Shanghai’s Censors Can’t Hide Stories of the Dead

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The recruiter added details he knew about the woman to the spreadsheet for fact-checking. Volunteers working on the document are required to list their sources, and each link is archived by the Wayback Machine in case the post disappears. The shared document has stricter sourcing rules and fewer entries than the Airtable database—just 60 cases—and was last updated in early May.

The recruiter says he has no idea who created the document or who he was working with, but he feels safer this way. “I would be a bit afraid if we talk to each other in private,” he says, adding that he is still haunted by an experience of being reprimanded at school for speaking out on Twitter against an influential official.

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IT’S ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE to grasp the scale of the suffering caused by Shanghai’s recent lockdown. But Daohouer, a volunteer-run mutual aid network created to help people access food, treatment, and medication during the lockdown, hints at the level of desperation. The site worked by encouraging residents in urgent need of supplies or health care to leave a message, with volunteers then contacting them to help. A visualization of requests submitted to the network shows that over half of the requests dealt with medical accessibility.

The page has kept a record of 1,297 requests in Shanghai involving seriously ill people since April 11, when the data became available. The number of such requests peaked in mid-April, when the site reported a surge in messages from people seeking help accessing medical care.

The cases from Daohouer were visualized by two Chinese people living in Canada who form part of a tech collective called O3O

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. The pair plan to archive the data submitted to the platform in case it is somehow scrubbed by censors. “The older generation has a habit of hoarding food,” says one of O3O’s cofounders, who asks to remain anonymous. “But the younger generation has the habit of taking screenshots of all things that might be considered sensitive.” The duo also maintains a website called Our Pandemic Memory that invites people to record stories of their lockdown lives. The site, preempting likely censorship in China, automatically submits every story to the Wayback Machine.

Despite efforts to record deaths in the city, the Shanghai-based recruiter remains skeptical that the government will launch an official investigation into the number of people who reportedly died as a result of the recent lockdown. No such efforts have been announced following similar citywide lockdowns in cities such as Xi’an, where deaths related to difficulties in accessing health care have also been reported.

Still, the recruiter hopes that projects to remember and record the dead could, one day, help people learn what life, and death, was really like in Shanghai during the harshest of lockdowns. “Maybe one day in the future, when we can discuss the outbreak and learn lessons, these materials will be used for reference.”


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