‘Give me rice!’: Bappi Lahiri classic becomes anthem for millions of locked down Chinese
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For millions of Chinese, a song familiar to most people in India has become both an unlikely comfort and a release valve to express their growing frustration over their government’s harsh COVID-19 lockdowns

October 31, 2022 01:02 pm | Updated 05:48 pm IST - Beijing

“Give me rice!”: Bappi Lahiri classic has become an anthem for millions of Chinese who remain locked down in their homes amid a surge in COVID-19 cases. Photo credit: Douyin

“Give me rice!”: Bappi Lahiri classic has become an anthem for millions of Chinese who remain locked down in their homes amid a surge in COVID-19 cases. Photo credit: Douyin

“Give me rice [Jie mi], give me rice [jie mi]!”, they sing, holding up empty pots in front of the camera. Some are even dressed in Indian sarees or kurtas.

For millions of Chinese confined to their apartments in recent days, a song familiar to many in India has become both an unlikely comfort and a release valve to express their growing frustration over their government’s harsh COVID-19 lockdowns.

Over the weekend, “Jie mi, jie mi” (“Give me rice, give me rice”), sung to the tune of the Bappi Lahiri and Parvati Khan classic “Jimmy, Jimmy, Aaja, Aaja” from the 1982 film Disco Dancer, has become an anthem for millions of Chinese who remain locked down in their homes amid a surge in COVID-19 cases.

China reported 2,675 cases on October 30, up by more than 802 from the previous day, a low number for many countries but for a government that is still pursuing a stringent “zero-Covid” policy, a cause for alarm.

The rise in cases has sparked a string of lockdowns in many Provinces. In China’s lockdowns, residents cannot leave their apartments and are reliant on government handouts or online orders. In many cities, including Shanghai, this year, lockdowns on transport led to supply chain disruptions and food shortages.

This explains why “Give me rice!” (Jie mi) has now gone viral on Chinese social media, where direct criticism of the government is quickly censored. Singing a song, however, has become an artful way of expressing sentiment in an otherwise carefully controlled space.

“Give me rice!”: Bappi Lahiri classic has become an anthem for millions of Chinese who remain locked down in their homes amid a surge in COVID-19 cases. Photo credit: Douyin

“Give me rice!”: Bappi Lahiri classic has become an anthem for millions of Chinese who remain locked down in their homes amid a surge in COVID-19 cases. Photo credit: Douyin

“Give me some rice, who can give me rice?” go the transliterated lyrics to the 1982 song. “I have run out of rice, and I don’t need too much rice!” Clips of thousands of users singing the song on Douyin (as TikTok is called in China) have been viewed millions of times this past weekend.

The clips went viral just as lockdowns were imposed in dozens of cities from Heilongjiang Province in the north and Henan in central China to Guangdong and Hunan in the south.

Videos this weekend showed thousands of workers fleeing a factory owned by Foxconn in Zhengzhou, Henan, home to one of the largest iPhone assembly plants in the world, as employees feared a lockdown.

Some climbed over walls with their suitcases and walked for miles on deserted highways, as public transport had been stopped by local authorities on account of the lockdown.

The Chinese Government so far hasn’t made any indications of easing the “zero-Covid” policy, which was defended by President Xi Jinping at the recently concluded Communist Party congress that marked the start of his third five-year term.

Authorities have pointed to low vaccination rates among the elderly and fears of a collapse of China’s medical system as reasons for continuing zero-Covid.

However, some experts have called for a shift in focus towards vaccinations — the booster campaign in China has struggled with public health resources focussing on enforcing lockdowns and testing — and a gradual exit strategy amid increasing weariness among the public, rising economic costs and continuing international isolation for the world’s second-largest economy.

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