Dwindling freedoms, Covid lockdowns spark growing desire to ‘run’ from China

A growing phenomenon is being witnessed among younger Chinese people with the wherewithal to leave the country, summarised by a Chinese character pronounced “run” that has come to symbolise cutting free from an increasingly onerous life under CCP rule, local media reported.

Data from the social media app WeChat index showed a huge spike in searches using the keywords “emigration” or “overseas emigration” between March and May, suggesting that “run,” or running, is on many people’s minds.

At its peaks, search queries for the keyword “emigration” hit 70 million several times during the Shanghai lockdown and 130 million immediately afterwards, RFA reported.

The same keyword also showed peaks on Toutiao Index, Google Trends and 360 Trends between April and the end of June 2022, leading US-based former internet censor Liu Lipeng to speculate that the most recent peak was triggered by a June 27 report in state media quoting Beijing municipal party chief Cai Qi as saying that current COVID-19 restrictions would be “normalized” over the next five years.

WeChat’s owner Tencent said searches for “emigration” rose by 440 per cent on April 3, 2022, the day CCP leader Xi Jinping told the nation to “strictly adhere to the zero-COVID policy”, RFA reported.

A Japan-based immigration consultant who gave only the pseudonym “Mr. Y,” said he had witnessed a massive surge in queries to his business starting in April.

Australia-based writer Murong Xuecun said he had left after correctly predicting the steady erosion of individual freedom in China.

“In the past few years … government has become more and more powerful, and the rights of ordinary people have dwindled,” he told RFA. “What kind of China will we see next?”

“A more conservative, isolated and poorer China, and I think also a [more unpredictable and violent] China,” he said. “That’s what a lot of people worry about.”

Many are aware that since Xi Jinping came to power, the government has made rapid advances in the direction of high-tech totalitarianism, RFA reported.

A combination of a nationwide, integrated facial recognition network, a health code app that can prevent movement in public spaces under the guise of Covid prevention, and the use of automated fare collection systems to track people on public transportation have combined to place severe limits on the personal privacy and freedoms of the average person in China.

Meanwhile, the population is still struggling with the massive economic impact of rolling lockdowns, compulsory waves of mass Covid testing and inflation that has characterized the pandemic in China.

A wave of regulatory policies targeting the private sector, most notably private education and China’s tech giants, has has also taken its toll on the perception of the level prosperity and freedom that is realistically achievable for regular Chinese citizens, even those with well-paid jobs, RFA reported.

Not everyone is able to leave, however. Border guards have warned people not to embark on “unnecessary” overseas trips, and have begun clipping people’s passports when they arrive back in the country, to prevent them from leaving again.

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