Shanghai residents are turning to blockchain to preserve memories of the city's month-long Covid-19 lockdown, minting videos, photos and artwork capturing their ordeal as non-fungible tokens to ensure they can be shared and avoid deletion.
Unable to leave their homes for weeks at a stretch, many of the city's 25 million residents vented their frustrations online, citing draconian lockdown restrictions and difficulties getting food, and sharing stories of hardship, such as patients unable to seek treatment.
It has intensified a cat-and-mouse game with China's censors, who have pledged to step up surveillance of the internet and group chats to prevent what they describe as rumors and divisive efforts in the face. to seething public frustration over the lockdown.
While some people have continued to defiantly repost this content, others are turning to NFT marketplaces like the world's largest, OpenSea, where users can create content and buy or sell it using cryptocurrencies. currencies, attracted in part by the fact that the data recorded on the blockchain is indelible. .
The height of Shanghai's lockdown moment dates back to April 22, when netizens battled censors overnight to share a six-minute video titled "April's Voice," a montage of voices recorded over the Shanghai epidemic.
As of Monday, 786 different video-related articles can be found on OpenSea, alongside hundreds of other lockdown-related NFTs in Shanghai.
On April 23, a Chinese Twitter user with the handle imFong said in a widely retweeted post, "I embedded the video – Voice of April – into an NFT and froze its metadata. This video will exist forever on IPFS," referring to the Interplanetary File System, a type of distributed network.
Like most major foreign social media and news platforms, Twitter is blocked in China, although residents can access it using VPNs.
A Shanghai-based programmer told Reuters he was among those in the city who saw their efforts to keep the video alive as part of a "grassroots rebellion".
He himself created an NFT based on a screenshot of Shanghai's Covid lockdown map, showing how most of the city has been sealed off from the outside world.
"Being stuck at home because of the outbreak gives me a lot of time," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Other content from Shanghai available on OpenSea as NFTs for sale includes Weibo posts containing complaints about curbs, images from inside quarantine centers and artwork inspired by life under lockdown.
Simon Fong, a 49-year-old Malaysian freelance designer who has lived in Shanghai for nine years, began creating satirical illustrations about life in lockdown in the style of Mao-era propaganda posters.
He has started turning them into NFTs, having hit the market since late last year, and has now managed to sell nine of his works for an average price of 0.1 ether ($290).
His plays include scenes featuring the PCR tests, as well as residents' requests for government rations.
"I chose the Mao-era propaganda style for these pieces because some people say the lockdown situation is setting Shanghai back," Fong said.
Although China has banned cryptocurrency trading, it sees blockchain as a promising technology and NFTs have gained traction in the country, being adopted by state media and even tech companies such as Ant Group and Tencent. Holdings.
The prolonged lockdown of Shanghai, China's financial hub, is part of Beijing's controversial zero-Covid strategy, a policy that carries growing risks for its economy.
Shanghai's Covid outbreak, which began in March, is the worst in China since the pandemic's first months in 2020. Hundreds of thousands of people have been infected in the city.