Covid-hit Shanghai turns to NFTs to preserve lockdown memories

Home to around 25 million, some residents of the Chinese city are minting their lockdown-related visuals as non-fungible tokens (or NFTs) or buying and selling content through cryptocurrencies that cannot be erased.

POPaganda, a non-fungible token collection created by Malaysian artist Simon Fong depicting life under Covid lockdown in China's Shanghai, is seen on the website of NFT marketplace OpenSea.
POPaganda, a non-fungible token collection created by Malaysian artist Simon Fong depicting life under Covid lockdown in China’s Shanghai, is seen on the website of NFT marketplace OpenSea.

Shanghai residents are turning
to blockchain to preserve memories of the city’s month-long
Covid-19 lockdown, minting videos, photos and artworks capturing
their ordeal as non-fungible tokens (or NFTs) 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 have been unleashing their
frustrations online, venting about draconian lockdown curbs and
difficulties procuring food, and sharing stories of hardship,
such as patients unable to get medical treatment.

That has intensified the cat-and-mouse game with Chinese
censors, which have vowed to step up policing of the internet
and group chats to prevent what they describe as rumours and
efforts to stoke discord over seething public frustration with
the lockdown.

While some people have defiantly continued reposting such
content, others are turning to NFT marketplaces like the world’s
largest, OpenSea, where users can mint content and buy or sell
it using cryptocurrencies, attracted in part by the fact that
data recorded on the blockchain is unerasable.

The height of Shanghai’s lockdown minting moment is rooted
in April 22, when netizens battled censors overnight to share a
six-minute video entitled “The Voice of April”, a montage of
voices recorded over the course of the Shanghai outbreak.

As of Monday, 786 different items related to the video can
be found on OpenSea, alongside hundreds of other NFTs related to
the lockdown in Shanghai.

On April 23, a Chinese Twitter user with the handle imFong
said in a widely retweeted post, “I have minted the ‘Voice of
April’ video into an NFT and have frozen its metadata. This
video will exist forever on the 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.

‘Zero-Covid’ restrictions in China prevent May 1 holiday travel

‘People’s rebellion’

A Shanghai-based programmer told the Reuters news agency that he was among
those in the city who viewed their effort to keep the video
alive as part of a “people’s rebellion”.

He has himself minted 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 leaves me a lot
of time,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Other Shanghai content available on OpenSea as NFTs for sale
includes Weibo posts containing complaints about the curbs,
images from inside quarantine centres, and works of art inspired
by life under lockdown.

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

He started minting them into NFTs, having dabbled in 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 pieces include scenes dramatising PCR testing, as well
as residents’ demands for government rations.

“I chose the Mao-era propaganda style for these pieces
because some people are saying that the lockdown situation is
taking Shanghai backward,” Fong said.

NFTs gaining traction

While China has banned cryptocurrency trading, it sees the
blockchain as a promising technology and NFTs have been gaining
traction in the country, embraced by state media outlets and
even tech companies including Ant Group and Tencent Holdings.

The protracted lockdown in Shanghai, China’s financial hub,
is part of Beijing’s controversial zero-Covid strategy, a policy which has growing risks to its economy.

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

Source: Reuters

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