Netizen Voices: “Faced With This Kind of System, How Should a Sane Person Speak?”

On April 19, a nine-and-a-half minute audio recording of a phone call between a German resident in Shanghai and a translator working for the local neighborhood committee went viral on Chinese and overseas social media. The contentious call, between a German man identified as Ralf and an unnamed woman from the neighborhood committee, concerns an attempt by pandemic control personnel to get the man and his family to enter a centralized quarantine facility (referred to in the call as a “camp”) nearly two weeks after they initially tested positive for COVID-19. The man offers a variety of objections, including the fact that they had already been in—and been released from—a quarantine facility; that their initial diagnoses were so old that they couldn’t possibly still be positive for the virus; and that the Chinese CDC did not send anyone for follow-up PCR tests, despite repeated requests.

The German man’s straightforward, insistent, profanity-laced argument attracted a fair amount of criticism online, with some accusing him of giving the caller a hard time, expecting special treatment, or pulling rank by threatening to involve German embassy officials and the foreign media. Other commenters were more admiring, citing the man’s confidence, stubbornness, and willingness to defend his rights. For many, what stood out was the fact that the German man was willing to publicly voice—at great length and with some very salty language—what many Shanghai residents under lockdown have been thinking and saying privately. 

It now appears that the recording, and the hashtag associated with it, are being blocked on Weibo.

CDT editors have assembled a complete transcript of the call, including asides and background comments where audible. Below this transcript is a CDTV video link that includes the audio recording of the call, with subtitles in Chinese and English. The formatting and content of the English subtitles may vary slightly from the transcript below.

Neighborhood Committee Translator (NC): Hello, are you Ralf?

Ralf (R): Yes.

NC: Yeah, we are the, you know, the … [aside, in Chinese: Uh, I don’t know how to say “neighborhood committee” in English, either] … You know, you are positive of COVID-19? 

R: I’m not positive. I have … the CDC called me two days ago to come test me, and they never came test me. I was positive about 12 days ago. There’s no way I’m still positive. So I’m demanding a new test.

NC: So you think you are negative?

R: I know I am negative. There is no thinking.

NC: Yeah, but now the policy is you have to go to the, you know, the camping [refers to being taken to a  centralized quarantine facility], or something like that ….

R: There is no policy in place. The CDC called me two days ago that they would come test me. They have no people, they have no people to come in to test me, so that’s not really my problem if there’s no personnel. So get the CDC, get them the fuck over here and take a test, and then we can talk. 

NC: Yeah, but …

R: I do not care, I do not care about your policy. I really don’t care because your system is really fucked up. It doesn’t work. I have been in the camp already. They didn’t want me. They sent me back home. It’s ridiculous. It’s a disgrace for you, for the government, for Shanghai, for China … it’s a really big joke. So get the CDC, come here take a test, I’ll be negative, and then we can talk.

NC: Yeah, but, yeah, I know, I know the problem is that kind of thing, but ….

R: But that’s not my problem. This is not my problem. That’s your problem. 

NC: Yeah, I know that, yeah.

R: It’s your government, not mine. So solve it. Solve the problem, get somebody here, test me. I will make a huge scene at the center. Don’t worry, I’ll have all the media involved. This will be massive. So just, so just get me a test over here. I don’t want your excuses. I really don’t care. Send me CDC over here, take a test, I’ll be negative. We’re all fine. 

NC: Yeah, and you, uh … please listen to me. I’m not a person from government. I’m just help them to translate to you, because they say you cannot understand Chinese. 

R: Yeah, yeah, so I still don’t care ….

NC: Yeah, yeah, they told me that ….

R: So tell them my message. So just please translate my message to them.

NC: Yeah, but they want me to tell you that, uh, someone will [laughs nervously] take you to the camp tonight, no matter what you say, you know.

R: If you’re a translator, right, if you’re a translator, you’re going to have to translate both sides, right? Is that correct? So you translate back to them as well, right? Or are you just translating Chinese to English, or can you also do English to Chinese?

NC: Yeah, I will tell them what you say, but they just want me to tell you [small nervous laugh] you have to go to the camp tonight.

R: Okay, can you tell them in Chinese: “I do not fucking care.” I want the CDC here to take a test. This government is really fucked up. There is no organization. I have been … I have been to the center already. They sent me back. Me and my wife have been there. My wife is here. She’s negative. Everybody here is negative. So if there’s no people testing me, I really do not fucking care. 

