“Our sacrifices were in vain”: Zero-COVID and the betrayal of trust

Yifeng Troy Cai, Katherine A. Mason


For the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic in China, most urban Chinese displayed a high level of “willing compliance” with strict pandemic control measures. This willing compliance, however, collapsed in late 2022, as the state’s promises of personal safety and financial well-being became harder to keep, and prolonged interruptions to everyday life due to pandemic control continued through a third year. People’s trust in the competence and good intentions of the state quickly faded and was replaced by a sense of hopelessness for a life filled with uncertainty, as well as doubt in the state’s abilities and legitimacy in managing the pandemic and an overarching sense of betrayal. These collective experiences of discontent, which resulted in nationwide online and offline protests, have resulted in important discussions and debates about power, authority, class, and the legitimacy of the state.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/727757