Shanghai Lockdown Bolsters a Fringe Independence Movement

Resentment over handling of Covid-19 feeds a view that the city would be better off on its own. In New York, an activist has a flag ready.

The Wall Street Journal

By James T. Areddy

Apr. 23, 2022 5:30 am ET

Stewing resentment over a government lockdown in Shanghai is bolstering a fringe idea: independence for China’s most cosmopolitan city.

Over much of the past month, as the world has shed Covid-19 restrictions, 25 million Shanghainese have been confined to their homes to crush an outbreak. The paralysis of China’s richest city has astounded its urbane residents, who are normally spoiled for choice with 100,000 restaurants but are now scrounging for food.

This painful episode is providing a ragtag group of pro-independence activists born in the city but living in such places as New York and London new urgency to promote their unconventional plan.

How receptive people in business-minded Shanghai itself might be to such a radical idea is harder to determine, though its residents complain that they are victims of a politicized approach to science designed for less-capable corners of the nation. Angered at central-government orders to halt commercial life, many in Shanghai see the situation through the prism of a longstanding tussle with Beijing over national importance, the kind of pragmatism-versus-politics battle seen between New York and Washington.

Viral videos of residents shouting down government representatives from their balconies, and other signs of public resistance to President Xi Jinping’s policy-making, are feeding predictions that revenge awaits, once Shanghai’s middle classes win their freedom.

“Hungry makes angry,” said Zhang Min, a Shanghai-born New Yorker who has spent recent years agitating for his hometown to declare itself an independent nation.

Hoisting a flag proposed for the independent city-state, the Republic of Shanghai, which is modeled on the colors that flew over sections of the city as a colonial outpost more than 150 years ago, Mr. Zhang plopped into a lawn chair facing China’s Consulate in Manhattan on a recent afternoon. “I have to let the Shanghai people know there is someone in New York who supports them,” he said. “I know I can’t give them food, but this I can do.”

Mr. Zhang, primarily known by his online nickname, “heanquan (何岸泉),” has seen a recent bump in his more than 25,000 followers on Twitter and elicited this week an occasional thumbs-up from ethnic Chinese passersby while demonstrating at Times Square.

Shanghai is a Chinese New York, though with three times as many people and spread over an area eight times bigger. It is a singular economic force, boasting the world’s busiest container port and longest subway system. Hollywood directors often cast its bright vista of skyscrapers as the near-future for such films as “Mission: Impossible III.” Its people, many of whom are haughty and cliquey, speak a dialect unintelligible to most other Chinese and prefer their delicacies sweet, rejecting as unrefined the salty, spicy tastes popular elsewhere in the country.

A legend illustrates the city’s sense of superiority: Shanghai is the head of a dragon that stretches across China.

As a political movement, the nascent Shanghai independence drive is a blip. The chance is zero that a section of China’s eastern coast could actually secede, but even half-serious talk reflects deep frustrations in Shanghai and among its global diaspora over the city’s recent humbling.

Zhang Min with a proposed Shanghai flag derived from a design used in the 19th century, when much of the city was run by Britain, the U.S. and others. PHOTO: JAMES T. AREDDY/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (Note by HeAnquan: On October 1, 2020. The location is the square across the street from the United Nations Headquarters in New York)

While residents take pride in their city as organized and entrepreneurial, they have been horrified by the logistical struggle to feed them during a lockdown many see as orchestrated by Beijing. They have labeled neighborhoods’ organization of food distribution as acts of self-rescue, a rebuke of a state-run media narrative that government authorities are managing the crisis.

Ever since the Emperor Qin Shi Huang unified warring states as one nation in 221 B.C., the leaders of China have been judged by their ability to hold it together. Top officials demonstrate reflexive fury at criticism of their policies regarding places such as Tibet and Xinjiang, where allegiance to Beijing has limits, not to mention Hong Kong or Taiwan.

The platform of the Shanghai National Party, the independence movement’s organization, counters that view and argues that the metropolis is at its root a 19th-century European colonial construct, not an ancient Chinese city such as Beijing. Its members call for restoring the Western-style governance Shanghai had as a colonial trading port starting in the 1840s.

