"Zero COVID" has many in China dreaming of leaving

“I feel like I’m having an emotional breakdown,” she said. “I feel powerless. It’s like an overbearing father telling you that this is all for your own sake. You just need to listen. Don’t ask questions.”

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Zhu is one of a growing number of Chinese urban professionals subscribing to a new school of thought known as runxue, the study of how to “run” away from their home country. For many like Zhu, it is not just about China’s severe “zero covid” policy, but what the future looks like in a society where politics — upholding the top leader’s policies no matter the cost — trumps science and the well-being of residents whose day-to-day lives are subject to ever more state interference.

“It’s migration driven by a sense of disillusion,” said Xiang Biao, a director at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Germany focusing on migration. “People are not running away from the virus. People are running away from such top-down measures and disregard of individuals’ feelings and dignity.”

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