The silenced deaths of the Shanghai 2022 lockdown
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This is a different type of post. Here, instead of presenting the voice of a single person, I have translated selected stories shared on Weibo and elsewhere on the Chinese Internet—or more fittingly, Intranet. Weibo is the People’s Republic of China’s equivalent of Twitter, which has been banned in that country since 2009 along with Facebook.
These are the stories of those who have died likely as a direct result of the inhumane and unscientific “Zero Covid” policy being enacted in the PRC via stringent, city-wide lockdowns and other requirements for daily/repeated testing, sanitization and disinfection, and so forth, affecting unthinkably many souls (over 25 million in Shanghai alone).
Many have speculated about the motivation in inflicting these punitive policies. Some argue that the house arrests, disbursal of Beijing-touted Traditional Chinese Medicine patent medicine in the form of Lianhua Qingwen Capsules, separations of young children from their caregivers, and other controversial measures are a show of central authority over Shanghai’s mighty regional power-holders, made more politically important with a major convention of the ruling Communist Party approaching later this year. Others think that higher-ups’ edicts have yet again, like in many of Mao Zedong’s campaigns in the 20th century, been translated with extreme intensity by lower-down political figures eager to curry favor or at least not lose their standing.
Whatever the chain of events behind this lockdown, I think it imperative in this moment to bring to the world stories of the people of Shanghai. Since the nineteenth century, this once-humble fishing village has been the most cosmopolitan, glamorous city of the continental Qing empire (1644-1911）and its successor Chinese nation-states. Shanghai is associated with an outward-looking spirit and all manner of cultural manifestations viewed with concern and censure by successive generations of rulers in Beijing.
Endless throngs of people have migrated to Shanghai to try to make a new life, my own great-grandfather included. He scratched out a living as a wonton peddler for a while there, and it was in Shanghai that my grandfather was born in 1938, during the Japanese invasion of the eastern seaboard cities. Shanghai has also been a home base for many of my colleagues conducting historical research; the city archives are known as the most updated, accessible, and efficient in the entire country.
In short, what’s happening in Shanghai in late March and April 2022 is a personal tragedy for me. Unfortunately, the lockdowns may be spreading to other cities (a number of metropolises had already imposed mass-testing and lockdown-type measures earlier this year, with tens of millions affected). And too few English-speaking people have a sense of the texture of suffering on the ground.
Here is a first installment of stories from the People’s Republic. All accounts here derive from this post on the “Real Zhongguo” WordPress site except for the final one, the original of which is linked alongside my translation. Please be warned that the contents may be intense for sensitive readers.
Zhou Shengni [note that Chinese family names precede personal names], Nurse at Shanghai East Hospital (Teaching Hospital affiliated with Tongji University, est. 1920):
Per an announcement posted on her employer’s web site on March 25, 2022, Zhou had been a longtime employee in several departments at the famed hospital. “She worked diligently and tirelessly without complaint, an outstanding ‘angel in white’.” She had an asthma attack on March 23 while at home; medication did not resolve her symptoms.
Around 7 pm, family members brought her to her own hospital by private car. But the emergency department was temporarily closed for “environmental sampling and disinfection” as part of its “pandemic control.” The family was forced to bring Zhou to the Renji Hospital (est. 1844 and attached to Shanghai Jiaotong University; its name means “compassionate succor”) for resuscitation. Zhou perished from her asthma sometime past 11 pm.
Around 7 pm, family members brought her to her own hospital by private car. But the emergency department was temporarily closed for “environmental sampling and disinfection” as part of its “pandemic control.”
Anonymous man, husband to user K–11, both Shanghai natives:
Weibo user K–11 posted at 12:49 a.m. on April 11, 2022 the following:
I’m in Shanghai, one of the places in this country with the most advanced medical resources, the most advanced medical equipment, the best doctors, and the most effective treatments. We are Shanghainese born and raised and always had faith in this place we deeply loved. But my husband forever left me and our five-year-old daughter and his aged mother in the early morning of April 4th, still waiting on his PCR results so he could be admitted to the ER.
My husband was a cancer patient. He had been receiving treatment at the Shanghai Municipal Tumor Hospital and had been in stable condition. His medical team were very good, too. Suddenly he felt unwell on April 3rd. We called 120 for an ambulance at 7:30 pm. He was already short of breath, felt tightness in his chest, and had icy-cold hands and feet. But they didn’t undertake any emergency measures on the ambulance. Because everyone had to have a PCR test for admission, the Sanjia Hospital walk-in urgent care was temporarily closed, and we had to go to a hospital designated by the emergency services. My husband had a low-grade fever at the time, but the walk-ins for febrile patients was being disinfected at the time, so we waited a very long time in the dark night at the doors. Then, because he had a fever, they had to give him a PCR test. The negative PCR we got the day before in our neighborhood didn’t count (I don’t know why it didn’t count). If he were to be sent into the ER, they required another PCR (if the walk-ins for febrile patients had one PCR result, why did the ER have to do another one? I have no idea).
At the febrile walk-ins, he still had shortness of breath, chest tightness, and low blood pressure. He urgently needed to get targeted emergency help in the ER—flooding therapy, immunotherapy and so forth, and to undergo a multi-functional test of myocardial enzymes and other indicators. But the problem remained that the ER’s PCR still hadn’t come back. So we could only keep waiting in the febrile walk-in department. It was there that his heart gradually, finally stopped. Your last words were, “Mom, go ask the doctors, has my PCR come back yet?”
