Viral Videos on Food Shortages and Quarantine Conditions During Shanghai Lockdown

After conducting nucleic acid testing on its 26 million residents this week, Shanghai remains under lockdown. The metropolis has reported over 120,000 cases of COVID-19 thus far, most of them asymptomatic. Nationwide, an estimated 193 million Chinese citizens in 23 cities are currently under lockdown—areas that account for 13.6% of China’s GDP, according to Nomura brokerage. Residents confined to their homes are largely dependent on some combination of government deliveries, individual online purchases, and collective purchases of food and supplies, but quarantine zone restrictions, a shortage of delivery drivers, and supply chain disruptions have caused serious shortages of food, medicine, and other necessities in many communities. This in turn has led to an outpouring of frank complaints and protests, including a large number of viral videos on Chinese social media. Although not all of the video content could be independently verified, CDT Chinese editors have put together a compilation of 14 of the most widely shared and credible videos from Shanghai’s lockdown. The selected videos and captions below highlight issues related to the supply chain, food shortages, and general living conditions:

First video, posted on March 29. Residents of a community in Minhang District, Shanghai, gather and shout slogans such as “We want the residents’ committee to step up and resolve these problems!” and “We want to eat, we want to go to work, we want freedom!” [Video courtesy of Radio Free Asia. Also confirmed by Bloomberg News.]

Third video, posted on March 31. Residents of a community in Shanghai protest the high price of food by shouting “We want cheap food” and “The police do nothing, the police don’t care.” A man with a megaphone shouts, “And you police, you’re not even here to sort things out…” At the end of the video, a bystander comments, “They’re coming to arrest people.” Some online sleuths identified the community as Haitangyuan [Haitang Garden], located in Hui County, Gaohang Township, in Shanghai’s Pudong district.

Fourth video, posted on April 1. In the Weifang Wucun housing complex [as identified by the signage on the community recreation room in the background] located on Laoshan Road in Shanghai’s Pudong district, residents unhappy with the lockdown of their community clash with pandemic prevention volunteers. [China’s online humorists have dubbed such overzealous volunteers “pandemic prevention enthusiasts.”] According to netizens, this is not the first time this sort of conflict has occurred.

Fifth video, posted on April 2. After Shanghai transformed the New International Expo Center venue into a centralized quarantine facility, videos showing the conditions in quarantine appeared online. Some of the videos featured people in quarantine complaining about poor living conditions, inadequate sanitation or disinfection protocols, and excessive crowding. [Chinese]

Earlier this week, online videos revealed chaotic scenes at a designated field hospital in Nanhui, Shanghai, as quarantined residents fought over food and supplies, with audible voices in the background complaining that everyone was “stealing.” A WeChat article by author LYZ / 恰帕斯东风电钻, republished by CDT Chinese, describes a number of incidents in which workers and residents found themselves locked in without adequate food or supplies. A portion is translated below:

On April 1, screenshots of chat records shared online showed that over 1,000 people were locked down in the Jiuting No. 8 Bridge Wholesale Market in Shanghai’s Minhang district for more than ten days. The market’s merchants were forced to sleep on the ground and there was a risk of cross-infection. Their entreaties for help were censored on Weibo and Douyin, and phone calls for outside help did not go through. Two weeks previously, a similar incident occurred at the Songjiang Building Supplies Market, when people were confined inside without food or drink, triggering a mass protest.

[…] On April 2, a Weibo blogger stated that many construction workers had been locked into their lodgings in Shanghai’s Pudong district. Because the toilets and bathrooms were communal, the workers could not avoid the risk of cross-infection. Workers in unit one were served only two meals per day, while those in unit two had to subsist on instant noodles.

Online rumors suggest similarly poor conditions at quarantine facilities in Jiading district, Pudong district, and other areas. Some quarantine facilities have experienced temporary food and water shortages, or incidents of residents pilfering supplies. [Chinese]

A comment recently posted to Li Wenliang’s Weibo Wailing Wall bemoans the state of things in Shanghai in 2022, over two years since the initial outbreak and lockdown in Wuhan:

@达喀尔的旗帜:Brother Liang, I am astounded that now, two years later, Shanghai is the same as Wuhan was back then. Oh, that Shanghai has come to this … most people never imagined they’d be fighting over vegetables in 2022. With proper management, the price of vegetables wouldn’t have skyrocketed, and nobody would be fighting over vegetables. [Chinese]

Shanghai’s lockdown has also highlighted economic inequalities in what is perhaps China’s most cosmopolitan city. Starker than ever is the socio-economic divide between Shanghai’s urban population and the legions of truckers, delivery drivers, migrant construction workers, and small shopkeepers who serve them. During this lockdown—as in previous lockdowns in Shenzhen, Wuhan, and other cities—many migrant and gig workers have been stranded away from home, forced to sleep outdoors or quarantine in workspaces, or been unfairly discriminated against as “virus carriers.” Both state media and popular media have featured positive stories on the heroic efforts of such workers and volunteers, although there is a dearth of critical, in-depth reporting on the extreme hardships they face. A recent story in The Bund, reprinted by CDT, offers a snapshot of one such “human link” in Shanghai’s supply chain. Li Na, a Lawson’s convenience store manager, slept in the store and lived apart from her family for over three weeks in order to keep her customers supplied with food:

Before the epidemic, our store was open 24 hours a day. During this period, the boss has assigned me a few boys to work the night shift. Now and then, if we’re really short-handed, I work the store alone. I would rather get a bit less sleep and be able to ensure we’re open at least 20 hours per day. 

Actually, we don’t get many customers at night, but we insist on staying open all night, because the customers who do show up then are definitely in urgent need of something. Like those white-suited pandemic workers finishing their shifts, delivery drivers, and volunteers … they work so hard during the day, it’s only at night that they have time to come in and buy something to eat. 

[…] Bathing is the most challenging obstacle. The store doesn’t have any shower facilities, so I haven’t taken a shower in over 20 days. I have to wait until the middle of the night when I’m finished working to go into the bathroom and wipe off my body. [Chinese]

The lockdown has taken a particularly harsh toll on households with children, elderly parents or grandparents, or family members with special needs. For some, it has also inspired a renewed sense of community and concern for the less fortunate in society. A touching recent post by blogger Wei Zhou describes making group food purchases with his neighbors and attempting to use the lockdown to teach his children about economic inequality:

Community groups have sprung up to make communal purchases of eggs and pork, and the residents’ committee makes bulk purchases of vegetables, which can be delivered to your door by volunteers. This morning, we bought a sort of “set meal” that cost 30 yuan and included two cabbages, two potatoes, and two tomatoes (each fairly small.) Generally speaking, those who know how to get online, and have a mind to, can usually manage to buy vegetables. It’s probably hardest for the small number of elderly people who live alone and don’t know how to order online.

[…] The kids don’t understand this yet. As long as our family isn’t going hungry, they have trouble grasping the great disparities that exist in the outside world. Although I’ve talked about this a bit with them at the dinner table, it’s hard to say how much they really understand. [Chinese]

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