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Day 23 of Shanghai Lockdown— The Relay

I spent my Friday night in lockdown reposting the same video over and over again.

For a video that dominated my WeChat Moments feed for hours, it's not viral-sensational. Just simple drone footage of the city, layered with audio clips that most people in Shanghai have heard in the month of April. A voice from Shanghai's official government announcement, followed by the many, many voices of ordinary people and their lockdown struggles.

It's very plain. There's no editorializing, just simple title cards stating the dates and context of each recording. It got censored, much like other WeChat posts containing the same voices in the last month.

By around 11 p.m., the video started dominating my feed. First by the original account 永远的草莓园, then by other accounts. The AI censors were quick to take them down, but new variations kept cropping up. One of them opened with the new Batman trailer (alas, I really wish I could have seen that, and Everything Everywhere All at Once, in theaters...), another had a cover image of two cuddly cats, with the caption "Hey! Tired of the video relay? Take a look at these cute little kitties!"

And it. just. kept. going.

Aside from visually masking the video, there were online notes, direct links, QR codes, cloud sharing.

People were also posting Do You Hear the People Sing from Les Misérables, and a video of the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying, saying "The Chinese people have the right to their own thoughts and feelings, and are entitled to express them on the Internet." The video dates back to March 2021, regarding the Chinese netizen boycott of H&M.

My favorite WeChat relay post of the night came from a Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor, a source I had connected with over a story idea. Here's my translation of his caption: "I'm an old TCM doctor, to hell with my longevity and early to bed. I'm committed fully to fucking them (the censors) up."

Translation: "I'm an old TCM doctor, to hell with my longevity and early to bed. I'm committed fully to fucking them (censors) up."

If you've any familiarity with TCM, you'll know they're sticklers about going to bed early and never, ever, ever drinking cold beverages. I fully accept that it's a joke for a specific kind of room 😉

Is this going to lift lockdown tomorrow? No. But that's not what activism is about. It's about solidarity in a time when people feel more isolated than ever. It's all of us who are "fine" under lockdown saying, no, we're not "fine" with these voices being drowned out and silenced. We're using out voices to amplify theirs.

This cyber protest, as a friend of mine called it, isn't new. March 11th, 2020, a COVID whistleblower article was being censored on WeChat, and netizens played the same game of relay by translating the text into calligraphy, ancient Chinese characters, emojis, Elfish, Klingon, Morse code, and even sign language.

It isn't glamorous. Sometimes it's making sure that tomorrow looks a lot like yesterday, by fending off something worse. It isn't always fireworks and parades, and likely won't lead to visible, visceral change.

But we do it anyway.

Dawn Wong is a comedian and filmmaker friend of mine. This video has been deleted from her social media accounts behind the Great Firewall. It's now being relayed and published on other accounts.

This is why we do comedy.

Joy doesn't betray but sustains activism. And when you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated and isolated, joy is a fine act of insurrection. ― Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark


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