Audio from Shanghai lockdown: An elderly man’s heartbreaking plea

Domestic News

"I can’t believe our country is like this."

File photo from Shanghai by Aly Song, Reuters

Earlier this week, a phone conversation between an elderly man and a neighborhood committee worker in Shanghai — which has been under COVID lockdown since March 28 — was posted to WeChat, where it briefly went viral before being censored yesterday.

In the five-minute call, a man surnamed Yu says he is out of food and medication, and is running a temperature that is going up. He wants a CT scan but is told “higher authorities didn’t process” his request.

As he continues to ask what can be done, the neighborhood committee worker begins to lose his cool. (Beware of the volume spike starting around the 2-minute mark in the embedded audio below.) He is clearly exasperated and says as much. “I didn’t mean to raise my voice but I’m also very anxious and angry,” he says, punctuating his sentences with sighs. “We are powerless and we can’t do anything about it.”

The conversation turns heartbreaking toward the end. A call that began with a resident asking for help from a person ostensibly in charge of overseeing the safety of the residents of this locked down neighborhood ends with a mutual understanding that both parties have in fact been left in the lurch.

Mr. Yu: “Can’t they save our ordinary people from this?”

Neighborhood committee worker: “I also hope so, too!”

Yu: “Why?”

Worker: “Why? I also want to ask why they are like this.”

Yu: “Yeah that’s what I’ve been thinking…”

Worker: “They did nothing about the elderly, the pregnant, and the seniors who passed away. They even left trash bins untended.”

Yu: “I even lodged complaints with municipal-level offices and they went unanswered.

Worker: “Mr. Yu, this is beyond my ability. I don’t know…I’m more heartbroken than you because you are just one family and I’m seeing the distress of numerous families.”

Yu: “I can sympathize with everything you just said.”

Worker: “I’ve explained your situation in written letters and countless calls.”

Yu: “Thank you.”

Worker: “I’m sorry, Mr. Yu. There’s nothing I can do.”

Yu: “I can’t believe our country is like this.”

Worker: “I also don’t know why Shanghai has become like this.”

We’ve transcribed and translated the five-minute call below.

Neighborhood committee worker: 您好,哪位?

Hello, who’s this?

Caller: 我是永康路[redacted]的余[redacted]

I’m Yu [name redacted] from Yongkang Road [address redacted]

Worker: 嗯,余老师您好

Hello, Mr. Yu.

Yu: 我现在受不了了。我现在自己的药都吃完了。东西也没有了,也没有吃的了,我现在人很难受。

I’m fed up. I’m out of medication and other things. I have nothing to eat. I’m feeling terrible.

Worker: 什么东西没有了?你昨天儿子让我帮你爱人配药的时候,您怎么没让我帮你一起配呢?

What do you lack? Why didn’t you ask me to get some meds for you when your son told me to pick up prescriptions for your partner yesterday?

Yu: 我现在人很难受,嗓子疼。温度也一点点升上来了。

I’m feeling sick. My throat is hurting and my body temperature is gradually rising.

Worker: 我帮您送一点那个莲花清温颗粒,莲花清温胶囊给你

I can send you some Lianhua Qingwen capsules [traditional Chinese medicine treatment for infectious diseases].

Yu: 呃,这个我们还有。

We have those at home.

Worker: 那我目前为止居委会只有这类药物。

That’s the only med we have at the neighborhood committee.

Yu: 呃,我想做CT。

I want to have a computed tomography (CT) scan.

Worker: 你想做CT啊,这个不是我们居委会能够决定的。

If that’s your request, this is not something we can help you with.

Yu: 不是我要去医院去看病,要做CT。

I want to go to the hospital for my sickness and get a CT scan.

Worker: 我们已经把你的名字报上去了, 但上级部门没有做处置。

We’ve submitted a request under your name but higher authorities didn’t process it.

Yu: 这个这么长时间都不给我解决,我怎么办?要看着我等死啦?

Then what am I supposed to do about my request being ignored for so long? Are they fine with watching me dying?

Worker: 我也不知道

I don’t know either.

Yu: 啊?

What?

Worker: 我也不知道啊,余老师。

I said I don’t know either, Mr. Yu.

Yu: 那问哪个部门啊?你们给我催催,我这又找李伟啊,对吧。

Which department should I contact? Can you give them a nudge?

Worker: 我们已经帮你报了。

We’ve filed a request for you already.

Yu: 报了就完啦?报了这么多天,都没有听到你们回应。

Is that the end? Many days have passed but I never received a response.

Worker: 他们没有给我回应。

They didn’t give me a response.

Yu: 啊没有给你回应你就不管啦?

So you just left it unsolved because you didn’t get a response?

