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China internet censors scramble as lockdown thwarts spark ‘creative’ wave of opposition | China

cHina’s stringent censorship system is fighting an onslaught of complaints from Shanghai, as residents find creative ways to get around bans on words, hashtags and even the lyrics of the national anthem.

As the weeks-long lockdown in the city of 25 million people has led to widespread food shortages, delivery failures and fatal healthcare disruptions, the government has urged residents to harness “positive energy”. Miserable banners warning people Watch your mouth or face punishment. And drones Residential warning. But far from inspiring residents to fall for class, these methods only increased tensions.

On WeChat, groups have shared the names and stories of people who have died, either with Covid or because the lockdown has delayed their access to healthcare. They criticized the local authorities and China’s continued commitment to the “zero COVID” program As the world opens up, share videos of residents being held, huddled from their apartments or treated by anti-epidemic workers.

Many of these posts were quickly deleted, including an article by a prominent Chinese health expert, Dr. Zhong Nanshan, who cautiously urged China to walk away from its non-Covid-19 commitment. The platforms have also monitored videos of protests and anger over the separation of children infected with Covid from their parents. Caixin’s investigation into the unreported deaths soon disappeared.

In one of the videos shared online, epidemic workers appeared to make their way into a man’s apartment Demands removal of a critical functionwhile others claim that they were The police visited her on their tweets. Weibo censored the term “vegetable buying in Shanghai” as people complained about the lack of food (although one resident sarcastically noted this You can still post about buying a cake). By Sunday, even the first line of the Chinese national anthem – “Whoa! Those people who refuse to be slaves!” – were banned as a hashtag.

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But the volume of banned publications appears to defy the system of censorship and personnel.

last week, For a few hours before dawn on WeiboCriticism of the state has been flowing unusually freely, with users inundating the most popular hashtags – and thus being punished – with complaints. Under the themes “The United States is the country with the greatest human rights shortage” and “Shanghai has taken up many rumors related to Covid,” the posts were often satirical or satirical, evading the ban by replacing the word “China” with “US” in its criticism. Posts lingered online for hours, prompting one person to joke that the censors must have gotten away with the stress of China’s “996” culture around overwork.

Empty supermarket shelves in Shanghai
Food shortages are among the factors leading to discontent in Shanghai amid the prolonged Covid lockdown. Photo: Chen Si / AP

“People lost confidence”

Charlie Smith, co-founder of censorship watchdog who uses a pseudonym, said part of the reaction could be attributed to it coming from Shanghai, who he said could “afford to pay”. [more] open, because they are not tied to Beijing.” Shanghai, the commercial capital of China, is generally richer than other parts of the country, and is home to a large middle class and a group of China’s business and academic elite, more of whom he learned abroad.

“I think what happened in Shanghai will not happen in Beijing,” he said. “But surely something has changed. People have lost faith in the government, they are unlikely to believe what the government is telling them and will question the propaganda.”

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Smith said there have been several recent events that have strained China’s censorship system.

“We went from [February story of a Chinese woman found chained in a shed]From the war in Ukraine, to COVID in Shanghai, in very rapid succession. To what extent do you allow people to discuss these topics in depth? “

“They can’t completely censor these topics and then constantly blame the US for everything that seems to break the camel’s back, so netizens have turned the tables, and now censorship is scrambling.”

Dong Mingyu, a journalist who focuses on Internet censorship, said censorship mechanisms have always been the same, but “the opposition’s creativity does not pose challenges to censorship.”

The scale of the opposition reminds me of what we saw during the early days of the Wuhan lockdown, particularly after the death of Doctor Li Wenliang and the censorship of an article About Dr. Ai FenDong said. Both were punished for speaking out about the emerging virus. After public outcry after his death, Lee was later officially hailed as a hero.

The challenge to Beijing

In a possible indication that they need more tools, several social media platforms announced on Friday that they will soon publish the IP addresses of users, In order to combat “spreading rumours”.

In a post from Friday, still online at press time, someone hijacked the US human rights hashtag to parody a planned official Chinese media broadcast that aims to “inject positive energy” by highlighting the “good” elements of the lockdown. The event was later called off after an online backlash.

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“The epidemic has made the Chinese see much more clearly,” they wrote. “Chinese people are obedient, but they are not stupid.”

By Monday, complaints were still rife in the US human rights hashtag, with people posting pictures of surveillance cameras installed in female dormitories on universities as an “epidemiological measure”, to fake polls claiming people live harsher lives than anyone in Russia or Ukraine. , a dog was beaten to death by epidemic workers, and the entire population (without pets) was taken from a northeastern village of Pudong for disinfection after a cluster of cases.

Smith said the Chinese authorities feared that it was the simultaneous street protests that erupted in different cities that would challenge Beijing’s control over the population. “I’m not sure if they ever thought something similar could happen online, but it does.”

Additional reporting by Chi Hui Lin