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China and Covid19

Long Road Home for Zhengzhou’s Foxconn Workers after Covid Mismanagement

One Foxconn worker writes: “We are fully aware that in the eyes of Foxconn, production always comes first, but we really just want to live a normal life.”

Manya Koetse



An exodus of Foxconn workers in Zhengzhou has become a major topic on Chinese social media this weekend. A mismanagement of a Covid outbreak at the huge ‘factory city’ – the world’s largest iPhone factory – led employees to leave the locked-down campus, starting their long journey home on foot.

Foxconn (富士康), the world’s largest technology manufacturer and Apple supplier, is trending on Weibo after its factory in Zhengzhou, Henan, was recently hit by a Covid outbreak.

On social media, there has been confusion about what the actual situation is like in Zhengzhou and at Foxconn, as there has been a stark difference between what official channels are reporting and what social media users are sharing about the situation.

The Foxconn complex in Zhengzhou, where half of the world’s iPhones are made, employs approximately 300,000 people. Factory workers live at the Foxconn dormitories and usually eat inside the campus.

But since October 19, as reported by Reuters, Foxconn banned all dine-in at their canteens and required factory workers to take their meals in their dormitories.

In early October, Zhengzhou official channels reported zero new daily Covid cases, with numbers going up after one new Covid infection was reported on 4 October. The week after, the daily new Covid cases count peaked at 40 new cases on 9 October, after which it went down again.

Officially, the total new cases in Zhengzhou from 4 October-29 October was 432, but it is unclear if the Foxconn Covid cases are included in this official number. Actually, there is a lot that is not clear about this situation at all.

What mainly caught the attention on Chinese social media is how an unspecified number of Foxconn employees fled the Foxconn ‘factory city’ this weekend, starting their long journey home on foot, walking on highways and fields across the Central Plains while carrying their blankets, bags, and other personal belongings.

Besides the many posts on WeChat, Weibo, and Douyin showing hundreds of Foxconn workers on their way home by foot, there were also images showing how locals had set up little stands offering free water and other refreshments to Foxconn workers to help them stay hydrated and fed during their long journey home.

On Sunday, official channels reported that Foxconn issued a statement saying their employees are free to leave if they want to, and that they are doing everything they can to ensure a safe trip home for their workers. But many on social media did not take their statement seriously.

“When these employees return to their hometowns on foot, Foxconn has already completely lost, their statement is just to cover up their embarrassment,” some said.

Covid Chaos at Foxconn Zhengzhou

So what actually happened at Foxconn that made factory workers flee by foot? That is what many people want to know: “So what went on in the factory? Why would so many employees want to flee? So much that they would be willing to return to their hometown on foot?”

One WeChat post by a young Foxconn worker alleges that the first Covid cases at Foxconn Zhengzhou appeared as early as October 8, but that it did not attract any attention until October 14, when the factory suddenly implemented a ‘closed-loop system’ (闭环管理), which made the staff realize how serious the situation must have become.

The most important thing the closed-loop approach does is basically shutting off the workers from the outside workers by creating a barrier between the ‘inside’ community and the ‘outside’ world, with very strict checks on who can enter and exit the area, and usually a ban on group gatherings within the area.

For the Foxconn workers, it meant their lives were restricted to the dorms and factory workshops in a ‘point-based work resumption’ style (点式复工). According to the ‘point-to-point’ (点对点) strategy, employees are staying within the closed loop of their workplace and (work) community, making sure that work can resume amid a Covid outbreak.

But according to the anonymous Foxconn worker, the closed loop and point-to-point systems were failing because thousands of workers were still living, working, and commuting together, with some people being careless about wearing masks, smoking, and still spitting on the ground. The epidemic situation within Foxconn Zhengzhou was therefore allegedly getting worse.

Although those who were testing positive for Covid-19 were isolated elsewhere, there was nowhere to isolate their close contacts, so they just stayed within the dorms and later were allegedly even allowed to resume work, mixing all the workers together.

Then there were more problems with supplies and planning. Some factory workers only received one KN95 mask every three days, and for lunch they received a lunch box that they were supposed to eat at the dorms; but that meant a 40-minute walk back and forth for some depending on their dorm location. If they would not clock in to work, they would not receive a meal, so this meant some people risked getting Covid by going to work just in order to get their meal.

Foxconn even offered a bonus to those who would come in to work, clearly prioritizing production over Covid risks.

Some videos circulating on social media show the incredibly filthy circumstances at the Foxconn dorms.

As the chaos at Foxconn Zhengzhou reportedly reached a boiling point, some factory workers were required to come into work even after they found that someone in their workshop had tested positive.

Image allegedly showing how trash coming from those isolated at Foxonn dorms was not dealt with.

