I am sorry, we are the last generation.
The above sentence, which appeared in a censored video, went viral on Chinese social media last week.
According to reports from a number of media outlets, the video was taken in Shanghai where many residents have been locked up for more than two months under China’s zero-COVID policy.
In the video, a number of pandemic control workers, including one police officer, appeared at the doorstep of a young man demanding the household members check in to a quarantine centre for several days. The young man argued against the arrangement as no one in the household had tested positive for COVID-19. The police officer then warned him that if he refused to follow the order, the punishment would affect three generations of his family. The man replied calmly: “I am sorry, we are the last generation, thank you [for your concern] !”
Below is the video posted on Twitter:
— iPaul🇨🇦🇺🇦 (@iPaulCanada) May 11, 2022
The threat of multi-generational punishment was commonly used during Mao Zedong's era. In this period, when a person was labelled a rightist or capitalist, their offspring would have to wear a label identifying them as an “enemy of the people” and they would face political and social ostracism.
The response of the young man shocked many as, instead of feeling threatened, he fought back calmly by suggesting that he would not have any offspring.
In Chinese culture, having no children is considered a curse — one that draws significant social stigma. But the young man’s openness around not having children has triggered echoes on Chinese social media. Many have used hashtags #ThisIsTheLastGeneration (#这是最后的一代), #WeAreTheLastGeneration (#我们是最后的一代) and #TheLastGeneration (#最后的一代) to make similar declarations and start discussions around childrearing amid political and social oppression:
The situation is really desperate, I don’t want to have offspring either.
This is passive resistance. There is no channel to take revenge on the perpetrator. He could have said that three generations of his family would find ways to make you payback!
Thanks to the zero-COVID policy, many Chinese cities, including megacities like Shanghai and Beijing, are under the so-called dynamic lockdown with hundreds of millions of people locked up in their apartments or residential districts. People are being forced to take PCR tests regularly and are facing strict quarantine requirements. For instance, when a single COVID-19 case is detected in a building, all the residents must stay in quarantine centres. As for households with positive cases or those who have been in close contact with infected individuals, the residents are being forced to allow medical personnel into their homes for thorough disinfection.
— myh (@ma4103) May 12, 2022
Some are angry there is seemingly no respect for individual basic human rights and freedom. Although there have been calls to loosen the zero-COVID policy after Shanghai’s aggressive lockdown which resulted in widespread food shortages, riots, and censorship, Beijing has continued to insist on its pandemic control measures and vowed to fight criticisms of the country's epidemic prevention policies.
Against such a background, some interpreted the “we are the last generation declaration” as the most desperate resistance against tyranny. Chinese Law professor Zhang Xuezhong, for example, said on Twitter:
— 张雪忠ZHANG Xuezhong (@zxzlaw) May 12, 2022
“We are the last generation, thank you!” This is a tragic expression loaded with despair. The person who said this had made a biological decision that they would not have offspring based on the judgment: We have been deprived of a desirable future. This is the strongest protest that the young man could possibly make against his era.
The interpretation is slightly different on Weibo. Many don’t see his statement as an act of political resistance. One popular comment pointed out:
There is no resentment, no resistance, no blind praise of other countries’ practices.
It is an expression of helplessness when one wants to be proud of his identity but is deprived of all his basic rights, an acceptance of his incapability of bringing change even though he had hoped for the better, a self-defence when he was threatened with the fate of his offsprings.
Another Weibo user said:
He didn’t even share any demands, protection requests, or agendas for change. He didn’t talk about the rights that had been taken away from him quietly, nor the black and white agreements that had been trashed. He didn’t advocate, nor protest. He only expressed his stance calmly as if he turned the dagger towards himself sadly in despair.
The Chinese government has been encouraging its citizens to have more children in recent years, particularly after a steep drop in birthrate in 2020. However, the effort has been in vain mainly because of the lack of public support.