#Logistics in the time of COVID

Biopolitics in a Residential Compound in Shanghai

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Resident Committee (RC)’s supervisional and regulatory power was vividly seen and felt by Shanghai residents...
Goeun Lee
Illustration: Hei-won Byun

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Resident Committee (RC)’s supervisional and regulatory power was vividly seen and felt by Shanghai residents. The RC had set up group chats on Wechat, the Chinese messaging platform, and made daily briefings on the patients’ detailed status and whereabouts in the residential compound. Many residents, who were previously not interested in and did not join the groups, now actively stayed tuned into the information on their communities. However, the RC’s reach was not limited in virtual communication. The RC volunteers brought me a pack of masks at the door, showing their care and attention to a foreigner like me who did not have connections (guanxi) to secure masks and other necessary goods. They frequently sent me friendly greetings on WeChat, while asking about my current location and future travel plans. The RC collected information about the residents like me through practicing care (guan’ai). 

The RC actively regulated the supply and disposal of masks in the compound. The residents could buy the masks from the RC on set days, taking turns. Using their messaging platforms, the RC reminded the residents that they should dispose the masks separately from other household wastes. The residents carefully put the used masks in designated containers outside the apartment buildings, sealed in plastic bags. The masks were supposed to move one way only: from the sources to the users, and finally to the disposal facilities. The direction would not be reversed or multiplied under the supervision and regulation by the RC. Being in charge of the logistics of the limited material—face masks—in the compound, the RC embodies the biopolitical state to the Shanghai residents, during and maybe after the pandemic.

Trash Bin Designated for Used Disposable Masks (Photo credit: Goeun Lee)


Goeun Lee is a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at the University of Kentucky. She is currently working on her dissertation research project on waste management infrastructure in contemporary Shanghai, focusing on the Chinese state, civility, and gender.

Hei-won Byun is a Ph.D. Candidate in Linguistic Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also an illustrator who loves visual art, craft, performance, and story writing. Her dissertation project is on the training of Japanese voice actors and semiotic formulation of Japanese popular culture.