‘April Voices’, when Shanghai residents defy Chinese censorship

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The “April Voices” video has become a phenomenon on Chinese social media since Friday. It allows you to hear short testimonies from Shanghai residents who are fed up with being locked in his place for more than a month. Enough to irritate the Chinese censors to the fullest.

A six-minute long panoramic shot, black and white photos of Shanghai seen from above, sad music and a series of short audio clips of residents trapped at the end of their rope.

It has been impossible to escape the “April Voices” video on Chinese social networks since this weekend… despite Beijing’s censorship. This montage, which was posted online on Friday, April 23, “has become the most discussed content critical of the authorities on the internet since the death of Dr. Li Wenliang. [le médecin lanceur d’alerte mort du Covid-19 en février 2020]Says What on Weibo, an English news site for the popular Chinese social network.

“It’s not the virus that kills, it’s hunger”

The tone of the video is set from the start. It starts with Shanghai health authorities still asserting in mid-March that a quarantine would never be imposed on the city and was “extremely important both economically and socially”.

Two weeks later, the main Chinese financial center was completely shut down under the “zero Covid” policy advocated by the Chinese government. But more than a month of strict containment has yet to allow China to beat the Omicron variant in Shanghai. 19,000 new cases and 15 deaths were recorded in this city of 26 million people on Sunday, April 24.

“April Voices” makes it possible to better understand, through phone call recordings, how much the human cost of this very strict confinement imposed in Shanghai is. We hear a mother asking her neighbors if they have a certain medicine her son needs, because she can’t go out to buy it. Another resident is complaining to local authorities that his father – very ill – has not been admitted to any hospital, because they must treat all Covid-19 patients as a priority. Another complained by phone that “it’s not the virus that kills, it’s hunger!”.

But it is not only the population that we hear in these short excerpts. A truck driver who has just arrived in Shanghai complains that he can’t find anyone for all the food he came to provide “alone to help people”. Volunteers for local health services also express frustration at not being able to help everyone because they are exhausted.

>> To read on the Observers: ‘They will starve to death’: In Shanghai, residents ‘can’t see the end’ of strict confinement

These are not the only testimonials available from residents, and FRANCE 24 has also been able to contact many of them. But it is in Chinese, which, in the context of the “zero-Covid” policy that some scholars including Zhong Nanshan, the Chinese master of Covid since 2020, began to criticize, has had the worst effect. Especially since “as of Saturday morning, it’s on all phones, whether on the WeChat messaging service or on Weibo,” What On Weibo confirms.

A game of cat and mouse between the censor and the netizens

“This video has become a symbol of resistance to the government’s health policy and has the ability to use it to mobilize the population against the authorities,” said a Chinese political expert who preferred to remain anonymous.

Hence, according to him, the comprehensive censorship that the authorities hastened to spread. As of Saturday afternoon, all links to the video shared online point to 404 pages, indicating that the content has been deleted. The British daily The Guardian says the phrase ‘April Voices’ can no longer be used on social networks.

After all, censorship is traditional in a country like China where the internet is closely monitored. But this time, Chinese “netizens” seem determined not to let that go. “Do you want war? You’ll have it! You won’t succeed in censoring all the defiant Shanghainese,” annoyed a surfer.

The video was first renamed in hopes of escaping the vigilance of Big Brother in China. Thus “April Voices” became “Voices of Shanghai”. A stunt that wasn’t long enough to fool the censors who in the past used to throw out highly innovative forms of criticism against Xi Jinping (such as using the character Winnie the Pooh, who is supposed to look like a Chinese leader, to denounce the regime).

In this cat-and-mouse game, netizens then found other solutions, says the Guardian. Some have modified the lyrics of the famous poems to include references to the “voices of April,” while others have published simple QR codes which, once scanned, allowed viewing of the now-famous montage.

In the face of this effort to spread the viral video, it seems that the censors have not yet managed to get this content out of all corners of the Chinese web, notes the Chinese expert contacted by France 24.

So the Chinese regime decided to mobilize the powerful daily Global Times to counterattack. Hu Xijin, its former editor-in-chief, attempted to justify the censorship of Weibo, stating that “it was a sign that the authorities had heard ‘criticisms of Shanghai residents’ who, after being imprisoned for so long, needed a ‘channel of self-expression’.”

The Chinese authorities are caught in the crossfire. They have no desire to appear insensitive to the suffering of the people of Shanghai who are still trapped. Especially since they have never denied that the “zero covid” policy sometimes requires strict measures. But they consider it extremely impossible to allow the circulation of this type of direct testimony, because with the discovery of a hotbed of infection in Beijing, the possibility of seizing the Chinese capital is now being considered very seriously.

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