WeChat censorship of video detailing lockdown nightmare in Shanghai sparks outrage and protests

Society & Culture

The six-minute clip, originally uploaded to WeChat in the early hours this morning, is an unflinching and candid documentation of what happened in Shanghai, where an ongoing COVID lockdown has made procuring food and accessing non-COVID-related medical treatment a struggle for the city's 25 million residents.

If you have spent any time today on Chinese social media and messaging app WeChat, there’s a good chance you’ve come across a video called “The Voices of April.” 

The six-minute clip, originally uploaded in the early hours this morning by WeChat account Yǒngyuǎn de cǎoméiyuán 永远的草莓园 (Forever strawberry garden), is an unflinching and candid documentation of what happened in Shanghai, where an ongoing COVID lockdown that started last month has left the city’s 25 million residents shut inside their home, often without enough food and unable to get medical treatment for non-COVID conditions, even when life threatening.

“Since the outbreak began in Shanghai, so many people have spoken out in the past month. 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,” the creator of the video, who introduced himself as a filmmaker named Cary, wrote in a WeChat post. “But some things shouldn’t have happened and should not be forgotten.”

The video opens with two voice clips from Shanghai’s COVID media briefings in March, where local health officials denied rumors about a citywide lockdown and stressed that Shanghai “couldn’t afford to go into lockdown” because of “its important role in sustaining China’s economy.” The promise turned out to be a lie when a mandate of home confinement was issued in late March, leaving no time for people to stock up on food and other supplies. 

The agony and frustration felt by people in locked-down Shanghai is captured in over 20 audio recordings featured in the rest of the video. (One of them has been transcribed and translated by SupChina.) Although a few of these voice clips show sweet moments of people expressing gratitude for the hard work of anti-epidemic workers, most of them are about frustrated and exhausted residents venting their grievances, or getting into arguments with low-level government workers over the Shanghai authorities’ mishandling of the outbreak.

“Get better soon, Shanghai,” the ending card of the video reads.

Unsurprisingly, just like the audios included in the video were swiftly scrubbed from Chinese social media when they first went viral, the video itself faced nearly instant censorship when it started to generate attention on WeChat. But despite the blocking, it still managed to spread as WeChat users kept using creative ways to circumvent the censorship. In just a matter of hours, various versions of the original video emerged, with one using a Kaleidoscope filter and another one turning the original upside down. Many also tried to circulate the video through QR codes and download links on cloud storage services. 

Meanwhile, a growing number of WeChat users, including some influential bloggers, are speaking out against the censorship. In a now-censored article (in Chinese) titled “What exactly is causing the nationwide censorship of that video?” author Léi Sīlín 雷斯林 writes, “Why do they have to scrub such a mild and objective video from the internet? Who gave them the right to scrub such a mild and objective video from the internet?” His WeChat account, of course, has been suspended for what WeChat called “a violation of relevant laws and regulations.” Others channeled their anger towards censors through illustrations and posters, like the ones below:

“404. Is someone competing with the 25 million people who have to wake up at 6 a.m. every day in the past month, trying to beat each other in speed when ordering food on delivery apps?”

“The April of Shēn 申. (Shen is another way to refer to Shanghai). Cover the mouths that are speaking. Cover the ears that are listening. Only praise, gratitude, and peace are allowed on stage. Buried are cries, frustration, and weariness.

UPDATE, 4/23: Via the Guardian: “The author of a viral video about Shanghai’s Covid-19 lockdown that sparked a rare show of defiance on China’s social media has urged users to stop sharing it, saying he worried about his work being taken in directions he did not wish to see.”

Follow our coverage of the Shanghai lockdown.