China’s “zero-COVID” policy has saved untold lives, but the brunt of its costs have been borne by a small few: in particular, the residents of the border towns of Ruili and Yili. Located along Yunnan’s border with Myanmar and Xinjiang’s border with Kazakhstan, respectively, both cities have been subject to extended, rolling lockdowns. The lockdowns, and other COVID containment measures, have devastated many local residents: shuttering businesses, interrupting educations, depriving residents of livelihoods, and traumatizing those subject to involuntary quarantines. Those who have spoken out about their plight have seen their voices silenced by censorship.
Ruili, a city of 270,000 people, has been subject to four full lockdowns in the past year. The lockdowns have been enforced with a violence similar to the Wuhan lockdown in early 2020. CDT Chinese captured one viral Weibo post in which Weibo user @严逗比啊 detailed citizens’ treatment at the hands of quarantine officials—and the censorship and harassment Ruili residents have faced:
@严逗比啊: @人民日报 @今天头条 @实时新闻转播 @头条新闻 @中国新闻网 Look what’s happening in Ruili! The border guards are just hanging out and messing around on the job. Ruili’s citizens are suffering horribly! Residents are being forcibly quarantined and threatened by handcuff-wielding medical staff for violating public security measures. And people who clearly haven’t had close contact, or even secondary contact, are getting dragged off to quarantine centers, and medical staff are prying open their doors to do it? Dragging them out and beating them? Is this really the rule of law? #Ruili #SaveRuili
@严逗比啊: This is how bad it is, but people still don’t believe what’s happening to us in Ruili. Can’t anybody see what’s happening? They’re even accusing us of spreading rumors!
All my posts got deleted!
All you trolls, gtfo!
What are we, mute?
No matter what we post, it gets deleted. It’s like Ruili’s been wiped off the map.
@滑稽2016: Hey there, I totally understand and sympathize with your predicament, but you should delete your posts and explain that they were a bit exaggerated. Your posts have been shared on the outside internet by China-hating maggots to hype up China’s human rights issues. Your actions have seriously damaged China’s image, and it’s already exhausting enough for us, trying to keep up China’s image. It’s really selfish of you to fan the flames. And whatever problems you may have, you can report them to your local government. China doesn’t owe you anything.
@严逗比啊: I didn’t exaggerate, so why were my posts deleted? If I had exaggerated, there wouldn’t have been so many people from Ruili who agreed with me. If what I said wasn’t true, people from here would have gotten pissed at me, cursed me, and forced me to delete those posts. So why are so many people reposting them? Use your brain.
@严逗比啊: If you want my advice, you should find out who posted it on the outside internet and report them as a spy.
@小谭的鱼鱼: I posted to Weibo, and the same day got a call warning me to delete the post.
@严逗比啊: I got a call, too. They said parts of what I said aren’t true, which proves that parts of what I said ARE true, so I didn’t delete it. If the system deletes it, I’ll just repost.
@Faanchau-: Turns out getting a warning call doesn’t only happen in Xinjiang. [Chinese]
Lockdowns are not the only painful COVID prevention measure taken in Ruili. Residents are subject to involuntary quarantine if authorities believe them to be even a secondary contact of a COVID case, which has vastly expanded the number of residents in quarantine. Until recently, residents were forced to pay for their own quarantine stays—those unable to pay were housed in shipping containers. Residents shop late at night or in the wee hours of the morning to avoid COVID patrols. The intensity of the testing regime strikes some as gratuitous—one mother despaired that her 2-year-old child had been swabbed 100 times. Students have suffered too. While the rest of China has returned to in-person schooling, in Ruili only high school sophomores, juniors and third-year middle school students have returned to campuses, where they are now required to live.
One voice of protest against the lockdowns came from a perhaps unlikely source: Ruili’s former deputy mayor, Dai Rongli. In an essay posted on WeChat, Dai called for the nation to come to Ruili’s aid, noting sadly that the coronavirus has “mercilessly robbed this city time and again, squeezing dry the city’s last sign of life.” Current mayor Shang Labian coldly refuted Dai’s essay in an interview and insisted that Ruili needed no outside assistance, further enraging suffering residents and those sympathetic to their plight. In October, Ruili residents took to the streets to protest the harsh measures:
Whatever your thoughts on China’s public health policy, spare a thought for the people of Ruili, many of whom bear the cost, enduring literally weeks in squalid quarantine centers, forbidden for working. Some protested in October, below. pic.twitter.com/xWWxs3SSpE
— Emily Feng 冯哲芸 (@EmilyZFeng) November 8, 2021
— 方舟子 (@fangshimin) November 5, 2021
CDT Chinese has collected further commentary on the brutality of the lockdown in Ruili:
@Hurley的辣条: This inhumane “zero-Covid” policy really needs to be rethought. Is it necessary, truly necessary?
@返乡再就业的63: There are many scientific and flexible methods to combat the pandemic, but instead of using these, they insist on using the most extreme tactics, which cause more harm to people than the virus itself!
@百草园山海经: After hearing the cries of the people of Yili and Ruili, I realize that I used to see the world in a stereotyped and emotional way. My brothers and sisters are really suffering, and I have no way of knowing.
@BlueFilament: I have family in Ruili, and the reality [of what’s happening there] can only be more shocking and tragic than what the OP said.
@澹九: “Over here in the classroom I’m hearing all about China’s superiority when it comes to pandemic control and warfare, while over there in my hometown, people are suffering the never-ending torture of the pandemic and warfare.” [referring to the fighting right across the border, in Myanmar] [Chinese]
Translations by Cindy Carter, Anne Henochowicz, and Alex Yu.