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The Silent Storm: Peng Shuai’s Weibo Post

Weibo has completely silenced anything relating to Peng Shuai and Zhang Gaoli.

Manya Koetse

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UPDATE DECEMBER 20 2021: Please see our recent article for a full translation of Peng Shuai’s post and a timeline of events.

On the night of November 2nd, a Weibo post by Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai (彭帅) sent shockwaves across social media. In her lengthy post, the tennis star claims she was assaulted by former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli (张高丽) before starting an affair with him.

The 35-year-old Peng Shuai, who has some 574,000 followers on her Weibo account, addressed her post directly to the 75-year-old Zhang Gaoli, who served as China’s senior Vice Premier (2013-2018) and was also a member of China’s highest ruling council, the Politburo Standing Committee (2012-2017).

I know I can’t say it clearly and that it’s useless to say. But I want to say it anyway. I’m such a hypocrite. I’ll admit I’m not a good girl, I’m a bad bad girl,” Peng starts her post.

She then goes on to address what happened three years ago, after the tennis star played in Beijing.

After I had finished playing, you and your wife Kang Jie took me to your home. You took me to your room, and like what happened in Tianjin over ten years ago, you wanted to have sex with me. I was very scared that afternoon, I had not expected things to go this way.

Peng alleges that she had sex with Zhang once seven years earlier, and that she had never heard from him again once he was promoted to the Standing Committee.

I had buried it all inside me, and since you were not planning on taking responsibility at all, why did you come and look for me again, take me to your house, and force me into sex? I have no proof, and it would be impossible for me to keep any evidence. You denied everything afterward (..) That afternoon I originally did not consent and cried the whole time.

Peng goes on to describe how her emotions were complicated and that she began to open up to Zhang afterward, starting an affair with him. The two would play chess, sing, play billiards, and table tennis, and they got along well together.

You told me you loved me,” Peng writes at one point, later saying: “From beginning to end, you have always asked me to keep my relationship with you secret, let alone telling my mother that we were in a relationship.”

Peng describes how it sometimes felt as if Zhang’s wife was like an “empress” while she barely felt like a person anymore: “I felt like a walking corpse. I was pretending so much every day that I didn’t know who the real me was anymore..”

Peng’s post further suggests that the relationship between her and Zhang has now ended since a major dispute on the night of the 30th of October after which she would meet Zhang to talk on November 2nd, but that she was ghosted by him and that he “disappeared” as he did seven years prior to their affair. She posted her letter on that very same night.

Peng says she is left with nothing but her own memories of the past years and without any evidence of anything that has occurred between the two of them.

I know that for someone of your status, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, you’ve said that you’re not afraid,” Peng wrote in her post, “But even it’s like striking a stone with an egg, and courting self-destruction like a moth to the flame, I will tell the truth about you.

Despite the fact that Peng’s post was deleted within thirty minutes after she posted it, screenshots of what she wrote were already flooding WeChat and Twitter.

The Silence after the Storm

Just two days after Peng’s post, Weibo has completely silenced the controversy.

Searching for the name of Zhang Gaoli, no results relating to the post appear. Comment sections on older posts relating to the retired Vice Premier have been shut down.

Peng Shuai, Zhang Gaoli.

Similarly, Peng Shuai only comes up in older stories completely unrelated to this week’s events. Her account also no longer shows up in search results, even though it is officially still online. All of the comment sections on her previous posts have since been restricted.

On other platforms, including search engine Baidu, Q&A website Zhihu, and social networking site Douban, the topic is also nowhere to be found. Baidu trends do show that there’s been a major peak in searches for ‘Peng Shuai’ on November 2nd, when the keyword was searched for nearly two million times.

Since the censorship following Peng’s post has been so strict, there barely is any room for discussion of the topic at all on Chinese social media. Underneath some posts relating to tennis events, netizens hesitantly wonder: “Can we also discuss the Peng x Zhang case here?”

Meanwhile, on Twitter and on English-language media, posts about Peng Shuai are running at full speed.

Most English-language media report about Peng’s story within the context of the global #MeToo movement, suggesting Peng’s post was a “MeToo post.” The tennis star did not mention ‘#Metoo’ in her own writings.

