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Residents of Shanghai Using NFTs to Record Covid Lockdown Experiences

Residents of Shanghai are using the blockchain space to preserve the memories of the latest Covid-19 lockdown. By deploying NFTs, they are minting videos, photos, and digital artworks and storing them on immutable blockchain networks to prevent them from being deleted.

The Covid-19 experience in China is a bit different from other parts of the world. Not just because the virus was speculated to have originated from there. It has also had a more protracted impact in some of its regions. Up till 2022, there are cities in China where restrictions on movement and lockdowns have been enforced. This has generated different kinds of reactions from residents, many of whom are expressing their unpleasant experiences.

Shanghai is made up of a population of around 25 million people. Many of them perceive the recent lockdown as a draconian rule and are not comfortable with it. As expected, the restriction of movement has arrived with some associated hardship, including difficulties in food procurement, accessing medical services, and other social amenities. Going public with such stories hasn’t sat well with government authorities, leading to some cat-and-mouse scenario between the people and the authorities.

To manage the situation, the government has stepped up efforts in policing cyberspace, being the major avenue used by the public in venturing their displeasure towards the present condition. The authorities claim to embark on such cyber monitoring exercises to prevent what it described as the spreading of rumors and efforts to stoke discord over seething public frustration with the lockdown.

While the government’s censoring of posts across the internet and group chats continues, many residents have reverted to using the more sophisticated blockchain-based NFT technology to boycott such censoring. The world’s largest NFT marketplace, Opensea, is one such platform where residents of Shanghai have embraced expressing themselves. It is a platform where users can mint, buy or sell NFTs using cryptocurrencies. However, the main attraction for them at this point is the fact that data on the network cannot be censored or erased.

A prominent NFT on the Shanghai lockdown case is a six-minute video titled “The Voice of April”. The piece, which is a montage of voices recorded for the Shanghai outbreak was minted on April 22, 2022. The minting process was complicated as netizens battled censors overnight to achieve their goal.

Ten days after the piece was minted, about 786 other items related to the NFT appeared on Opensea. This adds to many other NFTs in their hundreds that are themed under the Shanghai lockdown. Perhaps, the minting of “The Voice of April” catalyzed a movement that is seen to be developing.

The motive behind the minting of the flagship NFT was made clear when on April 23, 2022, a Twitter user with the handle @imFong, in a post that was widely retweeted said;

I have minted the ‘Voice of April’ video into an NFT and have frozen its metadata. This video will exist forever on the IPFS.

This post could be seen by Twitter users across the globe where access is not denied, not in China where access to the social network can only be through Virtual Private Networks (VPN).

This particular post “The Voice of April”, and the many other related NFTs are viewed as part of an ongoing “rebellion” by the people against the lockdown conditions that have been imposed on them. Other Shanghai posts for sale on Opensea include complaints of Weibo, a popular social media platform in China, images from inside quarantine centers, and artworks that are inspired by life under lockdown.

The current lockdown in Shanghai is inspired by a Covid-19 breakout in March, which has been rated as the worst in China since the early days of the pandemic in 2020. Based on the country’s zero-COVID strategy which is seen as controversial by many, the city has been subjected to a protracted lockdown.


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