“There was a significant tradition of parts of Shanghai operating as a place that was physically in China but really stood apart,” says Jeffrey Wasserstrom, an authority on the city’s history at the University of California, Irvine.

Mr. Xi, the Chinese president, warned against breakaway notions during a 2017 Hong Kong address during public demands there for democracy. Any effort counter to national sovereignty “is absolutely impermissible,” he said.

Taking the cue, Hong Kong authorities soon declared as illegal a tiny political group called the Hong Kong National Party, which authorities conceded had no more than 100 members, and later jailed its young leader.

Mr. Zhang, a balding 60-year-old with a wispy beard dangling below his chin, said he had been on the path to a career as a surgeon in Shanghai but was rattled by China’s 1989 crackdown at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. He eventually immigrated to New York, where he has worked as a licensed acupuncturist. He became a citizen in 2010 and got active in Chinese online pro-democracy forums.

In recent years, demonstrators in Hong Kong inspired him to pursue a strategy for Shanghai independence, Mr. Zhang said. New York state records show he registered Shanghai National Party Inc. as a not-for-profit corporation in 2018.

Since then, Mr. Zhang has emerged as a fixture at demonstrations against Beijing in front of the United Nations and in the Chinatown of Flushing, Queens, along with dissident Tibetan, Uyghur, Taiwan and Hong Kong activists and members of the banned spiritual group Falun Gong. In recent weeks, he has toted a sign that refers to Shanghai’s lockdown as murder.

The Shanghai movement initially seemed like a group mainly intent on teasing China, said Ilshat Kokbore (伊利夏提), vice chairman of the rights group World Uyghur Congress, which wants to create a separate homeland for its ethnic group in the Xinjiang region. But Mr. Kokbore said he has since given the Shanghai National Party around $100 because “this movement is gaining some attention and is now well known in the dissident society.”

Shanghai-born Edward Wu said the extreme lockdown is part of the reason he decided to join Mr. Zhang for the first time across from the Chinese Consulate on a recent day, after reading his work online over the past few years. “Many people think if Shanghai is independent, it will be better,” the 32-year-old said.

Mr. Zhang said the party has received donations from about 100 members. He provided three years of tax returns, showing that the party reported balances of several thousand dollars, including about $1,700 for the most recent year. Some supporters post photos of themselves on Twitter holding signs advocating Shanghai independence, often with their faces obscured.

A spokesman for China’s Embassy in Washington, Liu Pengyu (刘鹏宇), said by email that he hasn’t heard of the Shanghai National Party. While he acknowledged that the pandemic has affected normal life in the city, authorities are confident it can be contained soon.

Under current plans, the Republic of Shanghai would adopt a flag modified from insignia dating to 1863 for an area of the city governed by an elected council of British and American stalwarts. Britain gained dominion over Shanghai’s riverfront, along with part of Hong Kong, after defeating Qing dynasty China in the Opium Wars. The U.S., France and other world powers likewise muscled into Shanghai to claim what they called concession territory.

Officially in China, these colonial carve-outs began the country’s “century of humiliation.” To supporters of its independence, Shanghai came of age under Western management; they point to its showpiece waterfront architecture known as the Bund, Mr. Zhang’s favorite part of town, which he last visited in 2010.

Imperial Japan slammed the door on Western power in Shanghai when it attacked the city in December 1941—the same day it bombed Pearl Harbor—an event captured in Hollywood director Steven Spielberg’s film “Empire of the Sun.” As Western influence in Shanghai waned, Mr. Zhang’s family suffered. His grandmother was killed in a wartime raid, and his grandfather is thought to have died a violent death during the Cultural Revolution, he said.

“I always say Shanghai should leave China and come back to Europe,” said Mr. Zhang.

