BayMax in quarantine China
If you are not familiar with Big Hero 6, a Marvel Studio movie, BayMax is an inflatable computerized robot who serves as a personal healthcare companion; he is selfless, caring, and extremely devoted to his patients. During the 2020 Global Coronavirus outbreak, volunteers wore white protective suits, reminiscent of BayMax. Among them were professional medical staff, civilian police, and auxiliary police. There was also a large number of temporarily recruited migrant workers and other volunteers. Many of them did not undergo professional training and had no legal authority. When they first emerged in Wuhan, everyone appreciated their help–the BayMax helped deliver groceries to homes under lockdown, transport patients across the city, and offer people encouragement under dark times.
BayMax was then being consistently used in Chinese social media and government official media to praise the hard work of the volunteers. However, at the beginning of 2022, the "Zero COVID-19 Case Policy" became the single goal of the whole society. Uniforms of the Baymax — white protective clothing — concealed personal identities, and incidents of violence against ordinary citizens spurred a change in public opinion of the BayMax symbolism. Some media complained that this round of extreme epidemic prevention had turned into a political movement, and compared "BayMax" to "White Guards" — referencing “Red Guards” during the Cultural Revolution. In January of 2023, China lifted the “Zero COVID-19 Case Policy,” but where will the BayMaxes go?
Due to the anonymity the protective suits provided, some of the “BayMaxes” were able to exercise their power in extreme and violent ways. As early as 1973, American psychologist Philip Zimbaldo conducted psychological experiments in an anonymous state. He found that "anonymous uniforms" can give people a subconscious desire to manipulate power, and the concealment of identity provides a safe environment for implementing extreme power manipulation.
During Shanghai Lockdown in 2022, a “BayMax” beat a corgi dog to death simply because the owner of the corgi tested positive for COVID-19. However, the biggest backlash was when the fire in Urumqi began, and the residents could not escape due to the blocked door of the apartment building. The fire truck couldn’t reach the fire because of the quarantine blockade around the apartment. In the video that leaked out, residents were constantly screaming: “Open the Door, I can’t breathe!” After a while the screaming diminished and eventually there was only the sound of fire burning.
This evoked protests from Chinese people all over the country, in Shanghai, in Beijing, in Nanjing, in Guangzhou. These were the first large-scale protests after the Tiananmen Square protest in 1989. The protestors first took a moment of silence, they then put flowers on the street and lit candles, and at the end people shared their experiences of three years living under lockdown. Yet, this peaceful demonstration was taken down by the Chinese police. Protestors were arrested, and people were being searched for being “anticommunist.” “We didn’t expect any outcome after the protest. It’s been three years, I can’t be silent anymore,” said one of the protesters, “I didn’t expect China to lift the policy.”
When the COVID-19 lockdown was lifted, a Shanghai resident recalled: “I was on a walk today, there [was] a girl with white hoodie and pants riding a bicycle. Since I [wasn’t] wearing my glasses, I panicked. ‘Did the BayMax come back again?’ But when she came closer I [had] realized the COVID-19 policy had already ended… That’s when I felt like my three years under lock down [was] just like a fever dream.”
Where will the “BayMaxes” go? After the “Zero COVID-19 Policy” was lifted, many of the BayMax were being fired without salaries: “I decided to be a BayMax because the salaries [were] nice especially under [the] time period when factories closed. I earned 10,000 yuan per month— approximately 1660 dollars. I [had] to work 12 hours per day in a protective suit, and I also [faced] a lot of malices from the residents.”
Given the fact that BayMax is the closest contact between the residents and government, often people express their anger towards BayMax: “People called me a whore, an idiot, and many more curses,” a volunteer said. “Since the salary is so admirable, I decided to endure all of that. Now, they can’t even pay us anymore. I have worked for nothing.”
However, the BayMax’s are not the only ones vanishing from Chinese society. Shares of PCR companies have been decreasing drastically. Shanghai Rhine Inspection fell 11%, and Guangdong Kaipu PCR company fell 8%. The COVID-19-19 PCR testing factories are also closing down, leaving unpaid workers outside of the factories. “It was the worst timing ever,” commented one of the factory workers, “I earned 60,000 Yuan (approximately $9,960 dollars) in the past months, my salary has already been cut because I am a temporary worker, and it’s right before Chinese New Year, I need the money to pay my debt, and buy my ticket so I can go back home.”
“We need transitions. We can’t go from one extreme to another,” a doctor from Shanghai Longhua Hospital mentioned, “The medicines are so overpriced, because in the past the factories were closed and we couldn't produce any of them.”
People do not function like light switches. The government can not just turn on the switch and turn it off. Sumerians belong to a small cohort in the giant system, following the line of thoughts from the engine: they will be replaced, thrown away, and gain rust at a small corner. Shall we be mad at the factories turning down? Shall we hate all the baymaxes? Or they are simply a product of time.