Hunger Stalks Guiyang After Snap Lockdown

Hunger is becoming a common side-effect of China’s often chaotic lockdowns. During a citywide pandemic lockdown in Xi’an, residents went hungry as government propagandists cheered “noodles helping noodles.” During the months-long Shanghai lockdown, coroners listed “severe malnutrition,” a telltale sign of starvation, as an underlying condition contributing to the deaths of some COVID patients. Lockdown-related hunger is being driven by two factors: official denials of lockdowns in a misguided effort to prevent panic buying, and inevitable disruptions to urban supply chains as everyone but essential personnel is commanded to remain at home. At least 33 cities across China are currently under lockdown and stories of hunger are slowly beginning to filter out, despite censors’ best efforts to quash them. City officials in Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou Province, acknowledged “feeling guilty” about food shortages in the city after they instituted a haphazard “snap lockdown.” CDT has translated a censored essay (originally posted to the WeChat public account 星球商业评论) in which the blogger details cases of hunger in Guiyang. The essay, “Guizhou’s Hunger Games:  Boiling Water, Freezing It, Gnawing on Ice Cubes,” questions why the needs of zoo animals were met before those of the city’s vulnerable residents:

At three in the morning, Xiaobin grabbed the bag of food his neighbors had hung on his doorknob. It would be his first meal in the two days since the apartment he was renting in Guiyang’s sprawling Huaguoyuan neighborhood was designated a “high-risk zone.”

During a press conference on the city’s outbreak held a few days before, city leaders told the public that Guiyang had plenty of provisions: 

“Citizens have no reason to stockpile groceries.”

Sure enough, images on the local television news showed the fully stocked shelves of Guiyang supermarkets. Xiaobin wasn’t worried so he didn’t prepare anything. Only after his community went into lockdown did Xiaobin discover that both Meituan and the government-designated food delivery app were completely out of stock. Even if you were quick enough to get an order in, that didn’t mean it would show up. 

So it was that Xiaobin and his roommate went hungry for two days. 

In their hunger, the two of them decided to boil water and freeze it into ice cubes they could nibble on to quell their hunger. Common sense tells us that ice isn’t enough to fill your belly, and it can also cause a bellyache. 

During those two days, Xiaobin called his residential committee seeking help, but was told, “We’re out of luck here, too.” Last night, unable to take the hunger any longer, Xiaobin, a healthy young 26-year-old, called the police for help. 

The middle-aged policeman couldn’t help Xiaobin, so he again turned to his building’s management. A building management employee added him to a homeowners’ WeChat group in hopes that they might spare some food to help the young man. A neighbor said their family still had a bit of food they could offer Xiaobin and his roommate: 

One sticky rice dumpling and half a dozen cups of instant noodles.

This time, Xiaobin took the lesson to heart. Aware that his building had yet to receive a single food delivery and uncertain how long the lockdown would last, he and his roommate decided to conserve their food supplies, limiting themselves to a single cup of instant noodles per day. 

The building is filled with young people who aren’t used to cooking or stocking groceries. Xiaobin’s 20-year-old neighbor Xiaoyu tends to order take-out and doesn’t have any cookware in her apartment. What’s more, because she’d just moved to Huaguoyuan, she had absolutely no food anywhere in the apartment. 

After their neighborhood went into lockdown, there was no take-out. After spending a whole day at home going hungry, Xiaoyou couldn’t stand it any longer, and ran downstairs to beg a white-suited pandemic worker to buy her a few cups of instant noodles. 

Neighbors again stepped in to help the young woman—one family donated a rice cooker, another offered up some vegetables—but Xiaoyu said that no matter how she rationed the donations, she only had enough food to sustain her for two days. 

With a population of more than 400,000 individuals living in 140,000 households, Guiyang’s Huaguoyuan neighborhood is the country’s largest slum-clearance and urban redevelopment project. In recent days, area residents have sought help online for more or less the same reason:

Hunger. 

Over the past few years, food shortages on online delivery platforms and chaotic and confusing rules for food distribution have become so commonplace that they are no longer surprising. In this large residential area, arguments about the local situation have erupted on social media. Some say that Guiyang simply lacks experience with large-scale lockdowns, and that the initial chaos will soon be sorted out. Others insist that there isn’t enough delivery capacity to meet the needs of such a vast and populous neighborhood, and with building managers unwilling to allow residents to use the elevators or leave to buy their own groceries, it’s no wonder deliveries are so slow.

This afternoon, Nanming District issued a public announcement acknowledging its inexperience and inadequate response, but there was no mention of what would be done to fix the issues. 

Some say that Huoguoyuan’s building management companies are often poorly run, so it’s no surprise that they’d drop the ball at this pivotal moment. 

One homeowner sent me a video that shows a badge-wearing building-management employee distributing groceries. The employee tells the homeowner, who had come over to inquire, that the groceries are being distributed for free—but not to just anyone. There’d been a vetting process, and groceries would only be given to the elderly, to children, and to those who were “compliant.” 

“What do you mean by compliant?” asked the resident. The employee said, “Those who don’t butt heads with the building management.”

Huaguoyuan isn’t the only reason that Guiyang has been trending online. Guizhou Wildlife Park put out a call for citizens to help it purchase animal feed. I checked out their shopping list, which lists “chicken carcasses,” carrots and other food items “by the ton.” 

Those needs are beyond my means, but I saw that they also asked for “50 steamed buns.” I called to ask if they still needed the steamed buns, and someone working there said they’d already resolved their supply issues. 

They sorted out that problem within a day. I guess the animals had never “butted heads” with management. [Chinese]

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