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NFTs: How Shanghai residents document strict lockdown experiences amid censorship

NFTs are a fun and innovative way to purchase artworks and enter exclusive communities. But for Shanghai residents, they are the only way to document their tragic experiences during the month-long lockdown.

Locked in their homes since April 5th, those living in Shanghai are turning to blockchain to communicate with the world about their struggles, such as being unable to get food and medical supplies. As the Chinese platforms and social media apps fill up with illustrations of effective handling of the country’s worst COVID-19 outbreak since 2020, NFTs minted by Shanghai residents paint a chilling picture of what’s happening behind closed doors.

The Great Firewall: the digital eye of the regime

Chinese censors have been on the hunt to shut down any similar news, calling them attempts to stir up dissension. The country’s surveillance system known as the Great Firewall is a sophisticated mechanism capable of censoring content, accessing personal information, as well as identifying and locating individuals of interest, hence maintaining the rhetoric of the Communist party.

Since the introduction of the Great Firewall, the country has been trying to balance between opening the internet just enough to facilitate innovation and online business while preventing it from affecting China’s political course. This includes a number of strict laws, such as the 2013’s court rule aimed at tackling the purposeful spread of online “rumors.” According to the ruling, authors of online posts disseminating “lies” that received high engagement rates – over 5,000 views or 500 shares specifically – will face defamation charges of up to three years in jail.

The vision of the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, on this matter is straightforward: each country should choose its own cybersecurity path with no interference from foreign agents.

“We should respect the right of individual countries to independently choose their own path of cyber-development,” he said during the opening ceremony of the second World Internet Conference in China.

NFTs as historical documents

Despite the strict rules, not everyone is willing to follow the party’s stance. More Shanghai residents are turning to Open Sea – an American NFT marketplace, which describes itself as the world’s largest.

Currently, there are hundreds of lockdown-related NFTs available on the marketplace. Additionally, there are over 700 NFTs minted based on the “Voices of April” – a compilation of audio snippets from real conversations recorded over the course of Shanghai’s lockdown. Captured recordings illustrate a depressing picture, with people pleading for medicine and food, as well as children crying in distress as they’re left in isolation centers without their parents.

The “Voices of April” was repeatedly censored, but users found ways to keep it online. As such, they re-uploaded it upside-down, shared fake movie posters with QR codes linked to the video, and distributed it through the InterPlanetary File System. The IPFS in short, it is a peer-to-peer protocol considered uncensorable, as it allows users “to download webpages and content stored across multiple servers.”

"I have minted the 'Voices of April' video into an NFT and have frozen its metadata. This video will exist forever on the IPFS," said a Chinese Twitter user, Reuters reports. Twitter has been banned in China since 2009.

Users buy or sell minted content through cryptocurrencies like Ethereum. This includes recorded videos, audio, related artworks, images, and Weibo [a Chinese blogging website] posts. For many, however, it’s the only remaining documentation of the hardships suffered in the global financial hub during the lockdown.

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