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2022.04.26 关在上海

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被关在上海,我瞥见了我们的技术乌托邦式的未来
腐烂的卷心菜、数字面包线和专横的无人机

2022年4月26日

作者:唐-韦恩兰

从未想象过生活在历史中会如此无聊。3月底,中国政府为应对上海爆发的欧米茄变异体,开始了历史上最大规模的全城封锁。

上海2500万居民中的大多数都被关在家里,或者睡在工作场所的地板上。警车在曾经熙熙攘攘的林荫道上闲逛。偶尔会有满载蒙面乘客的巴士在下面的高速公路上飞驰而过,这些乘客表面上是去往城郊巨大的、临时搭建的平民医院。

三月初,我搬到了上海。困在我的酒店房间里,很难说清这个烟雾弥漫的鬼城发生了什么。在这个大规模的实验中--政府披露的信息不完整或具有欺骗性--任何你能用自己的眼睛验证的小信息都变得至关重要。监测道路上的汽车数量,或天际线上的污染雾霾的厚度,成为衡量人类交通和经济活动的重要指标,尽管并不完美。

一项政府公告一度声称,该市近一半的人口已被释放(这似乎难以置信)。与此同时,媒体报道说,整个社区都被拖出了上海,以便当局有时间对特定地区进行 "消毒"(更有可能)。上海的居民被推入一个主要在智能手机屏幕上播放的内部世界。

在高速公路上,满载着蒙面乘客的巴士驶向临时性的平民医院,呼啸而过。

在中国的社交媒体上,封锁的故事已经被打成一种消失的数字墨水。人们用他们的手机和电脑咆哮食物短缺或医疗灾难,或发布大型抗议活动的录像,但却看到他们的投诉被中国的审查员大军从互联网上抹去。一时间,"上海 "这个词变得无法搜索,就像共产党假装这个城市不存在一样,只要它充斥着贪污腐败。最大声的抗议在备忘录和隐晦的口号中找到了新的生命力,然后被另一波 "协调"(当地网络俚语,指政府对异议的抹杀)冲走。


上海居民正以自己的方式记录下这一经历的幽默和恐怖。从生存的基本要素开始:采购食物。中国的购物软件有一个叫做 "团购 "的功能,在正常情况下,这意味着人们可以在一起,通过大量购买来节省开支。在封锁的混乱情况下,这已成为收到蔬菜或肉类的唯一途径之一。对于任何想知道技术反乌托邦的未来可能是什么样子的人来说,这可能提供了一个线索。获取食物可能意味着要监视你的手机几个小时:在任何时候都有数以万计的人试图购买同样数量的商品,快速打字、热切地刷新和反复按 "购买 "按钮是必不可少的。形成了数字面包线,由于供应在几秒钟内耗尽,许多人最终空手而归。


在网上购物的行话中,团购圈的组织者被称为 "团章"。在网上分享了上海共产党最高领导人李强的轶事后,这个词在中国网民中有了新的含义。据称这位政治家在封锁期间与当地人交谈时,对团购感到困惑,并大声问道:"团购是做什么的。这个词现在被用来讽刺共产党与普通民众的脱节。

中国国家媒体称上海的封锁是 "开拓性的"。它经常惊叹于无人机和机器狗的技术奇迹,这些机器狗通过扩音器向城市的俘虏们发出信息。当官员们对他们的应对措施表示祝贺时,网上分享的一段视频显示,一架无人机告诉居民 "压制你们灵魂对自由的渴望"。


但公众对政府的愤怒似乎正在增加。网上流传的视频显示,老人在门后乞讨食物。人们看到戴着护目镜、穿着白色防毒服的人在殴打不遵守规则的人。一些人现在把这些封锁的执行者称为白卫兵,即白衣卫士,这是对1960年代文化大革命期间恐吓中国的红卫兵的戏称。

一包包的蔬菜不期而至地送到我的门口。有些是政府的施舍,装在大泡沫箱里;有些是我设法订购的。当它们到达我手中时,许多已经腐烂了。有一个包裹里有飞蛾,在我房间的灯下飞舞了好几天。腐烂的卷心菜的硫磺味已经变得很熟悉。它是对这个城市困境的一个恰当的比喻。俚语bailan,即 "任其腐烂",在社交媒体上已经很常见。其含义是,这个先进的大都市已经落入错误的手中,并停止运作。

在一个食品递送应用程序上打分意味着快速打字、狂热地刷新和反复按 "购买 "按钮

当宣布封锁时,数百万人只有几个小时的准备时间。它的启动没有考虑到老人或残疾人将如何度过被隔离的几个星期,癌症和糖尿病患者将在哪里接受拯救生命的药物和治疗,或者孕妇需要多长时间去医院。

