From lockdowns (fengcheng) to silence (jingmo): Zero-COVID politics in China

Juan Zhang


COVID-19 lockdowns instituted a new kind of normal for many in China in the past three years. From Wuhan to Shanghai, urban lockdowns (封城 fengcheng) have become synonymous with the state’s draconian COVID control measures enforced upon the whole of society, which caused many forms of loss and suffering. However, after the early days of COVID control in Shanghai in April 2022, the term “lockdown” vanished from official discourse, replaced surreptitiously by a neologism—jingmo (静默), meaning “to silence.” What did it mean, then, for millions to live in a state of “silence” when the official policy denied the existence of a lockdown? Was jingmo merely another word for lockdown, or did it imply something different? This article reflects on the changes that took place from enforcing lockdowns in Wuhan to administering “silence” in Shanghai, and examines how China’s zero-COVID control brings different biopolitics to life.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/727725