Chinese feminist activist Lü Pin (吕频) also published a ‘Feminist Comment on Pengshuai’s Case‘ via Twitter, in which she praised Peng and wrote that “Peng Shuai is not a member of the organized #MeToo movement, but she is a member of those connected through the effect from such echoes and demonstrations.”

Although there have previously been big cases in China involving women accusing men in powerful positions of sexual abuse, such as the Xianzi versus Zhu Jun case, they have never been as censored as this case is.

In this regard, this story perhaps says more about the person who is accused of sexual misconduct than about the actual account itself. The timing of its publication also matters in light of the upcoming key gathering of the highest-ranking members of the Communist Party – the sixth plenary session of its 19th Central Committee will be held from November 8 to 11.

At time of writing, nothing has come out in Chinese media nor on Chinese social media about Peng’s post. For now, it is the most silent storm Weibo has seen this year.

Update November 21, 2021: Chinese Tennis Star Peng Shuai Attends Fila Kids Junior Tennis Finals

UPDATE DECEMBER 20 2021: Please see our recent article for a full translation of Peng Shuai’s post and a timeline of events.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. 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 hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Godfree Roberts

    November 5, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    Rape committed by a senior official is punishable by death.

    There are precedents for senior officials’ relatives being executed.

    Remember that the first legislation Mao signed into law was the equivalent of our failed Equal Rights Amendment.

  2. Avatar

    Jin

    November 6, 2021 at 10:25 am

    very good blog, super information for expats in China , help them to understand what happen on internet.
    Contrats Manyia.
    I share your website on my facebook, hope it can help.

  3. Avatar

    Steven Su

    November 25, 2021 at 6:05 pm

    She said a lot more about that afternoon.. She originally refused but then the man said he never forgot her. That he wants to take care of her. She wrote that she eventually agreed to have sex after considering she never got over him and still had feelings from 7 years. Then she wrote thar she felt they were good together until she couldn’t handle being a secret mistress.

    The full Weibo translation on reddit shows the entirety of what she wrote yet it’s disappointing to see biased journalism distort what she wrote in full.

    Her reason to write that post was because she was still in love with him and couldn’t handle him ignoring her. Yet no media seems to talk about that for obvious reason to spin.

  4. Pingback: Tennis Stars Speak Out On China - Portals Index

  5. Avatar

    Jeremy

    December 20, 2021 at 7:01 pm

    If you actually understand Chinese, it is very obvious she was writing out of frustration of not being able to be with him. She wasn’t accusing him of sexual assault or anything remotely like that. She was in love with him 7 years ago and she still is till these day.

    This post read more like a lover’s rant than anything else.

  6. Pingback: Peng Shuai Interview Leaves Much Unanswered – China Digital Times - AI Caosuo

  7. Avatar

    MTMT123

    December 26, 2021 at 4:07 am

    politicising-sensationalising a clearly lover-spat just to smear china – well done, western media – how low and hideous can you go ???

  8. Pingback: Tennis Stars Talk About China - 10pro.in

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Backgrounder

“Guarding the Green Horse” – How China’s Health Code System Provided Solutions and Generated Problems

The Health Code system and the ‘Green Horse’ meme have become part of everyday life in a zero-Covid China.

Manya Koetse

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Since 2020, China’s Health Code apps have become utterly ingrained in everyday life as a pivotal tool in the country’s ongoing fight against Covid-19. What is the health code system, what are its implications, and why have so many Chinese netizens become obsessed with holding on to their ‘green horse’?

 

This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, forthcoming publication in German by Goethe Institut China, visit Yì Magazin here.

 

There is the Grass Mud Horse,1 the River Crab,2 and now another mythical animal is living in China’s social media jungle: the Green Horse. The Green Horse is a cute bright green horse-like animal, a treasured creature that will protect you during your travels and keep you safe from quarantines and lockdowns at a time of China’s zero-Covid policy. The Green Horse will watch over you, but in return, you have to do everything you can to defend it.

