It did not happen in Henan only. Citizens who suspected that health codes will be used for political surveillance were not paranoid. They were right.
by Lei Shihong
The most discussed subject on Chinese social media, finally displacing the case of the “chained mother of eight,” is now the scandal of the COVID health codes. It makes a bad year for the CCP worse, as it has confirmed to many citizens that they cannot trust the government.
To be honest, many Chinese originally believed that the JKM (Jian Kang Ma), the QR health code system, was a great invention. The QR code immediately told whomever looked at it on the holders’ cell phones whether they had tested positive, had been recently in contact with people who had tested positive, or might otherwise be considered at risk. Some provinces started adding vaccination information in Spring 2021. When holders wanted to enter certain facilities, they showed their JKM and if these were green, they were admitted. If they turned red, they should immediately quarantine, while with a yellow JKM they could not enter most buildings. Of course, there were similar systems in many foreign countries.
While most Chinese accepted the JKM system as necessary to fight COVID, some netizens warned that the CCP would eventually use it against dissidents. The color indicating the COVID status of the holder may be changed by the health authorities from remote. To prevent dissidents or protesters to take to the streets or enter certain buildings, it would be enough for the authorities to change the color of their JKM from green to red, indicating that they are at-risk subjects for COVID and need to quarantine, or at least to yellow, keeping them out of public and other buildings.
Originally, it seemed to many that these were paranoid fears expressed by a minority of conspirationist netizens. Unfortunately, recent events have proved that this minority was right.
The scandal erupted earlier this month in Henan. Four rural banks went into deep trouble, and those who had money deposited there rushed to withdraw it. They were told they could do it only in the provincial capital Zhengzhou. Some went there; others who were told they had already lost their money went to the Zhengzhou office of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC) trying to protest and file a case.
Either when they arrived at Zhengzhou’s train station or later in the city, they noticed that their JKM codes suddenly had turned red, even if some of them had tested negative before the trip. They were asked to show their JKM by the police and sent to quarantine. For protesters, it was clear that the authorities had tampered with their JKM to protect the corrupt but CCP-connected bankers and make the protests impossible.
Another citizen of Henan had sued and was due to testify in one of the many cases in China where private homes are illegally demolished to make room for projects by the state or large corporation. She too was prevented from entering the court building when her JKM code suddenly turned yellow. She decided to sue the Henan Health Administration for illegally tampering with her JKM.
While the authorities apologized mentioning “mistakes” in Henan, netizens are denouncing cases in other provinces as well. According to China Daily, posts about the scandal on Weibo only (without considering the other social media and networking platforms) hit a record 2.1 billion views in a few days.
This is another large social movement, after the one protesting human trafficking in connection with the “chained mother of eight” case. None of these movements alone has the power to threaten the position of Xi Jinping and the CCP. However, coming one after the other, they do create problems for the Party, and confirm that more and more Chinese do not trust their government.