Chinese are criticizing zero-Covid — in language censors don’t seem to understand

A temporary wall encloses a residential block during a Covid lockdown in Guangzhou, China

In many countries, cursing online about the government is so commonplace nobody bats an eye. But it’s not such an easy task on China’s heavily censored internet.
That doesn’t appear to have stopped residents of Guangzhou from venting their frustration after their city – a global manufacturing powerhouse home to 19 million people – became the epicenter of a nationwide Covid outbreak, prompting lockdown measures yet again.
“We had to lock down in April, and then again in November,” one resident posted on Weibo, China’s restricted version of Twitter, on Monday – before peppering the post with profanities that included references to officials’ mothers. “The government hasn’t provided subsidies – do you think my rent doesn’t cost money?”
Other users left posts with directions that loosely translate to “go to hell,” while some accused authorities of “spouting nonsense” – albeit in less polite phrasing.

RELATED: China’s manufacturing hub Guangzhou locks down millions as Covid outbreak widens

Law enforcers wearing white hazmat suits prepare to transfer residents in blue protective clothing at a high-risk neighborhood in Guangzhou

China’s southern metropolis of Guangzhou has locked down more than 5 million residents, as authorities rush to stamp out a widening Covid outbreak and avoid activating the kind of citywide lockdown that devastated Shanghai earlier this year.

Such colorful posts are remarkable not only because they represent growing public frustration at China’s unrelenting zero-Covid policy – which uses snap lockdowns, mass testing, extensive contact-tracing and quarantines to stamp out infections as soon as they emerge – but because they remain visible at all.
Normally such harsh criticisms of government policies would be swiftly removed by the government’s army of censors, yet these posts have remained untouched for days. And that is, most likely, because they are written in language few censors will fully understand.

RELATED: China is caught in a zero-Covid trap of its own making

It’s been little more than a week since Chinese leader Xi Jinping began his norm-breaking third term in power with a ringing endorsement of his relentless zero-Covid policy.

In the northwestern city of Xining, residents spent last week pleading desperately for food as they suffered through the latest of the country’s stringent lockdowns; to the west, in Lhasa, the regional capital of Tibet, angry crowds have been protesting in the streets after more than 70 days of stay-home orders.

These posts are in Cantonese, which originated in Guangzhou’s surrounding province of Guangdong and is spoken by tens of millions of people across Southern China. It can be difficult to decipher by speakers of Mandarin – China’s official language and the one favored by the government – especially in its written and often complex slang forms.
And this appears to be just the latest example of how Chinese people are turning to Cantonese – an irreverent tongue that offers rich possibilities for satire – to express discontent toward their government without attracting the notice of the all-seeing censors.


By: Miss Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter

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