Early reports on Xi’an’s lockdown—the strictest since the 2020 Wuhan lockdown, according to Chinese state media—indicate that hunger is a problem in the city of 11 million people. Food prices have soared and residents are unable to go to grocery stores, many of which are closed or understocked. Xi’an regulators responded with a mandate that 20 e-commerce platforms stabilize prices and supply, but efforts to resupply the city may take time. In the meantime, some residents have taken to Weibo with desperate pleas: “Can anyone save me? […] I’m about to starve at home. There was no one taking my orders online … Please help me. It’s OK if it’s expensive, I just want to have some groceries. I’m desperate.”
In response to the crisis, the Wuhan Catering Association loaded three trucks with 300,000 masks and 12,800 portions of hot and dry noodles, a local delicacy, and sent them to Xi’an. They hung a banner from one of the trucks that proclaimed: “Hot and Dry Noodles Fight for Xi’an Biang Biang Noodles,” the latter a Xi’an staple. People’s Daily, the Party’s flagship media outlet, picked up the story and crafted a hashtag #HotandDryNoodlesAreReallyFightingforXi’anBiangBiangNoodles that briefly trended on Weibo, where it was seen 140 million times and reposted by 82 media outlets, as of now.
In online posts during times of crisis, the Chinese state has often used anthropomorphized food as a stand-in for those affected. During the Henan floods, stranded residents were caricatured as bowls of soup. During the H&M boycott, online nationalists “stood” with Xinjiang cotton rather than with Xinjiang people. The cutesy representations of citizens in crisis rub many the wrong way. On Weibo, many people expressed their distaste for People’s Daily’s formulation: “Again with these meaningless comparisons! Is speaking normally too much to ask?” Another added: “I’ve got no idea why Biang Biang noodles have become synonymous with Xi’an. As someone who grew up here, I’ve never eaten them, and they’re not something Xi’an locals have often.”
What’s more, the comments section of the original People’s Daily post reflected concerns that the donated food would be consumed by officials, and worries by residents about where their next meal would come from. The top comment read, “I’m thankful for outsiders’ donations to Xi’an, but we haven’t seen anything since the lockdown. Food prices are unspeakably high and most things are unavailable. It’s not at all like what the Xi’an government is telling the outside world.”