The Foxconn worker writes:

Facing disaster, every individual is so insignificant, and we all just want the same thing: to live well. But under these circumstances, living well seems to have become an excessive wish. I don’t know whether it is the weakness of life or the sadness of the current situation. We are fully aware in the eyes of Foxconn, production always comes first. But we really just want to live a normal life, we don’t want to be scared and on edge all day long, we just want to eat a normal meal, take off our masks when we go to sleep, take a look at the outside world, and restore the beauty of life.”

These sentiments and the despair among Foxconn workers in Zhengzhou become so strong that many Foxconn workers literally decided to jump the fences and break the barriers over the past weekend to go home. Without any other available transportation, they just went by foot.

Despite censorship of articles, videos, and images relating to this story, there have been widespread discussions on this incident and the situation at Foxconn.

The majority of people show sympathy for the Foxconn workers who fled the factory city, and the major incident also triggered some sensitive discussions on the feasibility of China’s zero-Covid policy.

Foxconn China, the largest private-sector employer in the mainland, has come into the spotlight multiple times over labor exploitation and unethical working conditions. A series of worker suicides at Foxconn factories linked to low pay and brutal working conditions focused attention on the Foxconn conditions and sparked widespread criticism in 2010.

One Weibo commenter wrote: “The fact that people do not denounce those who fled Foxconn, but instead give them kindness, still gives me hope in our present-day society.”

Read a 11.23.22 update to the Foxconn situation here.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes


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Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on Contact at, or follow on Twitter.

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China and Covid19

Chinese Commentator Hu Xijin Expects to “Get Covid Within a Month” (and Why It Matters)

This Hu Xijin commentary can be seen as part of a wider trend of normalizing Covid in the Chinese online media sphere.

Manya Koetse



Hu Xijin (胡锡进), the Beijing-based retired editor-in-chief of the state-run Global Times, recently published a post on the Chinese social media platform Weibo about him getting mentally ready to be infected with Covid-19 soon.

The former journalist Hu, whose posts and statements often go trending and influence public opinion, also made a few other noteworthy comments.

On Sunday (Dec 4), Hu posted: “Over the past week, China has essentially ended widespread lockdowns, with places like Beijing and others beginning to allow home quarantine for many positive individuals, while reducing the scope of nucleic acid testing. These are amazing changes.”

Four weeks ago, right before China introduced its twenty new Covid measures, Hu already argued that strict lockdowns are no longer sustainable and that China should aim for a more relaxed and local approach (which is exactly what happened).

Now, Hu Xijin says that he is “mentally preparing to be infected with Covid within the coming month” (“做好了在一个月之内被感染上的思想准备”), further writing:

In order for young people to have a colorful young era, in order to save the livelihood of so many service industry workers, in order for people from all walks of life to avoid seeing their wages cut, in order for so many companies to get out of their predicaments, this 62-year-old ‘Old Hu’ is willing to participate in the risk of getting [a virus that] degenerated to only 2.5 per 10,000 rate of getting seriously ill.”

Hu’s post was published on December 2nd in the context of Hu Says, a regular video column by Hu Xijin.

A few months ago, such a comment coming from such a big account would have been unthinkable.

In May of this year, those who tested positive still complained about suffering from stigmatization in society.

But Hu’s comments come at a time when there are more discussions about getting Covid and sharing the experiences of having Covid.

In the second week of November, shortly after Chinese authorities launched their updated Covid rules, the hashtag “What Is It Like to Catch Covid-19?” (#感染新冠是什么体验#) already went trending on Weibo, along with other hashtags informing Chinese netizens about what it’s like to get Covid – a virus that so many in China never experienced first hand.

Since Hu Xijin (1960) ended his career as the editor-in-chief of Global Times in 2021, his role as a political commentator has arguably become even more important and more visible on Weibo than before, especially in China’s challenging Covid times of 2021.

Some find him overly nationalistic, for others he is not nationalistic enough; there are those who find him reasonable, and then some say he is repetitive and just dancing to the tune of Party propaganda. But then there have also been some discussions – in light of Pelosi’s controversial Taiwan visit – about Hu misleading public opinion by not matching the official stance.

Whichever it is, some things are certain: Hu has some 25 million followers on Weibo, and he is often the first major media account that is allowed to discuss in detail some major sensitive social topics, even if these online discussions are otherwise being tightly controlled (think of the Tangshan BBQ Restaurant incident, the future of zero Covid, the Urumqi fire, and the 11.24 protests across China.)

Hu’s comments about ‘catching Covid soon’ can be seen as part of a wider trend of normalizing Covid in the Chinese online media sphere, preparing people to face a virus they are still unfamiliar with since ‘zero Covid’ has always been the main goal.

On December 3, Hu further clarified his comments about preparing to getting Covid. He explained he expects to catch the virus because he is active in the media environment, through which he unavoidably is in touch with many different people. He also promised that if he might get infected, he would share his Covid experience with all of his readers.

