BEIJING, May 28 (BNA) On a balmy Sunday night, residents of an upscale Shanghai complex took to the streets to denounce the lockdown restrictions imposed by their community. The Associated Press (AP) reported that by the next morning, they were free to leave.
The story of the victory quickly spread to chat groups across the Chinese city this week, raising one question in the minds of those who remained under lockdown: Shouldn’t we do the same?
By the end of the week, other groups of residents faced administration in their compounds, and some won at least partial eviction.
While it’s unclear how widespread they are, the incidents reflect the frustration that has built up after more than seven weeks of lockdown, even as the number of new daily cases has fallen to a few hundred in a city of 25 million people.
It is also a reminder of the power of China’s neighborhood committees that the ruling Communist Party relies on to spread propaganda messages, enforce its decisions and even settle personal disputes. Such commissions and their housing commissions have become the target of complaints, especially after some in Shanghai and other cities refused to let residents out even after official restrictions were relaxed.
More than 21 million people in Shanghai are now in “precautionary zones,” the least restrictive category. In theory, they are free to exit. In practice, the decision is up to their housing committees, which has led to a spectacle of arbitrary rules.
Some are allowed outside, but only for a few hours with a special pass for one or certain days of the week. Some places only allow one person per household to leave. Others prevent people from leaving at all.
“We actually got at least three different dates when we reopen, and none of them were real,” said Weronika Truszczynska, a graduate student from Poland who has blogged about her experience.
“The housing commission has told us you can wait a week, and we will probably reopen our doors on June 1,” she said. “No one believed her.”
More than a dozen residents of her compound, many under umbrellas on a rainy day, confronted their managers on Tuesday, two days after a Sunday night escape at the upscale Huixianju complex.
Residents, mostly Chinese, demanded that they be allowed to leave without time limits or restrictions on their number per family. After the demands were not met, some returned to protest on the second day. This time, four police officers stood watching.
On Thursday afternoon, community representatives knocked on the doors of each inhabitant with a new policy: write their name and apartment number on a list, check the temperature, scan the barcode – and they were free to leave.
“We had the possibility to go out just because we were brave enough to protest,” Truszczynska said of her fellow residents.
Shanghai’s lockdown has also sparked resistance from people being taken into quarantine and workers required to sleep in their workplaces. Videos on social media showed what were said to be employees of a factory operated by Quanta Computer Inc. Taiwanese trying to leave the facility in early May.
The party’s tough anti-virus campaign has been bolstered by an urban environment in which hundreds of millions of people in China live in gated apartment blocks or walled neighborhoods that can easily be locked down.
The front line of enforcement are the neighborhood committees responsible for tracking every resident of every urban home nationwide and enforcing public health and sanitation rules.
Many tend to err on the side of excessive enforcement, aware of the example set by public officials who have been fired or criticized for failing in their duties of epidemic prevention.
The importance of neighborhood committees waned in the 1990s as the Communist Party relaxed restrictions on citizens’ movement, but they were subject to a resurgence in the continued tightening of societal control under President Xi Jinping.
The incident in Huixianju prompted the others to speak out. In a series of videos circulating this week, about two dozen people walked toward the Nanjing West Road Police Station, chanting “Respect the law, give me back my life.”
Residents of a compound in Jing’an district have seen the doors of neighboring compounds open for the past month – yet their gates remain closed. On Wednesday, about twenty gathered at the gate, and called to speak with a representative.
“I want to understand what the neighborhood leaders are planning?” A woman asks in a video clip about the accident. Another woman said, “Are you making progress?” A third consonant indicates that they should be free now, because the complex has been case-free for a while. Didn’t they say on TV that things are opening up? “We saw it on TV,” says an older man.
The next day, the community issued one-day passes – residents were allowed out for two hours on Friday, with no word of what would happen next.
Shanghai authorities have announced that the goal for June is for life to return to normal. But some people don’t wait, and they push the boundaries little by little.
More than a dozen young people gathered on Thursday night for a street concert in the same neighborhood where Sunday’s protest was held. A video of the last song “Tomorrow Will Be Better” was widely shared on social media.
A police car was parked nearby, with its red and blue lights and headlights on. As the last song drew to a close, an officer in armor stepped toward the group and said, “Okay, I’ve had enough fun. It’s time to come back.” The crowd dispersed.