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Residents demand release, some get it

BEIJING – On a balmy Sunday evening, residents of an upscale compound in Shanghai took to the streets to denounce lockdown restrictions imposed by their community. They could go the next morning.

The triumphant story quickly spread on chat groups across the Chinese city this week, sparking a question in the minds of those remaining under lockdown: Shouldn’t we be doing the same?

By the end of the week, other groups of residents had confronted administration at their complexes, and some had secured at least partial release.

Although it is unclear how widespread they are, the incidents reflect the frustration that has been building after more than seven weeks of lockdown, even as the daily number of new cases has dropped to a few hundred in a city of 25 million.

They also recall the power of China’s neighborhood committees, on which the ruling Communist Party relies to spread propaganda messages, enforce its decisions and even settle personal disputes. Such committees and their subordinate housing committees have become the target of complaints, particularly after some in Shanghai and other cities refused to let residents out even afterward official restrictions have been relaxed.

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More than 21 million people in Shanghai are now in “caution zones,” the least restrictive category. In theory, they can go out freely. In practice, the decision rests with their housing committees, resulting in a kaleidoscope of arbitrary rules.

Some are allowed out, but only for a few hours with a specially issued day or weekday pass. Some locations only allow one person per household to exit. Others forbid people to go at all.

“We’ve already received at least three different dates for our reopening, and none of them were real,” said Weronika Truszczynska, a PhD student from Poland who published vlogs about her experience.

“The housing committee told us that you can wait a week, we’ll probably reopen on June 1,” she said. “Nobody believed it.”

More than a dozen residents of their complex, many under umbrellas on a rainy day, confronted their managers on Tuesday, two days after Sunday night’s eruption in the upscale Huixianju compound.

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The residents, who were mostly Chinese, demanded to be allowed to leave the country with no time limit or limit on the number per household. After the demands were not met, some returned to protest on the second day. This time four policemen stood guard.

On Thursday afternoon, community officials knocked on each resident’s door with a new guideline: Write their name and apartment number on a list, take their temperature, scan their barcodes — and they were free to leave.

“We were given the opportunity to go out just because we were brave enough to protest,” Truszczynska said of her roommates.

The lockdown in Shanghai has also drawn resistance from people who have been placed in quarantine and workers who are forced to sleep at their workplaces. Videos on social media showed workers at a factory operated by Taiwan’s Quanta Computer Inc. trying to force themselves out of the facility in early May.

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The party’s strict anti-virus campaign has been aided by an urban environment where hundreds of millions of people in China live in gated communities or walled-in communities that can be easily cordoned off.

The frontline for enforcement are the neighborhood committees, which are responsible for keeping tabs on every resident in every city household nationwide and enforcing public health and hygiene regulations.

Many tend to side with over-enforcement, aware of the example of officials being fired or criticized for failing to meet their pandemic prevention duties.

Neighborhood committees faded in importance in the 1990s when the Communist Party eased restrictions on citizens’ free movement, but they saw a revival amid a sustained tightening of societal controls under President Xi Jinping.

The Huixianju incident prompted others to speak out. In a series of videos circulating this week, about two dozen people march towards the Western Nanjing Road Police Station shouting, “Respect the law, give me my life back.”

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Residents at a facility in Jing’an district last month saw the gates of neighboring facilities swing open — but theirs remained locked. About two dozen gathered at the gate on Wednesday, calling to speak to a representative.

“I want to understand what the neighborhood leaders are planning?” asked a woman in a video after the incident. Another woman chimes in: “Are you making progress?” A third resident points out that since the facility has been case-free for some time, they should be free by now. “Didn’t they say on TV that things are opening up? We saw it on TV,” says an elderly man.

The next day, the municipality issued day passes – residents were allowed out for two hours on Friday without knowing what would happen afterwards.

Shanghai authorities have announced a June goal for life to return to normal. But some people don’t wait and push the boundaries bit by bit.

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On Thursday evening, more than a dozen youths gathered for a street concert in the same neighborhood where Sunday’s protests took place. The video of the last song “Tomorrow will be better” has been widely shared on social media.

A police car was parked nearby, its red and blue lights flashing and its headlights on. As the last song ended, a policeman wearing a face shield approached the group and said, “Okay, you’ve had enough fun. It’s time to go back.” The crowd dispersed.

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Associated Press researcher Si Chen in Shanghai and writer Joe McDonald in Beijing contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/05/27/shanghai-lockdown-residents-demand-release-and-some-get-it/ Residents demand release, some get it

Sarah Y. Kim

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