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Experiencing Graduated Intimacies during Lockdown (Fengcheng)

A Reflexive and Comparative Approach to the COVID-19 Pandemic in Urban China

Junjie Chen


In this article, I examine the ways in which the recent, nationwide ‘lockdown’ (fengcheng) in China, caused by the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, has abruptly reshaped daily intimacy practices of urban residents. Highlighting the lockdown in a southeast coastal city in the broader context of China's post-socialist transformations, I propose that class distinctions have profoundly reconfigured local citizens’ daily experiences, producing a system of what might be termed ‘graduated intimacies’. To further contextualize these urban citizens’ experiences of intimacy under the current transnational geo-biopolitics associated with the pandemic, I provide a reflexive and comparative ethnographic look at the national capital of Beijing. In so doing, I offer a glimpse into the lives of several sets of Chinese citizens at an unexpected historical moment induced by a grave public health crisis extending well beyond China's national borders.