As the idea of catching Covid is becoming more normalized (there are more and more trending hashtags informing what to expect after getting Covid, e.g. #新冠发病7天内身体会发生什么变化#), people are also exchanging non-scientifical advice on how to prevent catching Covid, such as drinking licorice ginger soup, holding Sichuan peppercorns inside your mouth when going out, or getting silicon covers for the drains in the bathroom to prevent the virus coming through via neighboring apartments.

Some express their worries about catching the virus. “I’m really scared. I’ve already replaced all of my masks with K95 ones,” one Weibo user wrote: “My immune system has been weak since I was little, and I have allergies. I have the feeling that if I get infected I might lose half my life, if I don’t die (..) I’m in a state of panic.”

Even though China is still far from ‘opening up’, some people are already preparing to ‘live together with the virus,’ reminding others that getting vaccinated, keeping social distance, and washing hands are all measures that will help in preventing getting Covid.

“I am worried about getting Covid but I also want to open up,” some on Weibo said.

“As much as I wanted it all to end, this feels abrupt,” one social media user from Inner Mongolia wrote: “It won’t be the same as before. The thorough ‘zero Covid’ [policy] has gone. The country’s protection of our health has gone up to this point. I hope everyone can now take care in prevention themselves, and protect themselves and their families. I hope the epidemic situation will end soon, that the world will be ok, and that we can have our freedom.”

Meanwhile, Hu Xijin informed netizens on Saturday that he had some milk, boiled eggs, pastry and pickled mustard greens for breakfast. While working on his condition and nutrition, he says that if his Covid positive time comes, he will not get any VIP treatment. If allowed, he’ll either recover from home or go to a centralized Covid location.

He will just have to wait and see what happens, just as millions of other Chinese citizens are waiting to see what this winter is going to bring.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

The featured images are all images that went viral recently in light of China opening up (including nucleic acid testing booths being taken away).


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China and Covid19

Announced Changes in Nucleic Acid Testing and Further Easing of Covid Measures Across China

Bus and subway operators in Beijing will no longer refuse entry to passengers without a 48-hour negative nucleic acid certificate.

Manya Koetse



On Monday, directly after that noteworthy unrest-filled weekend, the hashtag “Multiple Locations Announce Nucleic Acid Testing Changes” (#多地核酸检测通知发生变化#) went trending on Chinese social media, receiving over 660 million clicks by Monday evening.

Immediately following demonstrations in Beijing and a second night of protests in Shanghai and elsewhere, various Chinese media reported how different areas across the country are introducing changes to their current Covid19 testing measures.

On Wednesday, November 30, China’s vice-premier Sun Chunlan made remarks at a meeting on epidemic prevention, underlining the importance of “constantly optimizing” China’s Covid-19 response and talking about a “new stage and mission” – without ever mentioning “zero Covid.”

This is what we know about easing Covid measures thus far:

▶ Strict lockdowns have been lifted in Guangzhou, Zhengzhou, and Chongqing.

▶ On November 28, Guangzhou announced that people who do not actively participate in social life will no longer need to participate in continuous nucleic acid screening. This includes elderly people who stay indoors for long periods of time, students who take online classes, and those who work from home. The change will apply to residents in seven districts, including Haizhu, Panyu, Tianhe, and Baiyun (#广州7区无社会面活动者可不参加全员核酸#).

▶ Guangzhou, according to Reuters, also scrapped a rule that only people with a negative COVID test can buy fever medication over the counter.

Harbin will follow the example of Guangzhou, and will also allow people who are mostly based at home to skip nucleic acid test screenings.

▶ Same goes for Shenyang, and Taiyuan.

▶ In Chongqing, various districts have done widespread Covid testing campaigns, but the local authorities announced that those communities that have not had a positive Covid case over the past five days do not need to participate in nucleic acid screening anymore. This means an end to district-wide testing.

▶ On November 30, Beijing also announced that it will start exempting some people from frequent Covid testing, including those elderly residents who are bound to home and other people who do not go out and have social interactions. This also includes younger students who are following classes online.

▶ Starting from December 5, bus and subway operators in Beijing will no longer refuse entry to passengers without a 48-hour negative nucleic acid certificate (announced on December 2nd).

▶ Although not officially announced, there have been various social media posts and reports about Covid-positive people in Beijing being allowed to quarantine at home if they meet conditions.

Chengdu Metro announced on December 2nd that it will no longer check passengers’ nucleic acid test reports. Passengers still need to scan their travel code and those with a green code can enter. Other public places will reportedly also start to accept the ‘green code’ only without a time limit on nucleic acid testing.

Tianjin metro announced that the 72-hour nucleic acid certificate check will be also be canceled for passengers on the Tianjin metro lines. As in other places, people will still need to wear proper face masks and undergo temperature checks.

▶ In Hangzhou, except for at special places such as nursing homes, orphanages, primary and secondary schools, people’s nucleic acid tests will no longer be checked in public transportation and other public places. They will also stop checking people’s Venue Codes (场所码).

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes


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