Report from Shanghai

An American friend lives in locked-down Shanghai and I recently checked in with her. Below are some of her text messages.

We were locked in apartment for somewhere between two and three weeks (forgot exact dates) and now we are allowed to roam inside the compound courtyard area (which is actually quite nice, and now, with this lockdown, rather social outdoors).

The Western press we read about the Shanghai lockdown seems completely wrong. The lockdown (and management of it) are in some ways rather better than it says, and in some ways worse. But that’s not really the axis…the whole tone of the US and Euro press we see just seems like it is talking about some completely different planet that has nothing to do with the good and bad things we hear/see/think as lived experience here.

[in response to my question about whether you can just get food delivered] At first, no regular delivery services. Those are just starting to be allowed back in very limited ways. The first few days just some government rations (cabbage), but [husband] and I had some food around and also, it’s really not that bad to eat less for a while…the main thing is a lot of people got justifiably worried because the private businesses in the supply and delivery chain weren’t allowed to really do enough, the transport blocks made the supply chain somewhat concerning, and the government rations were completely random and quite unequal in different districts.

After a few days this huge phenomenon called “group buying” came whooshing in, and a lot of people were able to distribute the food through that and the large majority of people supplement the government food with that. Now some individual buying is happening as more business owners get permission…

We were very lucky because our compound is actually more commercial buildings than residential. The analogy in US terms seems to be “commercially zoned”. This makes it vastly more complicated and ambiguous for the building management to figure out how to manage us as residences (lockdown rules, level of lockdown, placement of the testing lines, etc.) but it did allow them to give permission for the proprietor of the office building’s cafeteria to live in the cafeteria with a few employees, and within a few days they got some supply chain and started up a meal service. They made an agreement with the management that the health volunteers (the ones who are allowed to wear hazmat suits and get tested twice a day instead of once and walk around to deliver rations and essentials), that those volunteers were allowed to drop off a hot cooked lunch or dinner outside the apartment doors. At first, the cafeteria didn’t know how much it could source and supply, so it was word of mouth but I heard of it when it was producing for about 70-ish meals and ordered one meal some of the days. They successfully ramped up and since they expose their spreadsheet every day, they now supply meals to about 400 or 500 a day which is as much as 30% of the apartments here. So that’s been really luxurious when we don’t feel like cooking the too-much rice and cabbage supplied by the gummint.

[In response to my question about censorship and suppression of dissent] The culture of China is to have vastly more local protesting than I had understood. So there is a ton of that. It helps keep local officials accountable.

Many interesting and rapid local developments happen here to try and deal with this situation. Once we were allowed to roam (courtyard and the three building lobbies, also I think people in one building can visit each other. Not visit apartments in the other buildings, although I have no interest in visiting anyone inside a building at all. I meet people outside. Government gave out some flour, and I traded a lemon (outdoors) to a colleague for a little packet of yeast she had.

[She also described an apartment building lobby swap table where people put out food that they don’t want, including government-supplied canned fish, oranges, etc.]

My gastronomic experience in Shanghai, November 2019, was a little different. Here are some examples:

Top left: a restaurant for locals, about 14 floors up in an office building. Bottom: the breakfast buffet at the Four Seasons.

12 thoughts on “Report from Shanghai

  1. Uninformative because the writer does not explain how the situation is better/worse than reported in the western press. The rest has no context so you have no idea what she is talking about — maybe she needs to communicate that way? Eventful China on Twitter depicts the place as futuristically repressive especially in connection with the Covid lockdowns with lots of crazy brutality dished out indiscriminately– but whether Eventful China gives a fair picture, who knows?

    • I think she’s in a fairly upscale development and people there are apparently compliant so maybe there is no need for brutality. As we saw with the Canadian truckers, it is not the elites who rebel. In Orwell’s 1984, the Party made minimal efforts to control what the Proles did, said, or thought, and the Proles could get rowdy.

  2. I heard a similar account on the BBC World News Service the other day. People very grateful to the government for allowing them to roam a courtyard and eat cabbage and rice, laughing so hard they could cry.