‘Green Horse’ in Chinese is 绿马 lǜmǎ, which sounds exactly the same as the word for ‘green code’ (绿码), referring to the green QR code in China’s Covid health apps, which have become a part of everyday life in China since 2020. In a social media environment where homophones and online puns are popular and ubiquitous, it did not take long for the ‘green code’ to turn into the ‘green horse.’

The Green Horse, image via Weibo.

China’s health code system was designed as a solution to resume work and daily life during the pandemic and is widely praised in the country as a pivotal tool in combating the spread of the virus. But it has also given rise to new problems and has triggered resistance against a new kind of digital governance.

 

A SHORT INTRODUCTION TO CHINA’S HEALTH CODE SYSTEM

 

In February of 2020, when China was in the midst of the fierce battle against the novel coronavirus, the country’s tech giants competed over who would be the first and the most efficient in providing digital solutions to aid the anti-epidemic fight.

Within eight weeks after the start of the initial Wuhan Covid outbreak, Alibaba (on Alipay) and Tencent (on WeChat) developed and introduced the ‘Health Code’ (jiànkāngmǎ 健康码), a system that gives individuals colored QR codes based on their exposure risk to Covid-19 and serves as an electronic ticket to enter and exit public spaces, restaurants, offices buildings, etc., and to travel from one area to another.

Scanning a green code (image via Tech Sina, 2020).

Hangzhou, Alibaba’s hometown, and Shenzhen, Tencent’s home base, were the first cities in China to introduce the Health Code in early February of 2020, and other cities soon followed in collaboration with either Tencent or Alipay. By late February, a nationwide health code system was first embedded in WeChat (Chen et al 2022, 619).

Now, people can receive their Covid-19 QR codes via ‘mini programs’ in Alipay or WeChat, or via other provincial government service apps. Apart from the personal health code apps, there is also the ‘Telecommunications Big Data Travel Card’ (通信大数据行程卡), better known as the ‘green arrow code,’ which tracks users’ travel history and is also available inside WeChat or can be downloaded as a standalone app. Its goal is to track if you’ve been to any medium or high-risk areas over the past 14 days.

The Green Arrow Code is used to track people’s travel history of past 14 days (Image via 人民视觉).

The health code system is not as centralized as you might expect it to be. Instead, it is fragmented and sometimes complicated. There are basically two kinds of Health Codes in China. One is the ‘Health Information Code’ (防疫健康信息码) provided by China’s national government service platform (link) which can also be used by those without mainland ID cards (including people from Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan).

The other kind of Health Code, which is the one that is most used across China, is the local version of the health code system provided by each province/municipality. There are at least 31 different regional health code applications, from Beijing’s ‘Health Kit’ (北京健康宝) to Shanghai’s ‘Suishenma’ (随申码), from Jiangsu’s ‘Sukang Code’ (苏康码) to Anhui’s ‘Ankang Code’ (安康码). There are sometimes also separate health code apps being used within one province (e.g. in Shenzhen both the local Shen-i-nin 深i您 app as well as the Yuekang Code 粤康码 are being used).

These local Covid health apps are developed by different provinces and cities, and they are not always compatible with each other. This means that those traveling to different provinces or municipalities need to go through the inconvenient process of applying for different local health code apps depending on where they go. Although one single centralized system has been proposed ever since 2020, the process to unify the system is not easy since the various apps have varying functions and are managed by different local government departments (JKSB 2022; Lai 2022). In early September of 2022, China’s National Health Commission announced that it was working with relevant departments to improve the interoperability and mutual recognition of health apps across the country.

Do you get a Green, Yellow, or Red QR code? That all depends on personal information, self-reported health status, Covid-19 test results, travel history, and more – the health code system operates by accessing numerous databases. The Green color means you’re safe (low-risk) and have free movement, the Yellow code (mid-risk) requires self-isolation and the Red color code is the most feared one: it means you either tested positive or are at high risk of infection. With a red code, you won’t have access to any public places and will have to go into mandatory quarantine. Once the quarantine is finished and you’ve consecutively tested negative, the code will switch back to green again.

Three color codes in the Health Code (image via Tech Sina, 2020).

