Elizabeth Liu and her husband were hoping to leave their Shanghai residential chemical for the first time in over a month last week. After 14 days of no COVID cases, all but one construction in the compound had been reclassified as low risk. “My husband put on the hazmat suit and went to the supermarket to get our groceries because our construction was technically a precautionary zone,” she explained. “We should be able to go out under the law.” After he returned, the couple was visited by a member of their compound’s residential committee and two policemen, who told them to stay at home.
“Listen to the neighborhood review panel because they know best,” one of the cops told Liu.
Residential committees, known in Chinese as “juweihui,” are made up of volunteers who receive a daily stipend and have gone into overdrive during the pandemic, assisting authorities with mass testing, delivering food to those in need, and enforcing draconian lockdown measures.
However, as Shanghai’s controls enter their sixth week, many of the city’s juweihui have become targets of public ire, with residents accusing them of being overly cautious and overreacting with arbitrary, heavy-handed measures.
Current Shanghai guidelines state that residents may leave their “area” if it has been designated as “precautionary,” but they do not define “area.”
The rules also state that residents should only go out for “appropriate activity,” but what they are allowed to do depends on the juweihui’s discretion. Although government data show that more than 70% of Shanghai residents are now in precautionary zones, many people have not been allowed to leave their compound.
Inhabitants also complain that the committee members are hesitant to disclose specifics and frequently change rules on the fly.
“Because the juweihui has a lot of power in interpreting citywide policies, I’ve seen a lot of unevenness on the ground,” said Yifei Li, a sociologist and assistant professor at NYU-Shanghai who has been under lockdown for the past month.
“What irritates me the most is when they constantly change their rules about what’s allowed and what’s not,” he explained. “That just adds so much uncertainty to an already perilous situation.”