Worker: 我不是不管,我还有很多东西我都在报。不仅仅是您一个,今天我想办法送走了一个孕妇,今天我在处置一个过世的老人。余老师,不是我们不作为,而是我们做了很多事情…我们无能为力。居委会能做的我都做到了,居委会不该做的事情我也做到了。

It’s not like I don’t want to address this. I’ve filed reports and requests for so many things, and yours is just one of them. Today I found a way to send a pregnant woman away. Today I handled an elderly person who passed away. Mr. Yu, it’s not that we’ve been neglecting our duties. Quite the opposite. We’ve done so many things but we are in a helpless position. Not only have we done everything that a neighborhood committee should do, we’ve also done things that a neighborhood committee is not obligated to do.

Yu: 既然这样,你们不可以向上一级机关反映一下吗?

If that’s the case, couldn’t you tell the authorities above you?

Worker: 我们上级机关最上面一级机关就是街道,区级机关我们是反映不上去的。居民可以去反映,你们可以去反映。但是我告诉你,上海市12345热线到现在都是个空的东西。

The only authority we have a direct line of communication with is the sub-district office. District-level agencies are out of our touch. Residents like you can try to contact them. But I have to tell you that 12345 is useless.

Yu: 这个东西都我反映过了

I’ve tried the hotline.

Worker: 对您都反映过了,您看有结果吗?您看有结果吗?不是我语气越来越重啊, 我也很着急,我也很愤难,我也很生气。但是我们无能为力,我告诉你余老师,我无能为力。一点办法也没有。

So you’ve done that but did it lead anywhere? I didn’t mean to raise my voice but I’m also very anxious and angry. We are powerless and we can’t do anything about it.

Yu: 那怎么办?

What should I do?

Worker: 我也不知道怎么办。现在我面前放着不是您一个人,是有一群这样的人在我面前。就是他们不处置。

I don’t know either. It’s not only you that I have to deal with. There’s a crowd of people like you in front of me but they refuse to act.

Yu: 这个情况怎么办?要我们自己来承受?

How should we handle this situation? Have we no choice but to suffer this ourselves?

Worker: 我也不知道,也许那一天我承受不了了,我先退出了。我也不知道这一天会不会很快到来。余老师,我比你更委屈。

I don’t know either. Maybe one day I will opt out if I can’t stand this anymore. I don’t know if that day will arrive soon. Mr. Yu, I’m more frustrated than you.

Yu: 哦。对。也会有这样的感觉。但是我今天打了街道一天的电话都没有接通。我不是不努力,12345也打过了,110也打过了。

I understand that you sometimes feel that way. But I’ve been calling the subdistrict office all day but they never answered. I’ve been trying on my part. I’ve called 12345 [a 24-hour government-run public service hotline]. I’ve called 110 [police].

Worker: 我知道您都打过了,您看有结果吗?

I know you’ve called all of those. Did it result in anything?

Yu: 哎,我也是说,没结果,是没结果。

Ah, no. No result.

Worker: 我也不知道他们到底在考虑什么事情。

I have no idea what they are contemplating.

Yu: 哎,就不能救救我们的老百姓吗?

Can’t they save our ordinary people from this?

Worker: 我也想让他们来救救我们的老百姓啊,我也想啊!

I also hope so, too!

Yu: 为什么呀?

Why?

Worker: 为什么呀?我也想问问为什么呀?为什么他们会这样?

Why? I also want to ask why they are like this.

Yu: 呃,我也是说呀…

Yeah that’s what I’ve been thinking…

Worker: 老人老人不管,孕妇孕妇不管,过世的老人都不管,连垃圾桶也不管。

They did nothing about the elderly, the pregnant, and the seniors who passed away. They even left trash bins untended.

Yu: 我向市委也反映过了,也一一推推出来。

I even lodged complaints with municipal-level offices and they went unanswered.

Worker: 余老师,我真的很无奈。我不知道…我现在比你更伤心。因为您仅仅是一个家庭,我看到的是无数个家庭。

Mr. Yu, this is beyond my ability. I don’t know…I’m more heartbroken than you. Because you are just one family and I’m seeing the distress of numerous families.

Yu: 呃,对。你所谈的一切真的很理解,真的很理解。

I can sympathize with everything you just said.

Worker: 你的情况我以书面的形式都已报过,电话打过无数次。

I’ve explained your situation in written letters and countless calls.

Yu: 哦。谢谢你。

Oh. Thank you.

Worker: 对不起,余老师,我无能为力。

I’m sorry, Mr. Yu. There’s nothing I can do.

Yu: 哎…真是…我们国家难道就是这个样子…

I can’t believe our country is like this.

Worker: 我也不知道为什么上海会变成这样。

I also don’t know why Shanghai has become like this.

Yu: 嗯…

Yeah.

Worker: 好吧?

Is that it?

Yu: 哦,好。

Yeah.

Worker: 对不起余老师。哎,再见。

My apologies, Mr. Yu. Goodbye.


Follow our coverage of the Shanghai lockdown.