Police in Yingtan, Jiangxi province, have become the object of derision online after announcing that they had punished four men for evading a pandemic lockdown to attend the funeral of an elderly family member. The phrase used in the announcement—”malicious mourning” (恶意奔丧, èyì bēnsāng)—calls to mind the many other previously innocuous activities that have been dubbed “malicious,” or even criminalized, under China’s stringent zero-COVID policies.
Caixin’s Li Hang reported on the background to the funeral story and the ensuing social media backlash, noting that the “hashtag #Local authorities respond to an incident in which four men were punished for violating control measures to attend a funeral #官方回应违反防疫规定参加葬礼被罚 has been viewed over 70 million times, receiving over 25,000 comments on […] Weibo”:
The men at the center of the case were caught on their return home from the funeral of one of the men’s father-in-law. One of the men, named Yu, left his residential community in Yingtan city, Jiangxi province, on the grounds of buying vegetables on Aug. 17.
Yingtan put three districts under three-day lockdown on Aug. 14, including one district where Yu lives. Most residents there were barred from leaving home except for allowing a single member of the household to buy groceries once every two days.
On Monday, when the four men returned to Yu’s residential community, they were stopped by security guards at the community gate who called the police about their supposed infraction, a since-deleted announcement by Yingtan authorities said on Tuesday.
After arriving at the scene, the police slapped the men with administrative penalties and transferred them to centralized quarantine, according to the announcement. Administrative penalties entail a fine or detention. [Source]
An article from self-published media outlet 陆火Media, archived by CDT Chinese editors and partially translated below, described the public shock over the absurdity of police announcements about this case of “malicious mourning”:
Since the advent of Omicron, […] there has been a series of bizarre incidents such as “malicious homecomings,” “malicious meals,” “malicious doctor’s visits,” “malicious labor,” and even “malicious cucumber-selling.”
On August 23, the Xinjiang district substation of the Public Security Bureau of Yingtan city, Jiangxi province, reported an equally bizarre incident of “malicious mourning.”
[…] Some netizens pointed out that while shopping for groceries was a valid excuse for leaving the house [during a pandemic lockdown], attending a funeral was not. How inflexible must pandemic prevention policy be, that it would drive a group of ordinary people to lie, take elaborate detours, and even wade across a river to get to a funeral?
Other netizens pointed out that attending the funeral of an elderly family member is both a valid excuse and an extenuating circumstance. Furthermore, all four men had green health codes and had taken nucleic-acid tests within the previous 24 hours, and did not spread the virus to anyone. Shouldn’t the police have just given them a stern talking-to, rather than insisting on administrative penalties?
[…] On August 21, the Xinjiang district PSB substation issued an announcement under the title: “Say NO to Violations of Pandemic Prevention Law: 300 People Punished for Violating Pandemic Prevention and Control Regulations!”
[…] Among the reasons given for these punishments were “gathering with other people in violation of regulations,” “opening for business in violation of regulations,” “entering and leaving the neighborhood in violation of regulations,” “doing construction work in violation of regulations,” “operating a street stall in violation of regulations,” “going out for morning calisthenics in violation of regulations,” “going fishing in violation of regulations,” and more. [Chinese]
Previous iterations of so-called malicious activities include “malicious homecomings,” the subject of a January 2022 viral video clip in which Dong Hong, a county magistrate from Dancheng in Henan province, warned that residents returning to his county from medium and high COVID risk areas would be subject to quarantine followed by immediate arrest, even if they could show a vaccination certificate or proof of a negative nucleic-acid COVID test taken within the previous 48 hours. Various online activities have also been branded as malicious, a situation summed up in this humorous netizen comment from March 2022: “Malicious screenshots, malicious compilation, malicious satire. Malicious exposure of past humiliations, malicious Weibo posting. No screenshots! No compilation! No satire! No exposing past humiliations! No Weibo posting! No malice at all!!! No breathing! No resistance!”