By the end of 2020, around 900 million Chinese citizens were using Health Code apps and although there are no official records of the latest numbers, virtually anyone visiting or traveling anywhere within China will now use the health code system. Besides keeping records of your latest nucleic acid test results, the Health Code app also includes Covid vaccination records since 2021.

 

LEAVING THE ELDERLY BEHIND

 

Despite the efficiency of China’s health code system, it has not been without controversy. One major issue is that it basically forces Chinese citizens to have a smartphone and to download and properly use these apps. This creates a problem for younger children, those without access to smartphones, or those with lower levels of digital skills, including senior citizens.

Although the use of smartphones, the internet, and QR codes are widespread in China, where mobile payments are far more common than cash, more than 60% of Chinese aged 60 years and over still did not use the internet in June of 2020. In China’s ‘Zero-Covid’ era, it is becoming almost impossible for China’s digital illiterate to live a ‘normal’ life.

Chinese authorities have attempted to simplify things for Chinese seniors by making platforms more user-friendly and introducing alternative ways to enter venues, such as offline codes. But at a time when systems differ per region and some venues do not have the tools to check offline (paper) codes, many elderly still struggle (see Gu & Fan 2022).

“They did nucleic acid testing in my grandma’s community compound today,” one woman from Shanxi writes on Weibo: “There are many elderly people in my grandma’s area, and I saw that so many of them had no smartphones, just senior mobile phones, but now they have to swipe a code to make an appointment for testing. One grandpa asked a staff member what to do without a smartphone, they just said it would be better to bring your son or daughter to do it for you. But all results also are processed digitally, so there’s no way for them to see it, and it’s really not easy for them to go to public places.”

On Chinese social media, there are many stories showing the difficult situations that some senior residents are caught up in because they do not have a smartphone or do not know how to get a Health Code.

In August of 2022, there was one viral story about an elderly man from Shandong walking ten kilometers every day because he could not take the bus without a health app. There was also another story about a visually impaired Hengyang resident who was unable to set up the code and was barred from using public transport. In May, a 70-year-old man got stuck inside the Wuxi train station for three days because he had no smartphone and had to scan a code in order to leave.

In another video that went viral, an old man got on a bus in Shanghai but had a hard time using his mobile phone to do the ‘venue check-in’ (场所码). When the bus driver got impatient, the man eventually got off the bus, saying he felt bad about delaying the other passengers.

“Heartlessness is scarier than the epidemic,” some Weibo commenters wrote in response.

 

RED CODE: CONTROVERSIAL DIGITAL GOVERNANCE

 

Another problem that concerns netizens in this Health Code era is that the code could pose an infringement of privacy and could be abused to limit citizens’ freedom of movement for reasons that are unrelated to Covid-19. There are still unclarities surrounding the app, such as what kind of information is exactly being collected, who is authorized to access the data, and how the data is processed and stored (Zhang 2022, 2).

Some people complain on social media that they do not understand why their Health Code is changing colors: “After I did a Covid test the other day, my Health Code was green. The day after, I woke up to a yellow code and after I had done my nucleic acid test again, it was still yellow. On the third day, it turned green. In the afternoon it turned yellow again. On day four, it was green again. Besides doing tests, I’ve been at home all this time. I’m stupefied.”

One incident where people who came to the city of Zhengzhou to protest suddenly saw their Health Codes turn red sparked major outrage on Chinese social media in June.

Earlier this year, thousands of Chinese depositors struggled to recover their savings in light of a major banking scandal in Henan Province. When dozens of affected depositors traveled to the provincial capital of Zhengzhou in June of 2022 to demand their money back, they suddenly saw their Health Codes turn red. The red code was unexpected and strange, considering that there were no new reported Covid cases in their vicinity. Accompanying family members who made the exact same journey reportedly did not see their Health Codes change, raising suspicions that the duped depositors were specifically targeted and that their Health Codes were being manipulated.

“Who is in charge of changing the Health Code colors?” became a much-asked question on social media platform Weibo, with many blaming local Henan authorities for abusing their power and trying to stop rural protesters from raising their voices in Zhengzhou. Although Henan authorities claimed they did “not understand” what had happened, five local officials were later punished for their involvement in assigning red codes to bank depositors without authorization (Wu 2022).

