BEIJING – Following last month’s re-election of Xi Jinping as the leader of the Communist Party of China, online searches for ways to leave China exploded. On WeChat alone, more than 60 million people searched for information about leaving the country. A week later, with COVID-19 cases nationwide on the rise, the number rose to 80 million in one day.
China’s zero-COVID policy is believed to be Jinping’s brainchild. To make matters worse, the man responsible for the disastrous handling of the Shanghai lockdown earlier this year, Li Qiang, was appointed to be the next premier of China. However, criticism of the country’s zero-COVID policy continues to swell.
“I’ve never been very interested in politics, but since the beginning of the pandemic, so many outrageous things have happened. The COVID insanity is everywhere. I feel my eyes have been opened, and I can’t take it anymore,” said Wang, a woman from Shanghai.
Wang, not using her real name, told Fox News Digital that her options are limited. “I want to resist, but I don’t know how. The only thing I do is refuse to take a test every once in a while. I just want to leave and live a normal life.”
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Additionally, with news of Beijing facing new more serious outbreaks of COVID-19, the likelihood of people seeking ways out is only set to increase.
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Online, people have continued to show their anger, demanding that state-controlled media report the truth about how the lockdown policy has torn people’s lives apart. In addition, several cities have issued apologies for their handling of city lockdowns or have promised to take better care of residents going forward.
A man in his 20s, who gave the name Mou, said he also wants out. “Not too long ago, my colleague’s grandfather passed away at the age of 98. He had wished to be cremated, but the funeral home turned the family down because the deceased didn’t have a valid 48-hour COVID test. Can you believe that? All these COVID policies seem to make people forget how to be human.”
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The interest in getting out of the communist nation has led to a new term known as “runology.” The word is a play on Chinese characters and first went viral at the beginning of the Shanghai lockdown in early April.
Chinese online users have used the term to prevent censors from blocking messages on emigration. Although it started with the word run, it later developed into runology, the “study” of how to run from China. In addition to numerous pages on how to leave China, agents offering long-term visas have sprouted up all over the internet.
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However, despite the increased interest in emigrating, few people can leave the country. In 2019, state-run CGTN reported that about one-tenth of China’s 1.4 billion people held valid passports. As of last year, China’s National Immigration Administration stopped issuing new passports, exit visas and police permits to leave the country for “non-essential travel” in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19 through international travel. Only people with essential reasons for travel abroad can apply.
Many believe that the Chinese government is using COVID-19 as an excuse to restrict the outward mobility of its citizens. Quarantine in a state-appointed facility is mandatory when returning to China, which is claimed as a way of preventing spread from those coming in from abroad. Instead, such limitations on physical mobility fit into a broader trend of restricting Western influence, ranging from banning foreign schoolbooks, movies and pop culture to decreasing the number of hours spent learning foreign languages.
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According to Reuters schools, restaurants and some residential areas in Beijing went into lockdown on Monday, as cases in the capital and the nation continued to rise.
Reuters contributed to this report.