Shanghai residents turn to NFTs to register COVID lockdown and fight censorship

HONG KONG, May 4 (Reuters) – Shanghai residents are turning to blockchain to preserve memories of the city’s month-long lockdown due to COVID-19, minting videos, photos and artwork depicting their plight as irreplaceable tokens to ensure they can be shared. and avoid deletion.

Unable to leave their homes for weeks at a time, many of the city’s 25 million residents unleashed their frustration online, venting stringent lockdown restrictions and difficulties getting food, and sharing stories of suffering, such as patients unable to get medical treatment.

This has intensified a cat-and-mouse game with Chinese censors, which has vowed to ramp up internet censorship and group chats to prevent what they describe as rumors and efforts to stoke discord over angry public frustration with the shutdown.

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While some people have continued to defiantly repost such content, others are turning to NFT marketplaces such as the world’s largest open market, OpenSea, where users can mint content and buy or sell it using cryptocurrencies, partly attracted by the fact that data recorded on the blockchain is not erasable. .

The heyday of Shanghai’s moment of lockdown dates back to April 22, when netizens battled censorship overnight to share a six-minute video called “The Voice of April,” a montage of sounds recorded over the course of the outbreak in Shanghai. Read more

As of Monday, 786 different video-related items can be found on OpenSea, along with hundreds of other NFTs related to the shutdown in Shanghai.

On April 23, a Chinese Twitter user with an imFong handle said in a widely retweeted post, “I have minted the ‘Audio of April’ video in NFT and froze its metadata. This video will forever exist on IPFS,” in A reference to the Interplanetary File System, a type of distributed network.

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Like most foreign social media and news platforms, Twitter is banned in China, although residents can access it using a VPN.

A programmer from Shanghai told Reuters he was among those in the city who watched their efforts to keep the video alive as part of a “popular rebellion”.

He himself minted the NFT based on a screenshot of Shanghai’s COVID lockdown map, which shows how much of the city has been cut off from the outside world.

“Being stuck at home because of the outbreak leaves me with a lot of time,” he said, speaking on condition of not being able to play.

Other Shanghai content available on OpenSea such as NFTs for sale include Weibo posts with complaints about restrictions, photos from inside quarantine centers, and artwork inspired by life under lockdown.

Simon Fong, a 49-year-old independent designer from Malaysia who has lived in Shanghai for nine years, began creating satirical illustrations of life under lockdown in the style of Mao-era propaganda posters.

He started by minting in NFTs, having been in the market since late last year, and has now managed to sell nine of his businesses at an average price of 0.1 ether ($290).

His works include theatrical scenes of the PCR test, as well as residents’ demands for government rations.

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“I chose the Mao-era propaganda style for these pieces because some people say the lockdown is putting Shanghai back,” Fong said.

While China has banned cryptocurrency trading, it sees blockchain as a promising technology, and NFT has gained momentum in the country, embraced by state media and even tech companies including Ant Group and Tencent Holdings.

The prolonged shutdown in Shanghai, China’s financial hub, is part of Beijing’s controversial strategy, a growing policy risks to its economy.

The COVID outbreak in Shanghai, which began in March, was the worst in China since the epidemic’s early months in 2020. Hundreds of thousands have been infected in the city.

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Reporting by Josh Yee; Editing by Brenda Goh and Michael Berry

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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