat, rice and other food supplies under anti-coronavirus controls that confine most of its 25 million people in their homes, fueling frustration as the government tries to contain a spreading outbreak.
People in China’s business capital complain that online grocers often are sold out. Some received government food packages of meat and vegetables for a few days. But with no word on when they will be allowed out, anxiety is rising.
Zhang Yu, 33, said her household of eight eats three meals a day but has cut back to noodles for lunch. They received no government supplies.
"It’s not easy to keep this up," said Zhang, who starts shopping online at 7 a.m.
"We read on the news there is (food), but we just can’t buy it," she said. "As soon as you go to the grocery shopping app, it says today’s orders are filled."
As the food shortage worsens, containers full of frozen food and chemicals are piling up at Shanghai's biggest port as the lock down of the city and virus testing prevents workers from getting to the docks to pick up boxes, according to Bloomberg.
Of course, Shanghai isn't the only part of China struggling with an outbreak. The Province of Jilin is still facing a surge (and the attendent restrictions) even after authorities technically lifted a weeks-long lockdown
Going even further than its rival the NYT, the Washington Post on Thursday declared the situation in Shanghai to be a "powder keg" that could call the entire CCP authoritarian system into question.
But Shanghai looks like a powder keg for China, where the party-state justifies its rule by casting itself as guardian of the people’s health and welfare. Shanghai’s residents are growing desperate. People are complaining on social media that they are unable to get food and water delivered. When some began shouting protests out their windows, demanding supplies in one Shanghai neighborhood, a drone flew by and warned them to stop, and to please "control the soul’s desire for freedom."
Now, it is authoritarian China’s turn to face questions about whether its system, based on tight controls, is really better at controlling the pandemic. China would be well advised to learn lessons from the West and pivot to more flexibility. Mr. Xi should admit he needs a new strategy. But can he?
While no more videos of protesting locals have made it to western social media over the last day, one video of riot police being dispatched to prepare for any more 'unrest' did catch the public's attention.
PLA arrived in Shanghai to support riot police against possible protests against the strict lockdown pic.twitter.com/BgqPKuOVjA— Matt Davio (@MissTrade) April 6, 2022