    I hope she is OK.

  3. That doesn’t sound very positive at all. The closest a lion ever got to running out of food was the George Floyd protests shutting down all the stores for 1 day. No mention of the government toilet paper ration. What happens to all the people who have to make money instead of live off their SP500 index funds or the 70% of the apartments the cafeteria can’t supply?

    • Comrade lion: When President Harris announces a Zero COVID goal for the U.S., I am fearful that your commitment to the Party will be less than 100%.

  4. How the hell does she know what’s being reported in the West? “Scaling the Wall” (the Great Firewall) via VPN is *Illegal* in China…YT, facebook, twitter, google, whatsapp, NYT, WaPo, BBC…are all banned in China. Owning your own satellite dish to watch uncensored foreign TV is Illegal too (except in a few designated upscale hotels in each city).

    Think it unnecessary to get tested twice a day? Knock knock on your door at 2am. You can’t escape this since the telecom infrastructure is government owned and every cell phone owner is required to update new Covid test results each day. Family members who got diagnosed positive are either forcibly relocated to group containment housing, or get your own door nailed shut from the outside or asked to turn in your home key to government workers to show your willingness to stay indoors…The random brutality by a faceless bureaucracy is very real there and the frustration and anger are real too, unless you are really a sheep and are quite happy with meals dumped at your door. The extreme levels of corruption is also widely known e.g. the >$1 trillion profit by the few pharmaceuticals from the forced twice-a-day covid testing in many cities in the past two years, the special license fees you pay to keep your business open during covid etc.

    • Anon: Multinational enterprises in China are generally just on their main corporate network. So their employees don’t need a VPN to get to the U.S. Internet. They’re essentially already on the U.S. Internet (behind the corporate firewall of course). My friend’s employer, I think, provides her with the same Internet access that a corporate slave in the U.S. would have.

      Even if she didn’t have that, as a foreigner, the Chinese government might ignore her. In November 2019, I was able to use all of my regular web sites and services while roaming around China with my Verizon iPhone. The system somehow recognized me as a foreigner and therefore didn’t other to block anything. Everything that I was told wouldn’t work, e.g., Google, in fact worked fine.

    • philg: if you have a US phone plan, all your traffic gets proxied through the US and does not go through the Great Firewall.

  5. Her comments indicate a radically more compliant and tolerant mindset than people in the US.

    Based on carts in Costco, it will be a cold day in h$ll before the avg US citizen is ok with eating less.

    We ran out of tp and people seemed to think the end was near. Imagine if it was food???

    • Anthony: I don’t think folks in New York, San Francisco, DC, Boston, etc. are second-best in terms of compliance. They meekly complied with vaccine paper checks even after it was established that vaccine did not prevent infection and transmission.

      Americans didn’t complain when their kids’ schools were closed for more than a year. What’s the longest that any Chinese public school closed? From what I can remember, they’ve had some multi-week closures in various cities at various times.

      Chinese lockdowns have been more severe, but much shorter, no?

  6. The main propaganda tool for a compliant populace has been the covid death toll of the Western countries. Then it’s the highly publicized examples of punishment for noncompliance. The vast majority of wage slaves will chicken out at the first hint of unpaid mortgages and tuitions. If you don’t know, the government can easily command private companies to fire people.

    Then it’s the overwhelming psychological sense of control. The response time from your angry yelling at the whitecoats guarding the gate of your apartment building to a drone overflight from the Public Security Bureau is but a few minutes. The chilling broadcast using a synthesized voice from the drone: “Please obey the orders of the municipal government, control your soul’s desire for freedom, do not open the window to sing” is a wonder to behold (such videos can be found on internet e.g. Reddit). By the way, if you obeyed and shut up after the protest, you will be happy to find that your next day’s ration has been doubled. Further rewards await if your public thanks to the government on WeChat is picked up by the official media.

    • Fort the common good! Under watchful eye of big brother! Or millionaires next walk-in closet door will shame you. If you have no shame then an execution van is going to stop by.

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