NC: Yeah, yeah, I know that.

R: Send the police over here. Send them with a test over here. Please report to your boss to send the police with a test. Take a test with me, and then we can talk.

NC: Okay.

Woman shouting in the background on Ralf’s end of the call: You wanna …? [unclear]

R: I had … I posted … I tested negative … first positive, on fucking April the third, April three. They left …. 

NC: You have a ….

R: [raising his voice] Listen to me! They left us here for 12 days, then they decided to take us, then they sent us back home after leaving us there in the cold for 5 hours. This is fucking ridiculous. This is insane. So, sorry that you are in the middle, but this is ridiculous. And get your boss, tell him I tell him he sucks, tell him the system sucks, tell him to send a CDC officer here and take a fucking new test with me. 

Woman in the background: Why’d they promise?

R: And then we can talk. The CDC called me two days ago. They said stay home, take a test. They did not send any single person here.

Woman in background: We have a recording of this.

R: I have a recording of this.

Woman in the background: We can prove everything! You are really disorganized.

R: Your system is the most ridiculous I have ever experienced in my entire life. My children in kindergarten are more organized than this fucking crap here. And that’s what you can tell your boss, with nice greetings from me.

NC: I … I know what you mean.

R: You don’t know what I mean! You do not what I mean. I have kept in this fucking place. I had to pay 6000 RMB to get my cat in rescue because your government is a piece of shit. You do not understand what’s going on. You have no clue. You have no clue. So get the CDC over here, take a test, and if that’s positive, I’m more than willing to go, but it’s not going to be positive. So get the fucking CDC over here, and then we can talk. So that’s how the thing must go. If not, tell your boss to bring the police. My embassy is all over you anyways, already, so this is going to be massive. This is a fucking big joke, and you know it. And you do not understand. 

Woman in background: [unclear]

R: I’m sorry you’re in the middle of this. That’s your job. So go back to your boss and translate what I just said. Tell him his policy stinks, tell him his policy does not work, it’s complete chaos, it’s like a fucking kindergarten. You can tell him exactly that. Do we understand?

NC: Yeah, I will tell them what you say.

R: So get the CDC over here. The CDC called me two days ago. They said they would come and test me. They did not come. The same happened to a friend of mine in Jing’an. Same procedure. It’s fucking ridiculous. It’s ridiculous. It’s a disgrace for this country, and for your government. That’s all I can say. You are like a joke in the whole fucking world now. This country is a joke. It’s seriously a joke. And that’s what you can tell your boss. If they would have this organized, no problem. They leave us here with 8 people, Corona-positive, for fucking 15 days, we’re all fine, and then they decide to take us? What sort of ridiculous rule is that? That’s ridiculous. There is no logic to this. It’s completely fucking random. So you understand? Am I ….

NC: Yeah, I understand. Okay, I will call you later, maybe. Okay, thank you.

R: No, not maybe! You talk to your boss, and then you call me back. Because otherwise, I’m going to have to call my embassy again, and then they will be on your ass again. 

NC: Okay, I know what you say, and I will talk to them, okay?

R: So call me back, call the CDC, because we cannot reach the CDC, because it doesn’t work properly. They call us with random numbers, they call us at 2:00 a.m. in the morning, they call us at 3:00 a.m. in the morning. We cannot call back. This is a disgrace, a disgrace for China. So call the CDC and have them call me back, and get them the fuck over here and take a PCR test. If I’m positive, hey, you can take me, no problem. I’m fine. If it’s negative, I’m staying.

NC: Yeah, I know, you’re ….

R: You don’t know! Don’t say you know! You have no fucking idea, you have no fucking idea what is going on here. I understand you’re translating, you’re in the middle of this, I’m sorry for you, but this system that you’re putting into place, this system that you are supporting, is a piece of shit. A piece of shit. It’s not working. It’s totally random. Makes no sense. People are afraid to get deported more than to get sick. This is a fucking joke, and you do not understand. So don’t tell me you understand. Go to your boss, tell him what I said, get the CDC over here, and then call me back.

NC: Okay, I will.

R: I will not go anywhere. I’m fine. I’m home. I cannot run away. So get the CDC over here. If they are not capable of sending a person to test, that’s not my fucking problem. That’s your fucking problem. That’s your bosses’ fucking problem. That’s the CDC’s fucking problem, and the fucking Party’s problem, but certainly not my problem. 