The incident sparked more discussions on the legal and privacy risks surrounding the health code system. Although many people in China support the use of Health Code apps (also see Chen et al), there is also a fear that a lack of transparency and management could allow the health code system to turn into a surveillance tool used by the wrong people for the wrong reasons.

The influential media commentator Hu Xijin also gave his view on the matter, saying that Health Codes across the country should only be used for “pure epidemic prevention purposes.”

“The fact that Henan can make the health codes turn red of people who come to the city to protest says a lot about the power of the IT,” one Weibo tech blogger wrote. Another Weibo user wrote: “As ordinary people, we have voluntarily given up too much of our personal privacy and rights in order to cooperate with the epidemic prevention. The current abuse and misuse of health codes have caused serious infringement on the legal rights of citizens (..) The state should quickly incorporate health codes into a unified system and place it under strict management, and once the epidemic is over, the health code system should stop running immediately.”

 

A GREEN HORSE FUTURE?

 

But will the Health Code and the ‘Green Horse’ ever disappear from daily life in China? And if so, how would the collected data be handled? Although the pandemic era is not over yet (and the question remains what would qualify as ‘the end’), local Chinese governments and tech firms are already looking to see how the health code system could be implemented and how its uses could be expanded in a post-pandemic future (Chen et al 2022, 619).

Back in 2020, the China Healthcare platform (健康界) already published an article exploring the post-pandemic use of the health code system as a digital health passport and information system that could continue to play a significant role in medical care, social security, public transportation, and tourism.

On social media, some people worry that the health code system – and everything that comes with it – is here to stay indefinitely. One Henan-based blogger wrote: “In the future, I hope my son will visit my grave and tell me, ‘dad, now we no longer need our Health Code, nucleic tests or masks when we go to the malls and take trains or airplanes.'”

“If I would wake up tomorrow in a world without health codes, travel codes, Covid tests, lockdowns, wouldn’t that be great,” another person wrote on Weibo, another netizen adding: “My health code is normal. My nucleic acid test is normal. It’s just my mental state that has become abnormal.”

The fears of receiving a ‘Red Code’ are also palpable. Earlier in summer, videos showed people in Shanghai fleeing out of a local mall once they heard that someone in the building had received notice of an abnormal test result.  The same happened at a local IKEA store. Afraid of Health Codes turning red and getting locked in, people rushed to get out as soon as possible. Some even compared the scenes to a ‘zombie apocalypse.’

People fleeing from a local IKEA store after someone in the building got an abnormal test result.

Although there are serious concerns regarding the health code system, social media users also make light of it through the ‘Green Horse’ meme. The phrase “Bàozhù lǜmǎ” (抱住绿码/马) is often used on Chinese social media, a wordplay meant to mean both “Keep your code green” as well as “Hold on to your Green Horse.”

Selection of ‘Holding on to the Green Horse’ memes.

Following the trend, Wuhan set up a giant green horse at a public square in the city, which soon became a popular place for people to take selfies. The meme is also a profitable one for businesses. On Chinese e-commerce sites, you’ll find there are ‘Green Horse’ keychains, stickers, toys, mooncakes, and coffee mugs.

Green Horse merchandise on Taobao.

As cases of Covid surged again in Chengdu, Shenzhen, and elsewhere in late August and September, worries over ‘keeping the green code’ grew again among those living in affected regions. One local Weibo blogger wrote: “I just couldn’t sleep the past few days, I kept checking my green code and latest Covid test results. It makes me anxious.”

“I feel safest at home,” others write: “This is where I can guard my Green Horse.”

“I hope this epidemic will go away soon,” one netizen wrote: “I hope we can all have our Green Horse and just keep it.”

 

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

 

1 Grass Mud Horse or Cǎonímǎ (草泥馬) is one of China’s social media ‘mythical creatures’ and an online meme. It is a word play on the vulgar Mandarin term càonǐmā (肏你媽), which literally means “f*** your m*m.”

2 River Crab is another ‘mythical creature’: Héxiè (河蟹) is literally ‘river crab’ but sounds the same as héxié (和谐),”to harmonize,” referring to online censorship.