Write to James T. Areddy at james.areddy@wsj.com

上海封控之下,邊緣化的上海獨立運動聲量增強

上海防疫封控引發的不滿日漸發酵,一種邊緣化觀念的聲量被增強:上海應該獨立。

過去一個月的大部分時間,在全球各地紛紛放開抗疫限制措斾之際,2500萬上海居民卻足不出戶,居家抗疫。中國這個最富裕的城市陷入癱瘓,居民驚愕萬分。以往,上海有10萬間餐廳可供居民盡情外出就餐,而現在他們卻在為吃飯發愁。

面對這種痛苦的場面, 一些出生在上海、生活在紐約和倫敦等地(何岸泉注:滬民黨黨員遍布多個國家,紐約和洛杉磯較多)的活動人士迫切地希望宣傳他們離經叛道的計劃。這些組織鬆散的活動人士支持上海獨立。

上海是一個商業氣息濃厚的城市,而對於如此激進的想法,這裹的人們接受程度如何還很難說,不過上海居民抱怨說,他們是政治化抗疫策略的受害者,這種方法是針對中國相對落後的地方設計的。中央政府下 令令商業活動停擺,對此許多上海人感到憤怒,他們認為,當前的形勢折射了上海與北京長期以來在全國的地位之爭,類似紐約與華盛頓之間的務實與政治之爭(何岸泉注:上海與北京是文明與專制之爭)。

些影片在網上瘋傳,其中顯示居民在自家陽台上朝政府工作人員高聲怒斥,還有- 一些跡象顯示公眾抗拒中國国家主席習近平的決策,這些情形導致人們猜測,一旦上海的中產階級贏得自由,就會出現報復舉動。

出生在上海的紐約人Zhang Min說:「飢餓使人憤怒。」近年來(何岸泉注:起於2018年1月1日)他一直鼓動上海宣布獨立。

前不久的一個下午,Zhang Min舉起一面為假想的獨立城市国家上海共和國(Republic of Shanghai)設計的國旗,這面旗幟參照了150多年前上海租界部分地區的旗幟(何岸泉註:部分地區指英美公共租界。當時上海還有法租界)。Zhang Min一屁股坐在一張草坪椅上,正對著曼哈頓的中國駐美領事館(何岸泉注:接受記者採訪時正在紐約的中國領事館前進行抗議上海封城活動)。「我必須讓上海人知道,在紐約有人支持他們,」他說。「我知道我不能給他們食物,但這個我能做到。」

Zhang Min更為出名的是他的網名「何岸泉」,他在 Twitter上有25000多名追隨者,最近突然出現一波猛增,上周在時代廣場做展示時,偶爾會有華裔路人豎起大拇指。

上海被譽為中國的紐約,不過人口是紐約的三倍,面積是紐約的八倍。上海具備強大經濟實力,擁有世界上最繁忙的集裝箱港口和最長的地鐵系統。好萊塢的導演經常在電影中用上海明亮的摩天大樓遠景營造末來感,例如《碟中諜3》(Mission: Impossible 1)。上海人說一種大多數中國人聽不懂的方言(何岸泉注:滬語),飲食偏甜,不像中國其他地方一樣喜好咸辣等重口味。部分上海人有些傲慢和排外。

一個傳說能說明這座城市的優越感:上海是一條橫貫中國的巨龍的龍頭。 上海獨立運動這樣一場新萌發的政治運動只是一個小插曲。中國東部沿海地區的一個地方真正脫離中國的可能性為零(何岸泉注:今天過去之後已經是大於零),但即便是半開玩笑的談話,也反映出上海人和全球上海移民對這座城市最近的困境深感受挫。

儘管上海居民對自己所在的城市組織有序和富有創業 精神感到自豪,但封控期間該市混亂的後勤保障工作 令他們感到震驚。許多人認為上海的封控是由中央政府指揮的。他們把社區團購稱作自救行為,以此駁斥 官方媒體所說的政府正化解危機。

自從秦始皇於公元前221年統一中國以來,人們就 直以團結国家的能力來評判中國領導人。對於外界對西藏和新疆等地政策的批評,中國高層官員表現出本能的憤怒。西藏和新疆這些地方對北京方面的擁護有限,更不用說香港和台灣了。

該獨立運動的組織 ——上海民族堂的綱領反駁了上述觀點,他們認為這個大都市植根於19世紀的歐洲殖民主義,而不是像北京那樣的中國古城。上海從19世紀 40年代開始成為殖民貿易港口,而上海民族黨的成員呼籲恢復殖民時代那種西方式的治理。

加州大學爾灣分校(University of California, Irvine)的城市歷史權威Jeffrey Wasserstrom說:「上海的部分地區有一個重要的傳統,即雖然在地域上屬於中國, 但事實上是獨立運作。」

