China’s leadership has promoted its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, deploying lockdowns and other aggressive measures to keep cases and deaths low, as a demonstration of the superiority of its Communist party-state system compared with the pandemic performance of other forms of government around the world. But the zero-COVID approach has come with heavy economic and social costs that have become more visible with the spread of more transmissible variants of the virus. These costs, and the party-state’s unyielding approach of turning pandemic control into a militaristic national campaign, culminated in the long lockdown of Shanghai—a veritable siege—in the spring of 2022.

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