In Covid Zero, young Chinese embrace “Run Philosophy”

Four years ago, many young Chinese people liked to use the hashtag #Incredible China.

Two years ago, them She said that China was the “A” student in pandemic control and urged the rest of the world, particularly the United States, to “copy China’s homework.”

Now many believe they are the most unfortunate generation since the 1980s like Beijing’s persistent pursuit zero policy Covid is wreaking havoc. Jobs are hard to find. Frequent Covid tests determine their lives. The government is imposing more and more restrictions on their individual freedom by pushing them to marry and have more children.

“I can’t stand the thought that I will have to die in this place,” said Cheng Xinyu, a 19-year-old writer in the city of Chengdu, southwest China, who is considering migrating to foreign countries before the government’s iron fist if. about her.

She can’t even imagine having children in China.

“I like children, but I don’t dare to have them here because I won’t be able to protect them,” he said, citing concerns like pandemic control officers breaking into apartments to spray disinfectant, killing pets, and requiring residents to leave. keys in the locks on the doors of the apartment.

Ms. Cheng is part of a new trend known as “run philosophy”Or“ runxue ”, which preaches the flight from China to seek a safer and brighter future. She and millions of others have also reposted a video in which a young man dismissed police officers who warned that his family would be punished for three generations if he refused to go to a quarantine camp. “This will be our last generation,” he told police.

His response became an online meme that was subsequently censored. Many young people have identified with the sentiment, saying they would be reluctant to have children under an increasingly authoritarian rule.

“Not bringing children to this country, this land, will be the most charitable act I could handle,” wrote a Weibo user under the hashtag #thelastgeneration before it was censored. “As normal people who have no right to individual dignity, our reproductive organs will be our last resort,” wrote another Weibo user.

The “philosophy of running” and “the last generation” are the battle cries for many young Chinese between the ages of 20 and 30 who are desperate for their country and their future. They are entering the world of work, getting married and deciding whether to have children in one of the darkest times in the country for decades. Censored and politically repressed, some are considering voting with their feet while others want to protest for not having children.

This is a real departure for members of a generation previously known for theirs nationalist inclination.

They have grown as China has grown to be the second largest economy in the world. They trolled critics of Beijing’s human rights records and boycotted many western brands for the perceived insults of their motherland.

Sometimes they complained about them Grueling working hours and lack of upward social mobility. But if they were less sure of their personal future, they were confident that China would be great again, as their leader promised.

This spring it has become increasingly clear that the government cannot deliver on its promises and the state has different expectations for their lives.

A new poll of more than 20,000 people, mostly women between the ages of 18 and 31, found that two-thirds of them do not want to have children. The government has a different agenda, pushing people to have three children to rejuvenate one of the fastest aging populations in the world.

Doris Wang, a young professional from Shanghai, said she never planned to have children in China. Experiencing the tough blockade of the past two months has reaffirmed her decision. Children are supposed to play in nature and with each other, she said, but they are locked up in apartments, subjected to cycles of Covid tests, scolded by pandemic monitors, and hear stern announcements from loudspeakers on the street.

“Adults also feel very depressed, desperate and unhealthy, not to mention the children,” she said. “They will definitely have psychological problems to deal with when they grow up.” She said that she plans to emigrate to a Western country so that she can have a normal life and dignity.

Compounding the frustrations, the headlines are filled with bad news at work. There will be more than 10 million university graduates in China this year, a record. But many companies are firing workers or freezing employee numbers as they try to survive blockades and regulatory crackdowns.

Zhaopin.com, a recruiting site, found that his job prospects index in the first quarter of this year was about half that of the same period last year and even lower than when the coronavirus first struck in 2020. Graduates who signed offers they will be paid on average 12% less per month than last year, the company reported.

A growing number of graduates are looking to enter graduate schools or pass the increasingly competitive public official exams to secure a job in government.

Two-thirds of 131 new civil servants recruits in Beijing’s Chaoyang district in April had master’s or doctoral degrees, according to a government documentreflecting on the increase trend. They have graduated from top universities in China and around the world, including Peking University, Hong Kong University, Sydney University and Imperial College London. Many of them will do the most basic government jobs, those that were occupied by high school graduates.

A PhD in particle physics from Peking University will become an urban management officer, or chengguan, according to the report. Chengguan are i more insulted officials, known for brutalizing beggars, chasing street vendors, and helping demolish people’s homes. The contrast is too rich.

A positive point in the job market are Covid tests. As Beijing adheres to the zero Covid policy, local governments need a lot of people to staff their many test stations. Henan province in central China She said in January that would train 50,000 people this year in managing Covid testing, disinfection and public sanitation. But also a government-run news site he asked what kind of career prospects did these jobs offer after the pandemic.

For Chinese youth, increasingly stringent social controls are just as depressing.

Some students from Changchun, in the northeastern province of Jilin, complained on social media that they could not shower for more than 40 days when the city was closed and could not access public restrooms.

Tongji University in Shanghai, known for its engineering and architecture programs, has issued detailed instructions on how to use a cell phone-based queuing system for restrooms and bathrooms, according to a document on the system reviewed by the New York Times.

Each student should press “start” when leaving the dorm to go to the bathroom and press “stop” when returning to avoid two people in the corridor at the same time, the instructions said. Each toilet run would be allowed for a maximum of 10 minutes. After eight minutes, others in the queue could digitally push the student into the toilet. After 10 minutes, the student should explain to the queued group why it took so long.

Some of the social control mechanisms have never been lifted.

In 2020, the prestigious Fudan University of Shanghai developed a tracking system that requires its students to record their health and location in real time every day. It is similar to the systems that some countries, including South Korea, have developed to monitor travelers for short-term home and hotel quarantines. Fudan students had to enroll in the system every day, even during the year and a half when there were very few infections in China. If they don’t, they can’t enter campus, according to a step-by-step registration process reviewed by the New York Times.

Universities have very little tolerance for any act of disobedience.

Sun Jian, a graduate student at Ludong University in Eastern Shandong Province, was expelled in late March after walking around campus with a sign saying “Unlock Ludong”. He was also admonished by the police for disturbing public order.

A university student from Shanghai told me that her advisor was able to track her down for a critical Weibo comment she made on the block, even though she used a pseudonym. She was told to delete her post.

It is impossible to measure how many Chinese young people have been disappointed by the government’s iron fist in the latest lockdowns, which have affected hundreds of millions of people. Beijing has complete control over the propaganda media, the Internet, textbooks, schools and almost any aspect that could touch the brainwaves of the Chinese public.

But the growing disenchantment online is unmistakable. And people will always find ways to escape repression. In “1984”, Winston wrote a diary. In “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, Tomáš and Tereza moved to the countryside.

“When you discover that as an individual you have no ability to fight the state apparatus, your only way out is to run,” said Ms. Wang, the young professional from Shanghai.