WeChat users try to keep Shanghai lockdown protest video ahead of censors 

The video was kept alive and circulating through a variety of methods.

Protesters against China’s extreme lockdown of Shanghai have entered into a cat-and-mouse game against the censors, in an effort to keep a video highlighting citizens’ struggles and grievances from being removed from WeChat, the country’s most popular social media platform.

Zero tolerance: The Chinese government has taken a “zero COVID” stance towards the virus, instituting universal testing and severe lockdowns on even small numbers of COVID cases in an effort to stamp out outbreaks of SARS-CoV-2 completely.

The efforts, sometimes enforced by drones and robot dogs, have found residents caught unprepared for confinement and facing issues getting basic supplies. In Shanghai, many reports show people struggling to get food under the lockdown, and contaminated government rations appear to be causing an outbreak of food poisoning.

In response, protests have begun to grow, leading to waves of arrests across the country.

Protesters of the lockdown have entered into a cat-and-mouse game against Beijing in an effort to keep a video highlighting citizens’ struggles and grievances from being removed from social media.

Voices of Shanghai: The video, called “Voices of April,” pans over the skyline of Shanghai, China’s most populous city and a global economic powerhouse, rendered in ghostly grayscale. 

The voices of local health officials are heard at press conferences in March strenuously denying “rumors” that there would be a lockdown, just before 25 million people were forbidden to leave home under almost any circumstances. 

They are followed by the voices of Shanghai residents; while some express their thanks for frontline health workers, the majority are aggrieved citizens venting about their struggles or arguing with government officials, SupChina reported. (The translation of the video has not been independently verified by Freethink.)

“Since the outbreak began in Shanghai, so many people have spoken out in the past month,” the video’s creator, who posts under the name of “Forever strawberry garden” — or “Strawberry Fields Forever,” as the Guardian translated it — and identified as a filmmaker named Cary by SupChina, wrote in a WeChat post.  

“However, the majority of these voices were quickly wiped off the Chinese internet and people have grown numb to the situation as time went by. But some things shouldn’t have happened and should not be forgotten.”

The video features the voices of residents venting about their struggles.

Keeping the voices alive: Beijing’s censors pounced on the video, scrubbing it from WeChat and other social media sites within hours, MIT Technology Review reported

In response, users found a plethora of unique ways to keep “Voices of April” circulating and preserved, including embedding it in other videos, disseminating links to independent file hosting by using QR codes, putting the audio on different videos, and altering the original video by turning it upside down or applying filters like Kaleidoscope, according to Technology Review and SupChina. 

Some even turned it into NFTs, Thomson Reuters Foundation News reported.

“Voices of April” is far from the only coronavirus content being censored by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Videos of quarantine camps and people protesting the forced eviction from their apartments, to be turned into quarantine sites, are also being scrubbed, Rogier Creemers, assistant professor of modern Chinese studies at the Netherlands’ Leiden University, told Reuters Foundation.

“After weeks of draconian lockdown, there’s a sense of deep frustration and discontentment for residents of Shanghai, but also a sense of solidarity for those who were not in the middle of it,” University of Chicago political scientist Dali Yang told the Guardian. “I am surprised that many who were reposting the video and other materials did not see the act as political.”

In Shanghai, many reports show people struggling to get food under the lockdown, and contaminated government rations appear to be causing an outbreak of food poisoning.

Screenshots with rumors of efforts by WeChat to prevent the content being seen by people outside of Shanghai have begun to spread, the South China Morning Post reported, and posts featuring the claim prompt a popup from WeChat denying it.

“I’ve not seen such levels of social media activism, and a concerted effort in defying censorship,” Shanghai resident Linette Lim told Reuters Foundation.

The video ends with a hopeful plea: “Get better soon, Shanghai.” 

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