在香港民眾要求民主的呼聲中,中國国家主席習近平 2017年發表講話,對分離主義的想法提出警告。他說,任何危害国家主權安全的活動都是「絕不能允許的」。

香港政府心領神會,很快宣布一個名為香港民族黨的小型政治團體為非法,後來還將其年輕的領導人投入監獄。政府承認該團體的成員不超過100人。

現年60歲的Zhang有些謝頂,留著山羊鬍子,他說自己原本會在上海成為一名外科醫生(何岸泉注:1985年上海第二醫學院畢業後任上海市楊浦區中心醫院外科醫生),但中國1989年的天安門鎮壓行動讓他心驚膽戰。他最終移民到了紐約,在那裡當了一名持證的針灸師(何岸泉注:執照針灸師)。他在2010年入籍美國,並活躍在中文網上民主論壇。

Zhang說,近年來,他受到香港示威者的啟發,實行了追求上海獨立的策略。紐約州的記錄顯示,他在 2018年將Shanghai National Party Inc.註冊為一家非營利性公司。

從那以後,在聯合國紐約總部樓外,皇后區法拉盛唐人街,Zhang成為了反北京示威活動的常客,在那裡舉行示威活動的還有對中共持異見的西藏人、維吾爾人、台灣和香港活動人士以及被禁止的精神團體法輪功的成員。最近幾周,他舉著一塊牌子參加遊行,牌子上寫著「封鎖上海等於謀殺」。

權益組織世界維吾爾代表大會(world Uyghur Congress)的副主席llshat Kokbore(何岸泉注:伊利夏提)說,這項運動最初似乎主要是為了嘲諷中國。不過Kokbore說,後來他向上海民族黨捐了大約100美元,因為「這項運動正在引起關注,現在在異見人士圈子裡出名了」 。世界維吾爾代表大會希望為在新疆地區的維吾爾族人創造一個獨立的家園。

出生於上海的Edward Wu說,過去幾年裡他在網上讀 過Zhang寫的文章,近日,在中國駐紐約總領事館對面,他第一決定加入Zhang 一起示威,其中一個原因就是中國對上海採取了極端的封鎖措施。32歲的Wu 說:「有許多人認為,如果上海獨立,情況會變好。」

Zhang說,上海民族黨已收到大約100名黨員的捐款。他提供了過去三年的納稅申報單,申報單顯示上海民族黨申報了數千美元的餘額,最近一年的餘額為 1700美元左右。該黨派的一些支持者在Twitter上貼出了自己的照片,在照片裡他們舉著主張上海獨立的標語,臉通常都很模糊。

中國駐美大使館發言人劉鵬宇通過電子郵件表示,他沒有聽說過上海民族黨。劉鵬宇承認本輪疫情巳經影 響上海的正常生活,但政府部門有信心很快就能控制住疫情。

按照目前的計劃,上海共和國將採用的國旗由1863 年成立的上海公共租界工部局的徽章修改而成,當年這個由英美兩國中堅力量組成的民選機構負責管理上海公共租界。英國在鴉片戰爭中擊敗了清朝,之後獲得了對上海口岸以及香港部分地區的統治權。美國和法國等世界強國也同樣闖入了上海,要求享有他們所稱的租界內領土主權。

在中國官方看來,這些帶有殖民性質的租界開啟了中國的百年屈辱史。支持上海獨立的人士認為,外灘沿線的標誌性建築群在提醒人們,上海是在西方国家的管理下興旺發達起來的。外灘也是Zhang在上海最喜歡的地方,他上一次去那裡是在2010年。

1941年12月,日本帝國軍隊攻佔上海,結束了西方勢力在上海的統治,好萊塢導演斯皮爾伯格(Steven Spielberg)執導的電影《太陽帝國》(Empire of the Sun)中記錄了這一事件,當天日軍還空襲了珍珠港隨著西方国家在上海的影響衰減,Zhang的家庭也受到波及。Zhang說,他的祖母在戰時一次突襲中喪生(何岸泉注:1937年。当时祖母怀抱出生不久的父亲),他的祖父被認為是在文革中因暴力致死(何岸泉注:祖父成份为国民党官吏)。

Zhang說,他一直認為上海應該脫離中國,重返歐洲(何岸泉注:脫華歸歐)。

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