Introduction: Zero-COVID was forever, until it was no more

Minhua Ling, Juan Zhang


How were lockdowns implemented, experienced, and perceived under China’s zero-COVID regime? How do we make sense of its sudden collapse after three years of its hegemonic presence dominating Chinese lives? What does it tell us about the zero-COVID regime’s inherent inconsistencies and sociopolitical contradictions as expressed in everyday life? This essay serves as the introduction to the Currents section, a compilation of seven research articles that delve into the lived experiences of individuals in different cities under China’s zero-COVID regime, particularly during and after the 2022 Shanghai lockdown. By exploring the diverse ways in which individuals navigated through everyday political fickleness, irresolvable contradictions, falsehood and absurdities that turned life around, this essay argues that people often simultaneously upheld zero-COVID and circumvented it in creative ways. While many supported beliefs and practices in line with China’s top-down narrative of nationalistic sacrifice and “positive energy,” others forged alternative interpretations and took on acts of disengagement and disobedience.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/726456