数以万计的企业被关闭,而没有考虑到员工如何度过没有工资支票的月份,或者公司老板如何支付租金。无数居民努力寻找基本的食物,因为卷心菜和猪腰肉在货架上腐烂了。

更少的人准备好被运往伪装成医院的大规模隔离设施。许多人因为无法获得对包虫病以外的疾病的治疗而死亡,但避免包虫病死亡是官员们唯一关心的事情。


共产党将这种一心一意的精神视为一种品质,使其能够冲破道路上的障碍。但是,这也使得政治家们对最近几周该市的情绪变化情况明显缺乏了解。我所在地区的一家酒店在给客人的信中大胆地说:"我们害怕的不是科维德,而是(政府)的政策。"

对于酒店的一些老员工来说,这种情况已经引发了痛苦的回忆。我采访了一位60岁出头的员工,他已经在酒店住了几个星期,离开了他的妻子。他通常是个开朗的人,当被问及封锁问题时,他只是小声嘀咕说 "他们"--党--"不关心普通人如何生活"。

封锁并不是没有幽默感。上海居民开玩笑说,这个世界已经 "躺平了",或者说放弃了对毒品的控制,任其肆意妄为。他们也想平躺,但中国的中央政府强迫他们做仰卧起坐,试图实现零蛀虫的目标。

"我们害怕的不是贪污腐败,而是政府的政策。

上海和中国其他地区之间的紧张关系已经存在了很久。上海人认为自己比其他城市的人更有国际视野,更成熟。他们中的许多人认为,上海已经被那些不理解他们的语言或文化的外来者掠夺了。封锁似乎为地方主义情绪注入了新的活力。

12月,外交部的一位官员赵立建告诉外国记者,他们可以 "自嘲",或者说 "自嘲",因为他们在大流行病期间能够在中国舒适地生活。在封锁期间,一张上海居民的照片在社交媒体上被广泛分享,照片上贴着赵立建的照片和 "自嘲 "这句话。这句话与赵本山的名字一起在中国的社交媒体上一度变得无法搜索,现在成为对中国政府向世界展示的扭曲的国家形象的反击。


当地人一直在努力创造一个反面的叙述。一位名叫Astro的上海说唱歌手在YouTube上发布了一首名为 "新奴隶 "的歌曲,歌词坦率地描述了这个城市正在发生的事情。他指出,"那些穿制服的人只关心他们的事业,根本不关心生命或尊严。4月22日晚,一段记录政府在过去几周的许多谎言和失误的视频在中国社交媒体上被广泛分享,以至于在短时间内审查人员似乎无法跟上。

政府正在镇压异议人士。警察访问在推特上发表不利评论的人。癌症患者营地的标志警告患者,在社交媒体上发布他们周围环境的图片可能会违反法律。但是,透过中国漫长的科维德案件的永久阴霾,上海封锁的一个更清晰的形象开始出现了。

Don Weinland是《经济学人》杂志的中国商业和金融编辑。

插图:Klaus Kremmerz



Locked down in Shanghai, I’ve caught a glimpse of our techno-dystopian future
Rotting cabbage, digital breadlines and bossy drones

Apr 26th 2022

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By Don Weinland

Inever imagined living through history could be this boring. At the end of March, the Chinese government responded to an outbreak of the Omicron variant in Shanghai by embarking on the largest city-wide lockdown in history.

Most of Shanghai’s 25m residents are shut in their homes or sleeping on the floor of their workplaces. Police cars idle down boulevards that were once bustling thoroughfares. Occasionally buses full of masked passengers, ostensibly heading to vast, makeshift covid hospitals on the outskirts of the city, zip past on the motorway below.

I moved to Shanghai at the beginning of March. Trapped inside my hotel room, it’s hard to tell what’s going on in the smoggy ghostopolis. In this mass experiment – one in which government disclosures are incomplete or deceptive – any small bit of information that you can verify with your own eyes becomes vital. Monitoring the number of cars on the road, or the thickness of the haze of pollution against the skyline, become vital, if imperfect, gauges of human traffic and economic activity.

A government announcement at one point claimed that nearly half the population of the city had been set free (this seems implausible). At the same time the media reported that whole communities were being hauled out of Shanghai to give authorities time to “sanitise” specific areas (more likely). Residents of Shanghai have been pushed into an inner world largely playing out on smartphone screens.

Buses full of masked passengers heading to makeshift covid hospitals whisk past on the motorway

Across Chinese social media, the story of the lockdown has been typed out in a kind of disappearing, digital ink. People take to their phones and computers to rant about food shortages or medical disasters, or to post footage of large protests, only to see their complaints scrubbed from the internet by China’s army of censors. For a time, the word “Shanghai” became unsearchable, as if the Communist Party was pretending the city didn’t exist as long as it was rife with covid. The loudest protests have found new life in memes and cryptic slogans before being washed away in another wave of “harmonisation”, local internet slang for the government’s erasure of dissent.


Shanghai residents are capturing the humour and horror of the experience in their own way. Start with the basics of survival: procuring food. Chinese shopping apps have a function called “group-buying”, which in normal times means people can club together and save money by buying in bulk. In the chaos of the lockdown, this has become one of the only ways to receive a delivery of vegetables or meat. For anyone wondering what a techno-dystopian future might look like, this may offer a clue. Scoring meals can mean hours of monitoring your phone: with tens of thousands of people trying to purchase the same small quantity of goods at any one time, quick typing, fervent refreshing and repeated pressing of “buy” buttons are essential. Digital breadlines form, with many ending up empty-handed as supplies run out in seconds.


