Article: Inside COVID-19’s Ground Zero: How China Transformed Into an Open-Air Prison

Via Lit Hub here’s the introduction to the piece..

Murong Xuecun on the Dangerous Intersection of Deceit, Technology, and Totalitarianism

By the time the US edition of Deadly Quiet City: True Stories from Wuhan arrives in the bookstores, the world will have returned to some semblance of normality. Most people will be able to walk the streets, go to work, study, and visit relatives without the constant fear of COVID-19.

The only exception will be China. A country of over 1.3 billion people will have suffered under rolling lockdowns for over three years—and the lockdowns will continue. Many people in China believe the virus is still deadly and spreading unstoppably around the world. Therefore, under no circumstances can China relax the controls. “Even in an advanced country like America, over a million people have died,” said a friend in Beijing a few months ago. “Look at China. How many people will die if we slack off like America?”

My friend is not uninformed or prejudiced. He is simply making the same mistake that many Chinese people make—he believes the government. Over the past three years, the government has been incessantly repeating its narrative: “The world is very dangerous, and you should thank us for protecting you.” Like children trapped in a cave, 1.3 billion citizens hear a wild beast howling outside the cave and they tremble in fear. Few stand up and ask what is really happening outside. If they do, in no time at all they will end up in an even darker and more confining cave.

This is in no sense benevolent, but the government is clearly benefitting a great deal. It took very little time for Xi Jinping to succeed in getting a third term. For many years to come, the Chinese people will have no choice but to submit themselves to his oppressive rule. Like leeks waiting to be harvested, as they say in China, an idiomatic phrase for suckers about to lose everything to a crooked stock manipulator.

How did China—once the factory of the world, the world’s second largest market with countless skyscrapers and highways—come to this?

In prosperous megacities like Shanghai, or in remote mountain hamlets, people are forced at any time into a “state of silence,” which means no timely medical care, no leaving home to buy food, in fact no leaving home at all, like fish unable to escape the tanks at a fish monger’s shop. For those who dare to break the rules, officers in full PPE will appear as soon as anyone pipes up. They will have no compunction about assaulting violators, or even tying them to a tree for public humiliation.

Many people have heard the dreaded midnight knock on the door. It means there are infections in their neighborhood, or in their city. Just one case is enough, even an asymptomatic case, to implicate the whole neighborhood, or the whole city. Hundreds of thousands of people have been woken by the midnight knock. Infants in swaddling and the elderly with serious illnesses are forced to leave their homes. Enduring bone-chilling winters, sweltering summers, and torrential rain, parents carry children as they support the sick and elderly, and stumble to the buses that officers allocate them to, like merchandise or livestock, destined for tightly guarded isolation centers—let’s call them concentration camps.

On this vast land from Shanghai in the east to Guiyang in the southwest, hundreds of millions of Chinese people must report their location and status to the government like criminals on parole. Everyone has a personal QR code which is required to prove you are legal and uninfected just to be able to take subway journeys, enter restaurants, or shop at supermarkets. No one cares anymore about privacy or rights because they disappeared long ago in China.

In the foreseeable future, COVID-19 prevention policies that treat people with contempt will continue. When the day comes that COVID-19 is no longer a pandemic, Xi Jinping will not relinquish ruling by QR code. It will shackle China for a long time to come because the QR codes report people’s movements; and when required it can be changed to ensure that “petitioners” and dissidents, as well house church congregants, have no options to seek justice. This is an advanced technology for controlling people that even George Orwell never imagined.

Every few days, uncomplaining “QR code citizens” line up at booths inside which there is a person, or sometimes a robot. They then squat down, open their mouths, and wait for the person, or the robot, to stick a swab down their throats or up their noses just to obtain a “nucleic acid test visa” valid for one or two days. Only then can they legally leave their homes. But very soon they will need to apply for a new certificate, and then another and another. There will be no end to it all. If you forget to visit the testing booth, you will be reprimanded. If you try to evade testing, just wait: soon enough law enforcement officers in PPE looking like astronauts will knock on your door.

Strewn along this humiliating road lie far too many corpses. Infirm elderly have committed suicide because they cannot get medical attention; unemployed youth have leaped from buildings in desperation; unborn children have died in the wombs of mothers waiting for clearance to enter maternity wards. In the early hours of 18 September 2022, a bus full of people heading to an isolation facility crashed off the road resulting in twenty-seven deaths. Before they were taken from their homes and shoved onto that bus, they were just like us. They had dreams, unpaid debts, favorite restaurants, and loved ones…but because they lived in China under a totalitarian rule, they were forced to leave their homes, board a bus, and die tragically at the bottom of a ravine.

Since the accident, people selected for transportation to isolation facilities are required to sign a declaration. The wording is usually abstruse, but the gist is always the same: I agree to being put into isolation and if I die, it is nothing to do with the government.


Inside COVID-19’s Ground Zero: How China Transformed Into an Open-Air Prison