China’s zero-Covid volunteers suffering from stress, anxiety: Study

As China battles a fresh surge in Covid cases, volunteers tasked with enforcing the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) zero-covid policies are suffering from stress and anxiety, a new study has revealed.

Having to act as a “buffers” between disgruntled citizens and the CCP’s image has led to “grassroots fatigue”, high workloads and people being put under intense pressure, a team of researchers has found.

The research, by Dr Catherine Owen from the University of Exeter in the UK and Xuan Qin from Fudan University in Shanghai, was published in the Journal of Chinese Political Science.

“Since Spring 2022, when Chinese citizens have become increasingly dissatisfied with the on-going commitment to zero-Covid, the high costs of resource mobilisation and the hierarchical chain of command have resulted in intensified workloads and intense pressure on local cadres, leading to grassroots fatigue,” explained Owen.

The team found an increasingly pressurised grassroots infrastructure, then exhausted after 18 months of mobilisational governance, in which party secretaries are required to shoulder ever greater workloads and manage increasingly hierarchical chains of command.

One residents committee secretary told researchers: “Now it seems like the public is forcing Party members onto the moral high ground in all issues. It feels like, if you are a Party member, you have to do this. If you don’t, you will be ashamed of your title of Party member.”

Following the emergence of the Omicron variant and the hike in public dissatisfaction with the on-going lock-down policies it was the grassroots cadres that filtered out public discontents, protecting the CCP’s overall image.

Another residents committee secretary said: “Now the secretary and the director are under too much pressure. It’s just hard work, and the psychological pressure is too great. We have indicators for every job, including vaccination, and every residential area has a ranking every day. I’m too anxious to sleep at night.

“Because the city has indicators for the district, the district has indicators for the streets, and the streets have indicators for the residential areas, it is very anxiety-inducing.”

Researchers found tensions were created because higher-level authorities have asked for compulsory enforcement of policies at grassroot levels, but citizens are not formally required to comply.

Local volunteers were told to meet vaccination targets, but mandatory vaccination was prohibited. This put the grassroots cadres in the impossible position of having to meet rigid targets without the authority to enforce the policy, said the study.

In the middle of the global economic downturn, China, the world’s second-largest economy, is experiencing a resurgence of Covid cases.

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