The author of a viral video about the Covid-19 lockdown in Shanghai, which sparked a rare display of defiance on social media in China, urged users to stop sharing it, saying he worried about his work in directions he didn’t want to see.
The creator, who uses his online nickname Strawberry Fields Forever, said in a post on Saturday that the rapid spread of the video, titled Voices of April, was “unexpected” for him, and “affected” by messages he received from fellow netizens.
“However, I don’t wish this video would be distributed in directions I don’t want,” he added. “I hope everyone will stop participating, or please ask the people you know to stop participating.”
The six-minute short is a montage of audio excerpts of official government announcements, as well as residents’ descriptions of their struggles during the strict lockdowns in Shanghai in the past three weeks.
The video, which glides across the city’s vast skyline, is shown without comment and filmed mostly in black and white. “Get better soon, Shanghai,” says the video’s end card.
It was deleted from the internet shortly after it was posted, but continued to spread on WeChat on Friday. Users have found creative ways to publish the video, for example, embedding a QR code in a movie poster, or directing others to cloud services to download it.
By Friday night, many WeChat users had found various ways to keep the video alive and bypass censorship.
The most populous city in China is entering its fourth week of lockdown. The city of 25 million people is also a major financial center in Asia. But in the past three weeks, many residents have begun to criticize the harsh way the authorities have implemented the zero-Covid policy.
On Friday, Shanghai reported 12 new deaths from COVID-19, up from 11 the day before. According to the authorities, the average age of the deceased patients was 88 years. They said all of them had underlying health conditions and none had been vaccinated.
As case numbers and deaths soar, Shanghai is doubling down on “dynamic disinfection” to stem the spread of the virus, neighborhood by neighborhood. On Friday, the authorities announced the strengthening of the closure.
As the uncertainty continues, netizens have found many ways to express their frustration in the past few days. Some have mixed British band Slaves’ 2015 single “Cheer Up London” with images of the city’s lockdowns.
Others have changed the script of American comedy duo Key & Peele’s A Man Who Enjoys a Continental Breakfast and called it a Shanghai accent, to imagine what it would look like when a Shanghai man was finally allowed to enjoy a nice breakfast after the lockdown was lifted.
By Saturday afternoon, several important sites had been removed by censors.
The outbreak of opposition creativity on Friday, analysts said, is reminiscent of a similar episode in the early days of the Wuhan lockdown. In early March 2020, Chinese netizens used innovative methods to maintain a censored journal profile of a medical professional in Wuhan.
“After weeks of harsh shutdown, there is a sense of deep frustration and resentment among Shanghainese people, but also a sense of solidarity with those who have not been in the midst of it,” said Dali Yang, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago. . “I am surprised that many of those who republished the video and other materials did not see the act as political.”
“For the authorities, this collective action and the tacit criticism of the shutdown sends a strong message that they are working hard to enforce censorship. Our understanding of this act must also be accounted for through positional acts of defiance and protest, in beating cookware and non-compliance with DNA testing orders.”
Hu Shijin, the former editor of the nationalist newspaper Global Times, threw in his weight late Friday night to justify the deletion of the video. He said that the West invented the Internet, so when it entered China, it had to be “circumcised”. He urged people to trust the government and trust China’s resilience.
The phrase “April Voices” has now been deleted on Weibo. But some Chinese users post pictures with quotes to indirectly express their dissatisfaction.
In one entry, Jin Xing, one of Shanghai’s most popular TV talk show hosts, posted a picture of Mao Zedong with the quote: “People in China and around the world, even our enemies, will take advantage of our work in Shanghai examining whether our party has the ability to run a big city and the whole country.”
At times, displaying a subtle challenge was poetic. One user, responding to the censorship of April Voices, commented with a poem from TS Eliot’s book The Waste Land:
“April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilac coming out of the dead earth mixed
Memory and desire, with stirring
faded roots with spring rain“
But as censors rush to remove explicitly critical content, users have begun posting material that doesn’t appear to be controversial on the surface. On WeChat, some used a clip from a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, in which she said that Chinese citizens have the right to freedom of expression and freedom of thought.
Others cited a phrase from China’s no-COVID policy to describe a cat-and-mouse game with censorship. They wrote, “This is called ‘dynamic cleansing’.”