In Covid Zero, young Chinese adopt the “philosophy of racing”

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

Two years ago, they declared China the “A” student in controlling the pandemic and urged the rest of the world, especially the United States, to “copy China’s homework”.

Now many believe they are the unluckiest generation since the 1980s, as Beijing’s persistent pursuit of a zero Covid policy takes its toll. Jobs are hard to find. Frequent Covid tests dictate their lives. The government is imposing more and more restrictions on their personal freedom while pushing them to marry and have more children.

“I can’t stand the thought that I will have to die here,” said Cheng Xinyu, a 19-year-old writer from the city of Chengdu in southwest China, who plans to emigrate to foreign countries before that the government does not have the iron. the fist falls on her.

She also cannot imagine having children in China.

‘I love children but I don’t dare have them here because I won’t be able to protect them,’ she said, citing concerns such as pandemic workers breaking into apartments to spray disinfectant, killing pets and forcing residents to leave the keys in the locks of their apartments.

Ms Cheng is part of a new trend known as “race philosophy” or “runxue”, which preaches fleeing China to seek a safer and brighter future. She and millions of others also reposted a video in which a young man fended off police who warned his family would be punished for three generations if he refused to go to a quarantine camp. “It will be our last generation,” he told police.

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

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

The “philosophy of racing” and the “latest generation” are the rallying cries of many young Chinese in their 20s and 30s who despair of their country and their future. They enter the workforce, marry and decide whether or not to have children in one of the darkest times the country has seen in decades. Censored and politically repressed, some consider voting with their feet while others want to protest by not having children.

This is quite a change for members of a generation previously known for its nationalist leanings.

They grew as China became the second largest economy in the world. They have trolled critics of Beijing’s human rights records and boycotted many Western brands for perceived affronts to their homeland.

Sometimes they complained about their grueling work schedules and lack of upward social mobility. But if they were less sure of their personal future, they were convinced that China would become great again, as their supreme leader had promised.

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

A new survey of more than 20,000 people, mostly women between the ages of 18 and 31, found that two-thirds of them don’t want to have children. The government has a different agenda, pushing people to have three children to rejuvenate one of the world’s most aging populations.

Doris Wang, a young professional in Shanghai, said she never planned to have children in China. Living through the harsh confinement of the past two months has reaffirmed her decision. Children should be playing in nature and with each other, she said, but they are locked in apartments, undergoing rounds of Covid tests, being yelled at by pandemic screeners and listening the stern announcements from the loudspeakers in the street.

“Even adults feel very depressed, hopeless and unhealthy, not to mention children,” she said. “They will definitely have psychological issues to deal with when they grow up.” She said she planned to migrate to a Western country so she could have a normal and dignified life.

To compound the frustrations, the headlines are full of bad jobs news. There will be more than 10 million university graduates in China this year, a record. But many companies are laying off workers or freezing head counts as they try to survive shutdowns and regulatory crackdowns., a recruitment site, found that its job outlook index in the first quarter of this year was about half that of the same period last year and even lower than that of the first strike of the coronavirus. in 2020. Graduates who signed offers will be paid 12% less per month on average than last year, the company reported.

A growing number of university graduates are trying to get into graduate schools or pass the increasingly competitive civil service exams to land stable government jobs.

Two-thirds of the 131 new civil servant recruits in Beijing’s Chaoyang district in April had master’s or doctoral degrees, a government document shows, reflecting an increase tendency. They graduated from top universities in China and around the world, including Peking University, University of Hong Kong, University of Sydney and Imperial College London. Many of them will take on the most basic government jobs, those previously held by high school graduates.

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

One bright spot in the job market is in Covid testing. While Beijing sticks to the zero Covid policy, local governments need a lot of staff to staff their numerous testing stations. Henan province in central China said in January it would train 50,000 people this year in Covid testing, disinfection and public sanitation management. But even a government-run news site asked what kind of career prospects these jobs offered post-pandemic.

For young Chinese, the increasingly strict social controls are equally depressing.

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

Shanghai Tongji University, known for its engineering and architecture programs, has released detailed instructions on using a cellphone-based queuing system for restrooms and restrooms, according to a document on the system reviewed by The New York Times.

Each student will need to press “start” when leaving the dorm to go to the bathroom, and press “stop” when they return to prevent two people from being in the hallway at the same time, according to the instructions. Each trip to the bathroom would be allowed 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 queuing group why it took so long.

Some social control mechanisms have never been lifted.

In 2020, the prestigious Fudan University in Shanghai developed a tracking system that requires its students to record their health conditions and real-time locations daily. It is similar to systems that some countries, including South Korea, have developed to monitor travelers for short-term home and hotel quarantines. Fudan students had to register in the system daily, even during the year and a half when there were very few infections in China. If they don’t, they’re not allowed on 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 from Ludong University in eastern Shandong province, was expelled in late March after walking around campus holding a sign that read “Unlock Ludong”. He was also reprimanded by the police for disturbing public order.

A student in Shanghai told me her adviser was able to track her down for a critical Weibo comment she made about the lockdowns – even though she used a pseudonym. He was told to delete the message.

It is impossible to measure how many young Chinese have been disappointed by the government’s iron fist during the latest lockdowns, which have affected hundreds of millions of people. Beijing has total control over propaganda outlets, the Internet, textbooks, schools, and nearly every aspect that can 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 have moved to the countryside.

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

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