 

References (other sources linked to inside the text)

Chen, Wenhong. Gejun Hang, and An Hu. 2022. “Red, Yellow, Green, or Golden: The Post-Pandemic Future of China’s Health Code Apps.” Information, Communication & Society 25 (5): 618-633.

China Healthcare 健康界. 2020. “国家卫健委推行”一码通”健康码未来不止于”通行.”” CN Healthcare, 21 December https://www.cn-healthcare.com/article/20201221/content-547951.html [Accessed 22 Aug, 2022].

Gu, Peng and Yiying Fan. 2022. “In ‘Zero-COVID’ China, the Elderly Are Becoming Ever More Marginalized.” Sixth Tone, 9 Aug https://www.sixthtone.com/news/1010908/in-zero-covid-china-the-elderly-are-becoming-ever-more-marginalized [Accessed 22 Aug, 2022].

JKSB 健康时报网 [Health Times]. 2022. “国家健康码和地方健康码区别何在?专家:国家平台更接近理想状态.” JKSB, August 27 http://www.jksb.com.cn/html/redian/2022/0827/177853.html [Accessed 1 Sep, 2022].

Lai, Xianjin. 2022. “Unified Health Code Can Bring More Convenience, Efficiency.” China Daily, April 6 https://global.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202204/06/WS624ccc73a310fd2b29e55269.html [Accessed 31 August].

Liang, Fan. 2020. “COVID-19 and Health code: How Digital Platforms Tackle the Pandemic in China.” Social Media + Society (Jul-Sep): 1-4.

Wu, Peiyue. 2022. “Zhengzhou Officials Punished Over Red Health Code Saga.” Sixth Tone, 23 June https://www.sixthtone.com/news/1010627/zhengzhou-officials-punished-over-red-health-code-saga- [Accessed 22 Aug, 2022].

Zhang, Xiaohan. 2022. “Decoding China’s COVID-19 Health Code Apps: The Legal Challenges.” Healthcare 10 (1479): 1-14.

 

Featured image by Ama for Yi Magazin.

This text was written for Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

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China and Covid19

Residents in Locked Down Lhasa Say Local Epidemic Situation is a “Giant Mess”

Manya Koetse

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They’ve been in lockdown for 42 days already, but according to some Lhasa-based bloggers, there have been no improvements in the local epidemic situation. They say there is a stark difference between what officials are reporting and the daily reality they are dealing with in Tibet.

“The epidemic situation is bad in Lhasa, please pay attention,” one netizen wrote on Weibo on September 15, pointing to many new posts surfacing on Chinese social media about the difficulties people are facing in Lhasa city in Tibet.

Over the past week, many Tibet-based bloggers have posted on social media about the local circumstances, and hundreds of Chinese social media posts talk about similar problems in the region. Despite the ongoing lockdown, they say, there are still a growing number of positive cases within Lhasa communities; buses are allegedly going back and forth to bring people to quarantine sites where those testing positive and negative are mixed; they claim that there is an absolute lack of management and control; and many locals suggest that the official reports do not reflect the actual number of Covid cases at all.

According to the official numbers, Tibet saw its peak in Covid cases on August 17 and has since reported fewer new cases, reporting a total of 118 new cases on Thursday.

“I am a bit shocked!” one local social media user wrote: “What I saw was a total of 28 buses lined up outside Lhasa Nagqu No. 2 Senior High School, and then still more [buses] were coming. One bus can fit around 50 people, so there must have been around 1400 positive cases. There was a blind man, there were elderly people in wheelchairs, there were swaddled-up babies, from getting on the bus at 9.30 pm up to now, we’ve been waiting for 5 hours and we’re still waiting now. It’s just pure chaos at the school entrance, there is no order. I won’t sleep tonight.”

On the 14th of September, another netizen wrote:

“In order to welcome central government leaders to Lhasa and to demonstrate the “excellent” epidemic prevention capabilities of the local government & the “outstanding” results of the fight against the epidemic to them, they moved citizens to the rural areas and let them all stay crowded together in unfinished concrete buildings, with all kinds of viruses having free reign.”

