Residents in Shanghai are storing their memories of the city’s Covid-19 lockdown in non-fungible tokens to avoid deletion and to ensure they may be shared.
Unable to leave their homes for weeks at a time, many of Shanghai’s 25 million citizens have vented their rage online – over harsh lockdown limitations and the difficulty in obtaining enough food. They have also recounted experiences of adversity, such as people who were unable to obtain medical treatment.
This has heightened the cat-and-mouse game with Chinese censors, who have vowed to increase surveillance of the internet and group conversations to prevent what they call rumors and efforts to sow unrest amid public outrage over the closure.
While some users have stubbornly persisted to republish the content, others are minting movies, images, and artworks depicting their trauma as NFTs, drawn in part by the notion that data stored on the blockchain is unerasable.
The peak of Shanghai’s lockdown NFT minting event is based on an overnight online struggle on April 22 between censors and users posting The Voice of April — a six-minute video montage of voices recorded during the outbreak.
As of Monday, 786 distinct things relating to the film were available on OpenSea, the world’s largest NFT marketplace, with hundreds of other NFTs related to the Shanghai shutdown.
On April 23, a Chinese Twitter user with the handle imFong wrote in a highly circulated post about the interplanetary file system, a sort of distributed network, “I have minted the ‘Voice of April’ video into an NFT and have frozen its metadata.” This video will live on the IPFS in perpetuity.”
Twitter, like most major foreign social media and news platforms, is restricted in China, though locals can use VPNs to access it.
A Shanghai-based programmer said he and others in the city saw their efforts to keep the video alive as part of a “people’s resistance.”
He created an NFT based on a screenshot of Shanghai’s Covid-19 lockdown map, which shows how much of the city has been walled off from the outside world.
“Being stuck at home due to the outbreak gives me a lot of time,” he explained on the condition of anonymity.
Other Shanghai content available for purchase as NFTs on OpenSea includes Weibo posts decrying the curbs, photographs from inside quarantine facilities, and pieces of art inspired by life under lockdown.
Simon Fong, a 49-year-old Malaysian freelance designer who has lived in Shanghai for nine years, began drawing humorous sketches of life under lockdown in the style of Mao-era propaganda posters.
After dabbling in the market since late last year, he began minting them into NFTs and has now sold nine of his works for an average price of 0.1 ether (US$290).
His works incorporate images depicting PCR testing and citizens’ pleas for government food.
“I chose the Mao-era propaganda style for these pieces because some people are saying the lockdown situation is taking Shanghai backwards,” Fong said.
While China has prohibited cryptocurrency trading, the country regards blockchain as a promising technology, and NFTs have gained support in the country, being embraced by state media outlets and even tech businesses.
The lengthy lockdown in Shanghai, China’s financial metropolis, is part of Beijing’s divisive zero-Covid plan, which poses mounting hazards to the country’s economy.
The Covid-19 epidemic in Shanghai, which began in March, is China’s deadliest since the pandemic’s early months in 2020. Hundreds of thousands of people have become infected in the metropolis.