Public anger and grief over the bungled lockdown in Shanghai is creating a credibility crisis for the country’s leader, Xi Jinping, and his zero Covid policies.
A banner reading “Persistence is victory!” at a makeshift hospital and quarantine facility in Shanghai earlier this month.
Immediately after Beijing said it had detected a new coronavirus outbreak, officials hurried to assure residents there was no reason to panic. Food was plentiful, they said, and any lockdown measures would be smooth. But Evelyn Zheng, a freelance writer in the city, was not taking any chances.
Her relatives, who lived in Shanghai, were urging her to leave or stock up on food. She had spent weeks poring over social media posts from that city, which documented the chaos and anguish of the monthlong lockdown there. And when she went out to buy more food, it was clear many of her neighbors had the same idea: Some shelves were already cleaned out.
“At first, I was worried about Shanghai, because my family is there, and there was no good news from any of my friends,” Ms. Zheng said. “Now, Beijing is starting, too, and I don’t know when it will land on my head.”
Anger and anxiety over the Shanghai lockdown, now in its fourth week, has posed a rare challenge for China’s powerful propaganda apparatus, which is central to the Communist Party’s ability to stifle dissent. As the Omicron variant continues to spread across the country, officials have defended their use of widespread, heavy-handed lockdowns. They have pushed a triumphalist narrative of their Covid response, which says that only the Chinese government had the will to confront, and hold back, the virus.
But among a populace with growing evidence of the costs of that approach, an alternate story — of rage, frustration and despair — is finding an audience. The anger, if not contained, could pose the biggest political test for China’s leadership since the outbreak began. China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has staked his legitimacy on successful control of the pandemic, a message that has only been amplified ahead of this fall, when he is expected to claim an unprecedented third term.