top of page

Zero COVID Zero Empathy: How the Shanghai Lockdown Inspired a Political Uprising

Justina (Yijia) Liu

The Chinese population is becoming more wary and apprehensive of the government and the powers it holds. Their visions of a stable, authoritarian government are being challenged by the continuous lockdowns and restraining policies. The Chinese people have always been aware of what living under an authoritarian government really means. They are not the ‘sheep’ that western media makes them out to be. Despite these restrictions that do not exist in the west, the Chinse people are able to accept the loss of personal freedoms because they know that in return, they are given safety and stability in both a social and economic aspect. The Chinese people never publicly questioned the government because the government has continued to increase the quality of life of its citizens through technological and industrial advancements in the past few decades. When people are living a better life than they did decades ago, people are less likely to question authority. This implicit social contract has been the main tool the Party uses to justify its actions. At the start of the pandemic, the Chinese placed high trust in the government’s ability to handle the situation as well. The eastern collectivist mindset also played a role as the people understand that their actions now, despite potential inconveniences, go towards realizing a better future. The lockdowns were also met with similar perspectives. However, with the continuous and arbitrary implementation of epidemic control policies, the Chinese people could no longer shake the feeling that there were other motives at play. As a result, the Chinese people were unfortunately placed in many extreme circumstances because of this control and decided to take action. “AHHHHHHHHHHHH” was the only words that came out of the spectators’ mouths when they witnessed this horrible event. Mrs. Yen, an 82-year-old woman, decided to commit suicide by jumping off her balcony. We later learned that Mrs. Yen dealt with depression and was unable to take care of herself due to quarantines, and could not receive any help, even when her sons and daughters lived in the neighborhood right next to hers. Her children were not allowed to provide any type of mental or physical help. Deprived of food, love, and care, Mrs. Yen decided to end her life. There were many more other instances of suicide in China, many of those involving older citizens. Many of these cases remain unreported as censors worked quickly to remove any video-evidence and conversations regarding these events as these instances go against Chinese Communist Party’s claims of preserving traditional values and protecting older citizens. On May 7, 21:31, residents of the Jingsheng neighborhood decided to rebel against the government for its failure to deliver on the promise of a steady supply of food, resulting in the community going without food for months. This frustration led to over a hundred residents clashing with local security and epidemic control workers. Once easily breaching the makeshift gates that held them in for so long, residents ran to the closest stores to find food. It was also reported that neighboring onlookers who saw this happen from their apartment buildings, threw items at the security guards. “Freedom!!!”, was what they called out. In the Riverside Blue Bridge community, the government fenced around all the local shops form preventing people from sneaking out at night to find food for their families. Unable to get anything to eat anymore, Mr. Jiang, decided to organize a secret rebellion by sneaking out at night and tear all the barricades down with many of his neighbors, which even included a retired police officer. The Chinese people used to think that they could live in China, however, with these current events, they are disappointed in the actions and direction of the government. However, they still had one last hope in the 20th National Congress meeting in November, where the government would reveal its plans moving forward. Many people looked forwards to the congress results to ease the tension for covid quarantine policies. To their dismay, the government stood firm in their approach to their dynamic zero Covid policy, dashing the hopes of a populous that had little to no patience left. The government’s response to these cases was even more heavy-handed crackdowns. While the Chinese people continued to deal with these restrictions placed on them, government officials like Li Qiang, who was responsible for quarantine in Shanghai, was touted as a national hero to the rest of the country and was later promoted to an even higher position in the central government. The duality and irony of these experiences prompted many to rethink about whether or not China was the place to live. With the government’s efforts failing to fulfill promises of security and prosperity that once garnered support, China is now seeing increased protests and are even publicly challenging the government, despite fully knowing what protesting in China entails. The public is becoming more desperate in their actions. As protests continue to escalate tensions, others are looking to immigration as a potential solution. Almost overnight, immigration became the most searched term on Chinese search engines and the ‘run’ movement was born. In order to slip past censors, a Chinese character pronounced “run” was used instead of the character that meant run to create threads to discuss options. In a game of cat and mouse, people considered every option available to them including, sneaking past borders, investment visas, and studying abroad in the wake of travel bans implemented by the department of immigration instead of the expected department for travel. This policy clearly spelled out that China was not going to let its citizens leave. Despite these limitations, citizens have found ways out of the country, marking a mass exodus of upper- and middle-class wealth and talent. My own family friend once mocked our family’s decision to immigrate to the US and believes it was a useless resettlement. However, now, people who had never thought about immigration are looking to do so. In this midst, even the most patriotic supporters of the Chinese Communist Party are looking for a way out. As a Shanghai native, my family’s decision to settle in America which was once looked down on, is a future that many are now working to achieve. China faces what is arguably the biggest crossroads in its modern history. There are now concerns over China isolating itself from the world, ramifications to the global economy, and political pressure as China remains the only country trying to fight the virus. However, the core problem has yet to be solved. The problems the Chinese people faced have not been addressed. Censorship of posts, local officials ignoring citizen demands, political rivalries, and a lack of flexibility have only added fuel to the growing fire. The limits of this ‘social contract’ that the people once believed in is now being challenged. The repeated rhetoric of enduring for the collective future of the country now becomes harder to hear amongst the clamor of the disarray and upheaval citizens are experiencing everywhere.

Citation: Shepherd, Christian. “’New Tank Man’: Rare Protest in Beijing Mars Xi Jinping’s Moment.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 19 Oct. 2022, “Tiananmen Square: What Happened in the Protests of 1989?” BBC News, BBC, 23 Dec. 2021, Wang, Emily. “As Leaders Meet, Chinese Hope for End to ‘Zero-Covid’ Limits.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 22 Oct. 2022,“’We All Saw It’: Anti-Xi Jinping Protest Electrifies Chinese Internet.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 14 Oct. 2022,

Original Article located in Justina's Writing Corner (

bottom of page