NC: Mm-hm.

R: So take your problems somewhere else. Don’t put them on me. Get the thing sorted out, and then we can talk.

NC: Okay, uh ….

R: And I will make the same, I will make the same scene if anybody takes me, I’m fine. I’m going to have a really nice time at the camp. It’s going to be really ridiculous for you guys. 

Woman in background: CNN will …. [unclear]

R: Ah, I’m going to love it. I’m already in contact with all the media in Germany. This is going to be lovely, lovely. 

Woman in background: Global glory for China! 

R: Global glory.  

Woman in background: Global glory for China!

R: This is a disgrace for this country. Any third-world country would do this better than this. This is really, really shameful. [pause] So, give me a call back and tell me when the CDC is coming for a test. 

NC: Okay, I will. I will talk to them and tell you when will they come, okay?

R: When will who come?

NC: Uh, the doctor, to test you.

R: Thank you, yes.

NC: Okay, I will tell them, tell them.

R: Thank you. Bye bye

NC: Thank you, thank you. Bye bye. [Source]

Many social media comments were simply direct quotes from the call, rendered in either English or Chinese: “It’s your government, not mine,” “This is a disgrace for China,” “Your system is really fucked up. It doesn’t work,” and the like. CDT editors have compiled and translated some other Weibo comments about the call

@苏瘾瘾: During this round of the pandemic in Shanghai, audio recordings have become almost a literary genre unto themselves. The landscape is filled with recordings that send you into a depression as soon as you hear them. But only one of these recordings I’ve come across has really got my adrenaline going! Friends, you really shouldn’t miss out on this one.

[…] @1800-273-8255: After listening, the gist is that this German friend is deeply grateful to Shanghai for its supportive assistance and understanding. He feels that it is excellent policy to separate him from his family in such a timely manner, so as not to infect them, and he is thankful to our medical personnel for their meticulous care.

@司女晖晖:“it’s your gover[n]ment, not mine.” That sentence broke down my emotional defenses.

[…] @胖兔子奈奈:After hearing this, you will discover that the Shanghai municipal government is actually extremely fair. No matter whether you’re Chinese or foreign, no matter whether you’re negative or positive, everyone’s destination is the same: quarantine camp.

@小黑大皮:”any 3rd world count[r]y can do better than this” is a real gut punch.

[…] @eleholic:How can he be so self-assured, how can he state his case so forcefully, and in the end, refuse to compromise, uncowed by constant interruptions of “But there’s nothing we can do,” or “So, are you going or not?” It’s because his country, and his country’s media, has his back. It’s ironic: why did those other two recordings of calls by Shanghai citizens make people feel so hopeless when they heard them? Because even if they state their cases, even if they plead for help, it’s futile—no one has their back.

@浪费爱: He must be pretty well-off, since he’s like, “I had to pay 6000 RMB to get my cat in rescue.” For us ordinary people, our cats and dogs just get beaten to death.

[…] @阿宽今天种甜菜了没:How to provoke a German person: say “u have to go to the camp tonight.”

[…] @你喔ohohoh:“your system is really fucked up it doesn’t work.” Oh! We’re allowed to say that?

[…] @陪你去看烧麦秸:Bold words. How dare he live in China, but not be feeling that “stolen glee” [偷着乐, tōuzhe lè]?

[…] @WaimanAu: There is a strong Fatherland behind him.

@carpenter无所事事: Damn right, didn’t mince any words. This system is “a piece of shit.”

@张三主权神圣不可侵犯:Foreign forces to the rescue!

@奔儿篓奔儿篓: I can really understand where he’s coming from. For us, it’s our country, so we have to stick around, for better or worse, but for these foreigners, they probably hugely regret coming to Shanghai in the first place. The citywide lockdown and quarantine is probably already testing their limits, not to mention all these lousy policies popping up everywhere. Shanghai’s image as an international metropolis has been whacked back into the pre-1949 era. Years of building an image as a great nation, demolished overnight.

[…] @AprTwentieth: For the first time in history, a foreigner is collectively praised by the Chinese people for bad-mouthing China.

[…] @unbundlingfish:Faced with this kind of system, how should a sane person speak? Exactly as he did. Commenters who nitpick by saying he cursed too much have spent too much time on their knees.

[…] @MissRosezh: Chinese people need German mouths to say what the Chinese people want to say. [Chinese]


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