In online-shopping lingo, the organiser of a group-buying circle is called a tuanzhang. The word has taken on a new meaning among Chinese netizens after an anecdote about Shanghai’s top Communist Party chief, Li Qiang, was shared online. Speaking to locals during the lockdown, the politician was allegedly confused about group-buying and wondered aloud what a tuanzhang did. The term is now used in a tongue-in-cheek way to mock how out of touch the Communist Party is with regular folk.

Chinese state media has heralded the Shanghai lockdown as “trailblazing”. It often marvels at the technological wonders of drones and robotic dogs that blast messages over loudspeakers to the city’s captives. As officials congratulated themselves on their handling of the response, a video shared online showed a drone telling residents to “suppress your souls’ urges for freedom”.


But public anger at the government seems to be mounting. Videos circulating online show elderly people behind gates, begging for food. Men in goggles and white hazmat suits are seen beating people who have not complied with rules. Some people now refer to these lockdown enforcers as bai weibing, or White Guards, a play on the Red Guards who terrorised China during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s.

Parcels of vegetables arrive unexpectedly at my door. Some are government handouts in big styrofoam crates; others are ones I’ve managed to order. Many are already rotten by the time they reach me. One package was infested with moths that fluttered around the lamps in my room for days. The sulphurous odour of rotting cabbage has become familiar. It is an apt metaphor for the city’s predicament. The slang phrase bailan, or “left to rot”, has become common on social media. The implication is that this sophisticated metropolis has fallen into the wrong hands and stopped functioning.

Scoring meals on a food-delivery app means quick typing, fervent refreshing and repeated pressing of “buy” buttons

When the lockdown was announced, millions of people had just hours to prepare. It was launched without considering how the elderly or disabled would pass the weeks in isolation, where cancer and diabetes patients would receive life-saving medication and treatment, or how long it would take pregnant women to get to hospital.

Tens of thousands of businesses were closed without thinking how employees would get through the month without a pay-cheque or how company owners could pay the rent. Countless residents struggled to find basic provisions as cabbage and pork loins rotted on the shelves.

Fewer still were prepared to be carted off to the mass-quarantine facilities that are masquerading as hospitals. Many people have died as a result of not being able to access medical treatment for conditions other than covid, but avoiding covid deaths has been the only thing that mattered to officials.


The Communist Party sees this single-mindedness as a quality that allows it to blast through obstacles in its path. But it has also rendered politicians strikingly unaware of how sentiment in the city has shifted in recent weeks. In a letter to guests, a hotel in my district boldly remarked, “Covid is not the thing we are afraid of; it’s [government] policy.”

For some of the hotel’s older staff, the situation has sparked painful memories. I spoke to an employee in his early 60s who has been living in the hotel for weeks, away from his wife. Normally a cheerful man, when asked about the lockdown he only mumbles under his breath that “they” – the party – “don’t care how average people live”.

The lockdown has not been without humour. Shanghai residents joke that the world has “lain flat”, or given up on controlling covid and let it run wild. They, too, would like to lie flat, but China’s central government has forced them instead to do sit-ups in its attempt to achieve zero-covid.

“Covid is not the thing we are afraid of; it’s government policy”

Tensions between Shanghai and other parts of China have existed for ages. The Shanghainese fancy themselves more cosmopolitan and sophisticated than folk from other cities. Many of them feel that Shanghai has been marauded by outsiders who cannot understand their language or culture. The lockdown appears to have breathed new life into localist sentiment.

In December an official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Zhao Lijian, told foreign reporters that they could “chuckle to themselves”, or touzhele, for being able to live comfortably in China during the pandemic. During the lockdown, a photo of a Shanghai resident with a picture of Zhao and the “chuckle” quote taped to his back has been shared widely on social media. The phrase, which along with Zhao’s name also became unsearchable on Chinese social media for a time, now serves as a riposte to the distorted vision of the country the Chinese government presents to the world.


Locals have been hard at work creating a counter-narrative. A Shanghai-based rapper called Astro posted a song titled “New Slave” on YouTube with frank lyrics about what’s happening in the city. He notes that “those in uniform care only about their careers and don’t give a shit about life or dignity”. On the evening of April 22nd a video cataloguing many of the government’s lies and missteps over the past few weeks was shared so widely across Chinese social media that for a short period of time censors appeared unable to keep up.

The government is cracking down on dissenters. Police visit people who post unfavourable commentary on Twitter. Signs in covid camps warn patients that posting images of their surroundings on social media could violate the law. But through the perpetual haze of China’s case of long covid, a crisper image of the Shanghai lockdown is starting to emerge.■

Don Weinland is China business and finance editor at The Economist

ILLUSTRATIONS KLAUS KREMMERZ
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