I told my husband that I would be happiest if we happened to fall under the third scenario: Our apartment complex would be locked down, but we could go out to enjoy the air, the community gardens, hedges and paths. I realized that my thinking was very Chinese: to enjoy freedom within strict borders, albeit with a virus raging rampant outside. The fourth option, the freedom to move around Shanghai, felt too large, too precarious. I have, over the past couple of years, become more and more isolationist — within China, within Shanghai, within Changning, within Gubei.
The Chinese strategy of regional lockdowns makes it so that individuals become fiercely protective of their tiny piece of land. People are hoarding food and supplies, getting into fights over resources. Neighbors are ratting one another out as potential carriers.
In our apartment complex last week, one antigen test came back positive in a building nearby. As a result, all residents of that building would be placed under lockdown. In my building, which was all clear, a man had spotted a woman bringing a box of household items in through the basement. He asked where she was coming from, and when she said the locked-down building, he informed our group chat about her. It so happened that she was also in the group chat because she owns apartments in both buildings and she had been told by the management to leave the building with the positive case. A vicious and long argument ensued between the man and the woman in the form of voice memos. Various allegations and insults were thrown, the most innocuous of which were “coward,” and “traitor.” In the end, the test had been a false positive.
At the same time, there are multitudes of volunteers who are selflessly giving their time and energy to assist with the citywide testing effort. Some neighbors in my community are sharing produce: One man who owns a local gym lays out bags and bags of groceries daily outside his business for anyone to take. So far, the situation doesn’t feel dire and hostile. People are still mostly energetic, optimistic and generous.
China is now following the rest of the world, experiencing major surges in cases. We are lucky to have been protected for two years and to now be exposed to the virus when more people are vaccinated. Before Covid fatigue sets in and before lasting damage is done to communities, families and relationships, I hope we can figure out a way to gracefully let down our boundaries.