Chinese battle web censors to vent lockdown anger

Chinese battle web censors to vent lockdown anger

New versions of video about Shanghai lockdown pop up as fast as authorities can delete them

A still from the 'Sounds of April' video that Chinese citizens are attempting to post in their home country. (Image from YouTube)
A still from the 'Sounds of April' video that Chinese citizens are attempting to post in their home country. (Image from YouTube)

Chinese internet users have rallied to outwit government censors on a video documenting weeks of lockdown in Shanghai, flooding social media feeds as frustration continued to escalate over strict Covid Zero rules.

The six-minute video titled “Sounds of April” was posted on Friday and soon got censored as it went viral. Chinese Wechat users then uploaded the film from different accounts and in various forms including upside-down and mirrored versions until late night, as newly-uploaded clips were also removed.

A version with English subtitles can be found on YouTube.

The film, on a slowly-moving frame of overhead shots of the city in black-and-white, spliced in sound clips from government press briefings, voice call recordings seeking medical help and information transparency, hungry and frustrated residents chanting in unison for government rations, and chats between neighbours and ordinary people helping each other out. 

“Get well soon, Shanghai,” it said at the end, closing with text that it was shot and edited by someone named Cary.

Social media users also circulated a clip of the song Do You Hear the People Sing? from the musical Les Miserables, which was first censored during pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019 and briefly resurfaced in the disarray following the initial outbreak in Wuhan.

Other videos included spokespeople from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, quotations from Mao Zedong, clips from revolutionary Chinese films, and citations from the Civil Code — all about a citizen’s right to speak up.

“If anybody asked me why I keep posting these videos, I would tell him it’s because they keep censoring them,” a Wechat user said in a post.

Shanghai reported 23,504 new coronavirus cases and 12 deaths on Saturday. The city is entering its fourth week of strict lockdown, while people living in the eastern part of the city or in neighbourhoods with confirmed cases have been confined to their apartments for even longer.

Anger among residents has been building due to lack of access to food or medical care and sub-standard government rations, and there has been clashes with police over isolation centres opening near them.

The municipal government on Friday said it would adopt nine actions to achieve the goal of “no community spread”, a milestone that has eluded the city despite weeks of lockdown. It largely reiterated existing measures in place with a vow to strictly implement rules, disappointing those who expected restrictions would be gradually eased. 

Some users also compared the outpouring of support for “Sounds of April” to the night Li Wenliang, the Wuhan-based doctor who had warned about a Sars-like illness, died two years ago.

The public became enraged after the death of Li, an ophthalmologist reprimanded by local police for rumor-mongering after he posted early warnings of the virus. Authorities later honoured his death in a bid to mitigate public outrage.

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