"Voices of April", when the inhabitants of Shanghai defy Chinese censorship

“Voices of April”, when the inhabitants of Shanghai defy Chinese censorship

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The “Voices of April” video has become a phenomenon on Chinese social media since Friday. It allows you to hear short testimonies from Shanghai residents who express their fed up with the confinement in place for more than a month. Enough to irritate the Chinese censors to the highest degree.

A long six-minute panoramic shot, black and white images of Shanghai seen from above, melancholy music and a succession of short sound clips of residents confined to the end of their rope.

It has been impossible to escape the “Voices of April” video on Chinese social networks since this weekend… despite Beijing’s censorship. This montage, posted online Friday, April 23, has become “the most discussed content critical of the authorities on the Internet since the death of Dr. Li Wenliang [le médecin lanceur d’alerte mort du Covid-19 en février 2020]”says What’s on Weibo, an English site on the news of the famous Chinese social network.

“It’s not the virus that kills, it’s hunger”

The tone of the video is set from the start. It begins with the Shanghai health authorities who still assured in mid-March that a quarantine would never be imposed on the city which was “economically and socially too important”.

Two weeks later, the main Chinese financial center was completely shut down under the “zero Covid” policy defended by the Chinese government. But more than a month of strict containment has not yet allowed China to overcome the Omicron variant in Shanghai. There were 19,000 new cases and fifteen deaths in this city of 26 million people on Sunday April 24.

“Voices of April” makes it possible to better understand, through recordings of telephone calls, the extent of the human cost of this very strict confinement imposed in Shanghai. We hear a mother asking her neighbors if they have a specific medicine that her son needs, because she cannot go out to buy it. Another resident complains to the local authorities that his father – very ill – has not been accepted in any hospital, because they must treat all Covid-19 patients as a priority. Another complains on the phone that “it’s not the virus that kills, it’s hunger!”.


But it’s not just the inhabitants that we hear in these short extracts. A trucker who has just arrived in Shanghai complains that he can’t find anyone for all the food he has come to deliver “on his own to help the people”. Volunteers for local health services also express their frustration at not being able to help everyone because they are overwhelmed.

>> To read on the Observers: “They will starve to death”: in Shanghai, the inhabitants “can’t see the end” of ultra-strict confinement

These are not the only testimonials available from residents and France 24 has also been able to contact several of them. But they are in Chinese, which, in the context of a “zero Covid” policy which is beginning to be criticized by some scientists including Zhong Nanshan, China’s Mr. Covid since 2020, has the worst effect. Especially since “as of Saturday morning, it was on all phones, whether on the WeChat messaging service or on Weibo”, underlines What’s On Weibo.

Game of cat and mouse between censors and Internet users

“This video has become a symbol of resistance to the government’s health policy and has the potential to be used to mobilize the population against the authorities,” said a Chinese political affairs expert who preferred to remain anonymous.

Hence, according to him, the all-out censorship that the authorities were quick to deploy. As of Saturday afternoon, all links to the video shared on the Internet pointed to 404 pages, indicating that the content had been deleted. The phrase “Voices of April” could also no longer be used on social networks, says the British daily The Guardian.

Censorship after all is traditional in a country like China where the Internet is very closely watched. But this time, the Chinese “netizens” seem determined not to let it go. “Do you want war? You will have it! You will not succeed in censoring the entire united population of Shanghai”, annoyed a surfer.

The name of the video was first changed in hopes of escaping the vigilance of China’s Big Brother. “Voices of April” thus became “Voices of Shanghai”. A subterfuge that was not long enough to fool censors who have been accustomed in the past to flushing out very creative forms of criticism against Xi Jinping (such as using the character of Winnie the Pooh, supposed to look like to the Chinese leader, to denounce the regime).

In this game of cat and mouse, Internet users then found other solutions, says the Guardian. Some modified the lyrics of famous poems to insert references to “Voices of April”, while others posted simple QR codes which, once scanned, allowed viewing of the now famous montage.

Faced with this effort to spread the viral video, it seems that the censors have not yet succeeded in pushing this content out of all corners of the Chinese Web, notes the Chinese expert contacted by France 24.

The Chinese regime has therefore decided to mobilize the very influential Global Times daily to counterattack. Hu Xijin, its former editor-in-chief, tried to justify the censorship on Weibo, explaining “that it was a sign that the authorities had heard” the criticisms of the people of Shanghai who, “after being locked up for a long time, need ‘a channel for self-expression’.

The Chinese authorities are caught in the crossfire. They have no desire to appear insensitive to the suffering of the inhabitants of Shanghai still confined. Especially since they have never denied that the “zero Covid” policy requires sometimes drastic measures. But they consider it all the more impossible to let this kind of first-hand testimony circulate, since with the discovery of a focus of infections in Beijing, a possible confinement of the Chinese capital is now very seriously considered.

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