At the mercy of zealous residential committees, Shanghai’s closed ventilation frustration

SHANGHAI, May 12 (Reuters) – Elizabeth Liu and her husband were excited last week at the prospect of leaving their Shanghai compound for the first time in more than a month. All but one building in the complex had just been reclassified as low-risk after 14 days with no COVID cases.

“My husband put on his hazmat suit and went to pick up our groceries because our building was technically a caution zone,” she said. “According to the law, we should be able to go out.”

But after their return, the couple were visited by a member of their compound’s residential committee and two policemen who told them to stay home.

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“Listen to the neighborhood committee because they know better,” Liu quoted one of the policemen as saying.

Known in Chinese as “juweihui,” the residential committees, made up of volunteers who receive a daily stipend, have gone to great lengths during the pandemic, helping authorities carry out mass testing, delivering food to people in need and helping to enforce measures. draconian closures.

But as Shanghai’s checkpoints drag into their sixth week, many of the city’s juweihui are now the subject of public discontent, with residents accusing them of excessive caution and overreaching with arbitrary and heavy-handed measures.

Shanghai’s current guidelines say residents can leave their “area” if that area has been classified as “precautionary,” but do not define the area.

The rules also say that residents should only go out for “appropriate activities,” but precisely what they are allowed to do depends on the latitude of the juweihui. Although Shanghai government data shows that more than 70% of the city’s residents are now in precautionary areas, in practice many people have not been allowed through the gates of their compounds.

Residents also complain that committees are reluctant to reveal exactly what is allowed, often changing the rules on a whim.

“The juweihui has a lot of power to interpret the policies of the entire city, so I’ve seen a lot of inequities on the ground,” said Yifei Li, a sociologist and assistant professor at NYU-Shanghai, who spent the last month in lockdown.

“But the thing that frustrates me the most is when they keep changing their rules about what’s allowed and what’s not,” he said. “That just adds a lot of unpredictability to what is already a precarious situation.”

Asked by Reuters about the uneven application of the rules by the juweihui, the Shanghai government declined to comment. However, he said in an April 12 post on his Wechat social media account that each district had the authority to implement stricter restrictions depending on the circumstances.


For their part, the members of the residential committee have also been pushed to the limit by the closure. Some committee directors have even been removed from their posts after being appointed by the Shanghai government for failing to take responsibility for COVID prevention.

“It’s been very difficult,” said a juweihui volunteer at a large compound in central Shanghai who declined to be identified. “We also didn’t expect the lockdown to last this long.”

Residential committees are tasked with mediating between the people and their district government, a role enshrined in law in 1989 as the ruling Communist Party sought to extend its reach after widespread unrest.

While the law defines them as “autonomous,” it says the committees are responsible for implementing state policy and issuing state propaganda. The law also stipulates that they “must not give orders by force,” a clause some residents say means they have no legal authority to confine people to their homes.

Meanwhile, the frustration grows.

In a complex in central Shanghai, residents told Reuters a committee volunteer said he could not grant them permission to leave their apartments, even though they had not had COVID throughout the outbreak.

Another group living in Pudong district in eastern Shanghai were allowed to visit a supermarket across the street, but were escorted by the head of their residential committee and taken home 45 minutes later, a move that one resident derisively described as a “school trip.”

The Juweihui “clearly think they are doing us a great service by limiting our freedom,” said Li of NYU-Shanghai.

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Reporting by David Stanway, Brenda Goh, Zoey Zhang, Andrew Galbraith, and Engen Tham; Additional reporting by Martin Pollard in Beijing; Edited by Edwin Gibbs

Our standards: the Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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