You were in such pain that you couldn’t breathe. You waited and waited for the doctors to help you, but that help never came. Is a cancer patient not worth saving? Aren’t all living beings worth saving? The PCR finally appeared two hours after he left us. The second-order harms of this wave of the pandemic chills me to the bone.
Your last words were, “Mom, go ask the doctors, has my PCR come back yet?”
Kiddo’s daddy, you went too soon. Just yesterday I could have a happy chat with you, just yesterday we were saying who knew when they were going to lift the lockdown, that we had to keep our chins up together. You always wanted a little more time with our daughter, and there were so many things we didn’t have time to say to each other. You went through too much. You’ve been left forever behind in the cold spring of 2022.
It’s 2022. This is Shanghai.
Mother of economist Larry Lang Xianping, PhD (UPenn):
Lang, something of an Internet celebrity, posted the following to his verified Weibo account at 2:40pm on April 11, 2022.
The information being passed around online about my mother’s passing was originated by my older brother Allen (Lang Xianbai). Because many platforms are sharing it and speculating about my mother’s death—I originally didn’t want to use this public forum to talk about my family’s personal matters, but since it’s out there now, I must explain what happened. Yes, like my brother Lang Xianbai, we are all very saddened. This tragedy could’ve been averted. Because my mom was already very elderly at 98, like all older folks her organ function wasn’t great. This time, she had a little dip in her kidney function. Based on diagnoses given in the past, she just needed one shot to feel better.
But because of Shanghai’s strict rules that patients can only see doctors after a PCR, my mom was waiting at the Sanjia Hospital doing an on-the-spot PCR that didn’t return a result even after four hours. I find this deeply shocking. After waiting four hours at the door of the hospital’s ER department, my mom left me forever. I wanted to see her one last time, but because my neighborhood was locked down, it took a very long time and connecting with the relevant authorities before I was allowed to go to the hospital. Standing on the side of the street, I couldn’t get a Didi [the PRC equivalent of an Uber], because of the lockdown, so I never got to see my mom one more time before she passed.
Standing on the side of the street, I couldn’t get a Didi, because of the lockdown, so I never got to see my mom one more time before she passed.
I hope that this tragedy will never recur, and I want to than everyone for your care and concern. (Six “prayer/thank you” emoji.)
Wu Zhongnan, emeritus professor of Electrical Engineering at Shanghai Jiaotong University and national calligraphy association member
Wu’s son, Wu Zhengxi, posted the following to his verified Weibo account at 4:50 am on April 13, 2022:
My father, Wu Zhongnan, was at the advanced age of 78 this year. He had many comorbidities but his PCR was negative. Because he had shortness of breath on the night of April 6th, he called an ambulance but without result. After asking for help from many channels, finally an ambulance from the Pudong New District brought him to the ER at Renji Hospital for treatment.
After entering the ER, the nurses and doctors said that there wasn’t enough equipment or manpower or berths—an ER for 50 people had over 150 in it. There wasn’t even enough medication to go around!
Because he was having difficulties breathing, Father hoped the doctors would arrange for an oxygen machine for him. But the hospital didn’t have enough oxygen machine spots. (We later found that they actually did.) Buying our own oxygen bag was met with hard refusals. I, who was stuck in a locked-down neighborhood and could not leave, found a way to send him an oxygen bag. My old father could only sit on a bench in the corner with a saline drip and his oxygen bag, but this was too little, too late. In the interval, the ER was taking in many COVID-positive patients, and my parents were sitting right beside them!!
Very interestingly, the ER that was supposedly so short-staffed could arrange PCR tests in very short order. No matter how busy, all of the nurses would notify the patients and family members to do their PCRs!! My father sat there on the bench across from the bathrooms, slowly bound for death!! After two and a half days of waiting and helplessness, Father passed away in the early morning of April 9th. He was 78. (Photos attached.) Before he passed, he was still continuing to beg the doctors to save him, but the doctors couldn’t do anything for him.
Very interestingly, the ER that was supposedly so short-staffed could arrange PCR tests in very short order. No matter how busy, all of the nurses would notify the patients and family members to do their PCRs!! My father sat there on the bench across from the bathrooms, slowly bound for death!!
After Father passed, my mother and I were inconsolable. After making arrangements for Father’s final needs, I dropped off Mother at their home. But who knew an even greater blow was about to follow. In the next day’s PCR tests [for her neighborhood], Mother was positive!! The ER doctors had said, because the ER also took in COVID-positive patients, that it was very easy to contract the virus in an ER. My mother had been at Father’s side for two days in the ER and had finally, unfortunately been stricken after that high-load viral environment!! My mother is also frail at 74, and now after the cruel blow of losing my father, her body and spirit were on the verge of collapse!!
The CDC’s second test showed that she was indeed a COVID patient. On the night of April 12th, she was notified that she had to go to a Fangcang [note: centralized state-run COVID isolation field hospitals] for quarantine! And they were coming to get her at home that night at midnight. She’s been arranged to go to some extremely badly outfitted transfer station who knows where, and they say she will have to stay at the transfer station for several days.
I’m so afraid that Mother won’t be able to get help and will also have the unthinkable happen. I strongly call upon all related authorities to please help take care of her!! Her name is Wang Zhimin, her ID number is 310224194810110723.
[A user update posted before 4/15, 11:30 am local time reads “Mother has been transferred to a designated COVID hospital.”]
Photos from Wu Zhengxi’s post, showing the hospital and his father in happier days.
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