Embodied border control on the move: Self-management of Chinese returnees under the zero-COVID regime

B. L.


For more than two years, China was one of the most difficult countries to enter. Within China’s borders, people’s everyday mobility in many cities was severely restricted due to its zero-COVID strategy and periodic lockdowns; outside the borders, Chinese nationals also experienced confinement and restrictions if they wished to make a journey home. “Circuit breaker” flight cancellations, multiple COVID tests, and mandatory quarantine brought tremendous uncertainties and difficulties to their return. This article describes the experiences of Chinese nationals living overseas who attempted to return to China under the country’s rigid cross-border COVID control. With no restrictions while living abroad, Chinese returnees were compelled to undertake self-imposed isolation, and to prepare for quarantines and potential lockdowns after their return. Such experiences exemplify how people coped with transitions from living in an environment of “no more COVID” outside China, to a “zero-COVID” regime.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/726622