On a Lhasa community message board, one Weibo user wrote: “Lhasa has already been in lockdown for over a month, yet our little community has so many infected people that I’m wondering how effective a lockdown actually is? Has Tibet been forgotten? When other places in China have a few positive cases it becomes a hot topic. But what about Tibet? And what about Lhasa?”

Another anonymous poster writes: “Regarding the Lhasa epidemic situation, the numbers were already a bit fake before, but I can understand it was also to take the public sentiment into consideration. I personally don’t care how you report the data, as long as the epidemic prevention and control work is properly managed, then the lockdown can be lifted soon and nobody will say anything about it. But a month has passed already, and in a town with some hundred thousands of people, the epidemic work is increasingly getting worse. Many people around me have never even left the house and inexplicably turned out to test positive. Meanwhile those who tested positive are quarantined together with people who still tested negative, it’s a giant mess.”

 

“Lhasa hasn’t had a Covid outbreak for the past three years, the city doesn’t have enough experience in controlling the epidemic.”

 

“It’s the 42nd day of lockdown,” another person wrote on Friday: “People are lining up to go to centralized isolation, Lhasa has been in lockdown longer than Chengdu, but it doesn’t make it to the hot topic lists. People who tested negative again and again suddenly turn out to be positive. Lhasa hasn’t had a Covid outbreak for the past three years, the city doesn’t have enough experience in controlling the epidemic. It’s going to be hard to restore tourism here before the end of the year. Before, big crowds would come to visit.

Over the past few days, following a heightened focus on the situation in Xinjiang, there has also been more attention for the epidemic situation in Tibet.

“Please pay more attention to the topic of the Lhasa epidemic,” one person wrote, repeating a similar message sent out by many others: “Lhasa doesn’t need your prayers, we need exposure.”

On Friday, one popular gamer with more than a million followers wrote on Weibo:

“Many have been reaching out to me via private messages, saying that the epidemic situation in Tibet’s Lhasa is very serious. If it’s really like this, I hope matters can be settled as soon as possible. I don’t know if this post can stay up or not, but I want to try my best to speak up and generate more attention to this epidemic trend. I experienced two months of lockdown in Shanghai myself and understand what it feels like. I have faith in our nation, and I believe the country will definitely take action. Everyone in Tibet, jiayou [come on].”

Many of the comments and posts coming from Lhasa are similar to those we saw last week, coming from Yining in Xinjiang. Social media users based in these places complain that many of their posts have been deleted and that it is very difficult for local residents to make their voices heard.

This is different from the previous lockdown situations in, for example, Xi’an, Shanghai, or Chengdu, where people posted videos, photos, and shared their lockdown experiences, either from home, from the Covid testing lines, or from the makeshift hospitals.

On the one hand, the reason why people in places such as Lhasa or Yining have more difficulties in making their stories heard in China’s hectic social media environment relates to the fact that these places have a relatively small population size – while Yining and Lhasa have approximately 542,00 and 465,000 inhabitants respectively, there are 21 million people in Chengdu and some 26 million in Shanghai.

But a bigger barrier to posting about their circumstances is formed by the social media censorship that is extra strict when it comes to Xinjiang and Tibet as these places are considered sensitive political subjects, which is why topics related to these regions see far more aggressive online censorship – even for seemingly innocuous posts.

One Weibo user with over 600,000 followers wrote: “In such a sensitive place as Tibet, I really needn’t worry about whether they’re gonna see my post or not. I posted to vent my anger and scolded the leadership for a bit and within 24 hours the police came to my hotel and asked me to delete my posts. Now that everyone is asking for help like this, they will definitely see it, but they are determined to do this and do so on purpose, it’s clear they don’t care about people’s lives.”

Meanwhile, Chinese official media reporting on the epidemic situation in Tibet stress the collective effort to fight the virus in Lhasa. On September 15, People’s Daily reported how 18 sister provinces and cities across China sent their best teams to Tibet to help with local anti-epidemic work and to bring supplies.

The Tibet-based military blogger ZhufengZhengrong (@珠峰峥嵘) writes: “It’s been over a month and my comrade-in-arms are still fighting on the front line (..). I just hope the epidemic will end soon, and that I will be able to meet my family and hold my children and weep.”

By Manya Koetse 

 

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