A group of volunteers dressed in white hazmat suits shaped the lives of 25 million Shanghai residents. Their duties include giving millions of people covid tests, distributing food to residential neighborhoods, determining who can leave their building and for what reason, and sometimes even walking the dogs of quarantined residents.
These volunteers are now known as (da bai), a name that was originally derived from the Chinese name for Big Hero 6 in 2020, because of their PPE. As frontline covid workersmedical workers, local government employees, and volunteershave become a common practice in cities grappling with new forms of infections, the term has evolved into more widespread usage.
The public eye is filled with anecdotes demonstrating the dedication of large whites, such as one account of a volunteer who spoke to villagers in China's Jilin province, or another who fainted during the day. People have shared viral videos of them performing TikTok-style to get motivated for the day. Qian Yali, a Shanghai resident who has worked as a volunteer, said the nickname makes her feel that she is fighting a conflict on behalf of the city when she
When used by Chinese public, the term "wake the mood amid the pressures of covid," and for those who became volunteers, it also carries an element of warmth, according to Guo Ting, an assistant professor of language studies at the University of Toronto. It is a way to get accepted for Beijing's harsh zero-covid approach, evoking affectionate feelings for those who are doing it.
It is...treating citizens as children, Guo said. I would describe using a system called "parental governance."
Beijing's use of infantilizing propaganda
The phrase is an example of China's government's tendency to use "cuteness" in its propaganda, a different approach than the "" type of aggression of several Beijing statements.
According to David Bandurski, the co-director of the China Media Project, which examines Chinese media and political communication. "It makes those who act in the service of party goals and ideals lovable."
During a visit to a delivery service station in Beijing, Bandurski said the party's use of the term "little bees" which can be traced back to the 1950s. It continues to be used, with Chinese President Xi Jinping lauding delivery drivers in 2019.
The people's Daily, a political group, launched in January 2020 a series of names for the "little red," or "red bulls," used by spectators of the building process, attracting comments from those who were "lucky babies" for watching the livestream at home rather than going out during the epidemic.
Peng Shuai, a tennis player, was discovered last year after public comments about a former top Party official and shared information with Peng on her WeChat account, where she was seen hugging fluffy stuffed animals, a non-key attempt by the propaganda apparatus to confirm her well-being, amid a growing international outcry.
"So as in the case of big whites, state media have recognized via internet trends that cuteness is power," Guo told Quartz.
Are there big whites or "white guards"?
As Shanghai's lockdown, less familiar videos and accounts have emerged. In one, a worker in white protective gear with a spade was apparently removed for testing positive, causing havoc among many in China. Other clips have reportedly shown covid workers in physical brawls, with residents becoming increasingly frustrated and other stresses. For many Chinese young people, the strict enforcement of covid rules in Shanghai as is their deepest brush with.
With the rise of increasing violence, citizens have labeled the big whites as "white guards." That's an allegation to Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, with young people who enthusiastically took part in trial attempts and beatings of those accused.
During extreme tests, people are often forced to wear masks when dealing with citizens. Another video that has provoked anger, a group of white-clad workers is seen utilizing anti-riot catchpoles to stutter a guy and force him to wear a mask. "It's quite easy for grassroots society to form a social Darwinist-style "law of the jungle" under situations, with grassroots [workers] given and feeding upon unprecedented power," says Xiao Yi.
Many remain grateful for the workers who have provided assistance to residents with sundry tasks, such as obtaining food permits or obtaining permission for an emergency hospital visit. "I don't know why Shanghai became a state, but grassroots workers and big whites, thanks for your hard work!" wrote a Weibo user.
In difficult circumstances, volunteers say they are doing the best they can. "There are lots of things big whites can't decide themselves." Qian, a Shanghai volunteer, said the "people must perform tasks well."