'Bartering dishwashing liquid for apples': How China's lockdown in Xi'an has reduced residents to trading gadgets for food

Over 13 million residents of Xi’an have been forced into a strict lockdown since 23 December as part of China’s measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 cases

FP Staff January 05, 2022 13:19:20 IST
'Bartering dishwashing liquid for apples': How China's lockdown in Xi'an has reduced residents to trading gadgets for food

A sanitation worker sweeping a deserted road in Xi'an in China's northern Shaanxi province, amid a coronavirus lockdown in the city. AFP

Cigarettes switched for cabbage, a Nintendo Switch bartered for instant noodles and potatoes exchanged for cotton swabs.

These are just a few instances that portray the hardships that the residents of China’s Xi’an city is facing as they have been forced to confine in their homes since 23 December 2021.

We examine what’s going on in the city and the ensuing outrage it has caused.

Lockdown in Xi’an

Over 13 million residents of Xi’an have been forced into a lockdown since 23 December as part of China’s measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 cases.

The lockdown is the strictest and largest since Wuhan, which sealed off 11 million people in early 2020.

The lockdown in ancient city known as the home of the Terracotta Warriors originally allowed people to leave the house every two days to shop for basic goods, but it has since been tightened.

But, in an attempt to reach 'Zero COVID', Chinese authorities clamped down further on the residents, not allowing them to go out at all and must have goods delivered to them. People can only leave the city with special permission.

Bartering dishwashing liquid for apples How Chinas lockdown in Xian has reduced residents to trading gadgets for food

Vehicles move past along quiet roads in Xi'an in northwestern China's Shaanxi Province. AP

This strict clampdown has led to people complaining of difficulties finding food.

“Can’t leave the building, and it’s getting more and more difficult to buy food online,” said one resident of Xi’an, who posted on the social media platform Weibo under the name Mu Qingyuani Sayno.

A Xi’an-based writer, Jiang Xue wrote, "In this age of material surplus, when everyone is trying to lose weight, finding enough to eat has suddenly become a difficult task."

"I'm starving to death, there is no food, but my community won't let me go out, help me!" said another.

The situation has become so dire that people are looking to barter items for food on social media as well as form trading networks in residential compounds to try to and meet each other's needs.

"Everything is getting bartered in Xi'an," a resident of the city surnamed Wang was quoted as telling Radio Free Asia. "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."

Social posts on China's social messaging app Weibo showed locals swapping cigarettes and tech gadgets for food.

Others were seen exchanging dishwashing liquid for apples, and sanitary pads for a small pile of vegetables.

"Helpless citizens have arrived at the era of bartering — potatoes are exchanged for cotton swabs," one Weibo user said, while another described it as a "return to primitive society".

However, it seems the harsh lockdown measures appear to be working. On Sunday, Xi'an's daily case count dropped for the first time in more than a week to 122, followed by Monday's 90 cases.

How authorities reacted

According to an AP report, Zhang Canyou, an expert with the State Council’s epidemic prevention and control team, conceded that “there may be supply pressure in communities.”

But he was quoted by the official Xinhua news agency as also saying: "The government will go all-out to coordinate resources to provide people with daily necessities and medical services.”

China’s COVID-zero policy

Bartering dishwashing liquid for apples How Chinas lockdown in Xian has reduced residents to trading gadgets for food

Residents line up for COVID-19 tests at a mobile testing site in Xincheng District of Xi'an, in northwestern China's Shaanxi Province. AP

China has been implementing a 'zero tolerance' strategy of quarantining every case, mass testing and trying to block new infections from abroad helped it to contain previous outbreaks.

However, these lockdowns are far more stringent than anything seen elsewhere in the world, and they have exacted a tremendous toll on the economy and the lives of millions of people.

Another city goes into lockdown

Meanwhile, another city has been put into total lockdown after just three asymptomatic COVID-19 cases were discovered.

Yuzhou — which has a population of 1.1 million — saw its transport system shut down and all but essential food stores closed overnight.

The strict measures come ahead of the Lunar New Year and the Winter Olympics due to be held in Beijing.

With inputs from agencies

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