Xi'an residents start bartering amid dwindling lockdown food supplies

The authorities deploy tens of thousands of police officers to 'maintain stability' as public anger grows.
By Qiao Long
Xi'an residents start bartering amid dwindling lockdown food supplies Residents queue to undergo nucleic acid tests for COVID-19 in Xi'an in China's northern Shaanxi province, Dec. 29, 2021.

Xi'an's 13 million residents were left bargaining and bartering for essential foodstuffs amid ongoing food shortages, as the city entered its 11th day of lockdown amid a wave of COVID-19 cases.

As some people took to social media to appeal for assistance as their food supplies ran low, or they were unable to access medical care, others started local trading networks in residential compounds to try to meet each other's needs through bartering.

"Everything is getting bartered in Xi'an," a resident of the city surnamed Wang told RFA. "People are swapping stuff with others in the same building, because they no longer have enough food to eat."

Another resident said in a video clip that some people were trading cigarettes and iPhones for bags of rice. "We now have a barter system in our residential compound," the man says in the clip. "We had a bag of rice, and the neighbor wanted to trade ... a smartphone and a tablet."

"We have six bags of rice in our home but no vegetables."

Authorities in the northern Chinese city of Xi'an have called for calm, as many in Xi'an are taking to social media complaining that they were unable to get sufficient food supplies after being ordered to stay in their homes.

The city authorities have deployed around 29,000 police officers to enforce the lockdown, while countless local security guards are preventing people from entering or leaving areas designated high or medium risk.

One video clip that made the rounds on social media showed security guards beating a teenager in the lobby of a building because he went out to buy steamed buns.

"I was hungry, so I came out to get some mantou," the youngster is heard telling the guards, who beat and kick him, knocking his food to the ground. City authorities later said the guards had been punished.

Residents were initially told they would be allowed to send a designated person to buy groceries every other day, but many have since told RFA that the security guards in many areas aren't allowing anyone to leave.

Those who can make it out to buy supplies are finding that prices have skyrocketed, especially of fresh fruit and vegetables, despite a well publicized effort by the government and volunteers to bring fresh produce into the city in large quantities to hand out to beleaguered residents.

One video clip posted to social media showed a man who said he had paid around 40 yuan for 10 capsicum peppers, the same amount for six tomatoes and 40 yuan for two cabbages.

"The vegetable vendor must be making a fortune," the man complains, while showing his haul to friends.

'Spoiled for choice'

State media, which is tightly controlled by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), reported on a line of trucks hauling a selection of vegetables, fresh fruit and pork belly into residential households in one part of the city on Dec. 29, delivering fresh food to around 180 households.

But the address given in the news report was tracked down by social media users, who discovered it was a residential compound for employees of the Shaanxi Provincial People's Congress and the Xi'an municipal government, prompting a public outcry on social media.

A Xi'an resident surnamed Song said the food given to the families of officials looked luxurious compared with what regular people are getting.

"They were spoiled for choice when it comes vegetables," Song said. "Where can regular people find stuff like that?"

"I managed to get one head of Chinese leaves, a zucchini, four bell peppers, three heads of garlic, a piece of ginger, two scallions and three potatoes," she said.

According to the Shaanxi provincial government, a total of 41,000 police officers have been dispatched to Xi'an to maintain public order, with 29,000 of those deployed to Xi'an, 20,352 of whom are working in residential compounds.

Some 4,000 are operating traffic roadblocks, while others are guarding hotels or COVID-19 testing sites.

Stability maintenance 

A Shaanxi scholar who gave only the surname Tian said the government's top priority in times of crisis is always maintaining public order and social stability, rather than looking after the needs of ordinary people.

"They have been building up the stability maintenance system ever since 2004," Tian said. "They say there are only 40,000 police officers in Xi'an, but actually there are many more [security personnel] who aren't police, including neighborhood committees and security in charge of buildings."

"There are also village officials and their teams and so on," he said.

Commentator Han Dapeng said the lockdown doesn't appear to be preventing the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, however.

"They used this total lockdown method on Wuhan last year, but Omicron is still going strong," Han said. "Yet the rates of fatality and severe disease are both very low."

"I don't think this Xi'an lockdown is about disease prevention," he said. "It's more about controlling the population."

State news agency Xinhua reported that China had 161 confirmed cases of COVID-19 nationwide on Monday, 101 of which were locally transmitted.

New cases in Xi'an fell to their lowest in a week, health officials said Sunday, as the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) pursues a "zero COVID" approach involving tight border restrictions and swift, targeted lockdowns.

Zhang Canyou of the China Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that several rounds of testing in Xi'an had showed there are "some positive changes" in case numbers, which have dipped since the lockdown began.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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