Shanghai was finally set free last month after 12 weeks of “strictest lockdown”, says Mimi Jiang in the London Review of Books. It was “bleak” – on my first day out, I walked for nearly three hours before I found an open café. Restaurants are only supposed to be serving takeaways, but some secretly receive customers indoors, “covering the shop front with black plastic”. One chef told us that, if anyone asked, we had come to celebrate his mother’s birthday. Diners at another venue were asked to “dress up as waiters to fool the inspectors”. Restaurants used to beg customers to tag pictures of their food on social media; “now they beg you not to”.
The police dress in hazmat suits and are referred to by locals as the “white horror”, banging on people’s doors in the middle of the night and dragging them off to quarantine centres. On the first day of lockdown easing, they patrolled the streets dispersing gatherings, and were “booed by Shanghainese filled with two months’ anger”. The PCR testing booths have “permanent queues” because you need a fresh negative result every two days to go anywhere. “There are also long queues for divorce appointments at the Civil Affairs Bureau.”
More hopeful are the group chats which have sprung up to share the latest intel on which spots are secretly open. The best coded advertisement was for a badminton gym: “Due to Covid restrictions, our gym is not open to the public. We are hiring cleaning personnel: four people per court, cleaning in shifts at different time slots. All courts need daily sweeping.” Other forms of “Prohibition-speak” have flourished, too: “Can we volunteer at the theatre to see the dress rehearsal? Can we be hired as ushers to watch a movie?”