ZHOU SHENGNI NEEDED a doctor, and fast. The 49-year-old, who was having an asthma attack, was being driven by her family to Shanghai East Hospital, where she worked as a nurse, for urgent treatment. It was March 23, and the Chinese city was under a strict Covid lockdown.

However, when they arrived at the emergency department, Zhou’s family found that it was closed for disinfection under Shanghai’s rules to contain the spread of Covid. In urgent need of medical care, they had no choice but to drive to another hospital about 9 kilometers away. Zhou later died.

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Zhou’s death caused outrage on Chinese social media, but it was not an isolated incident. Shanghai’s citywide lockdown lasted two months, with most restrictions removed on June 1. But, for those two months, almost nothing moved—including the city’s hospitals, which were hit by sudden closures, with many restricting their services to emergencies only. Patients in need of medical help were told to present a negative PCR test to access care.

From February to May, health authorities in Shanghai had reported 588 deaths related to Covid-19, the majority elderly residents. But officials didn’t count people like Zhou, who may have died as a result of the city’s lockdown restrictions.

Discussions about the collateral damage of China’s zero-Covid policy are heavily restricted in the country. Censors have blocked comments from people opposing the pandemic strategy, including remarks made by World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. But, as ever in China, censorship has not stopped people from finding technical workarounds to express dissent.

On April 14, a WeChat account called Shi You shared an article entitled “Shanghai Deceased,” which reported on people in the city who had seemingly died as a result of harsh lockdown restrictions. The article’s comment section was quickly flooded with messages from people saying they had also heard of or knew someone who had died during the lockdown.

Capser Yu immediately realized that both the article and its comments were important. A Shanghai native now working in Singapore, Yu had heard stories of people back home who had lost loved ones during lockdown. One of those lost was Chen Xiangru, a 3-year-old girl who was reportedly unable to receive timely treatment when she developed a serious fever in late March. Chen died in hospital while waiting for the result of a PCR test doctors required to provide treatment.

Worried that censors would hide crucial evidence, Yu started taking screenshots of the WeChat article. A few hours later, WeChat scrubbed the article. When people in China tried to open the article again, all that was left was a message saying it “violates regulations.”

Yu reposted the content on a blog he created, called Real China, to help keep his parents in Shanghai informed about how news in China was being reported overseas. Within hours, Chinese censors blocked the reposted content. Yu says the article, which is still accessible outside China, was read by more than 20,000 people before it was censored. The link has since started working again for unknown reasons and, by the end of June, had become the most-read post on Yu’s blog.

During the past two months, several projects trying to document deaths linked to Shanghai’s recent lockdown have appeared online. One of the largest, on the collaboration service Airtable, has been live since April. The page is a mix of basic descriptions, images of dead bodies, location information, scans of documents, and photos of the smiling faces of the loved ones who have now passed away. The database went viral but was swiftly blocked on WeChat and Weibo for containing “non-compliant content.” Though users in China can still access it, discussions of the database have been restricted on social media.

By early June, the database contained 210 entries, each representing a life reportedly lost. It’s unclear how many of these deaths might be directly linked to Shanghai’s lockdown, but a separate tally, conducted by Singapore-based news outlet Initium Media, claimed that at least 170 people had died as a result of lockdown measures by early May. Many of the deaths were linked to difficulties accessing urgent medical treatment, the report claimed.

A Shanghai-based recruiter, who asks not to be named for security reasons, says he felt “hopeless” when he found out about the death of an industry colleague’s mother, who had skin cancer and was reportedly denied treatment because she had Covid. Though he didn’t know the woman personally, the recruiter decided not to let her death go unreported. On Reddit, he found a shared Google Sheet that, like the Airtable database, kept a record of the deceased.

The recruiter added details he knew about the woman to the spreadsheet for fact-checking. Volunteers working on the document are required to list their sources, and each link is archived by the Wayback Machine in case the post disappears. The shared document has stricter sourcing rules and fewer entries than the Airtable database—just 60 cases—and was last updated in early May.

The recruiter says he has no idea who created the document or who he was working with, but he feels safer this way. “I would be a bit afraid if we talk to each other in private,” he says, adding that he is still haunted by an experience of being reprimanded at school for speaking out on Twitter against an influential official.

It’s almost impossible to grasp the scale of the suffering caused by Shanghai’s recent lockdown. But Daohouer, a volunteer-run mutual aid network created to help people access food, treatment, and medication during the lockdown, hints at the level of desperation. The site worked by encouraging residents in urgent need of supplies or health care to leave a message, with volunteers then contacting them to help. A visualization of requests submitted to the network shows that over half of the requests dealt with medical accessibility.

The page has kept a record of 1,297 requests in Shanghai involving seriously ill people since April 11, when the data became available. The number of such requests peaked in mid-April, when the site reported a surge in messages from people seeking help accessing medical care.

The cases from Daohouer were visualized by two Chinese people living in Canada who form part of a tech collective called O3O. The pair plan to archive the data submitted to the platform in case it is somehow scrubbed by censors. “The older generation has a habit of hoarding food,” says one of O3O’s cofounders, who asks to remain anonymous. “But the younger generation has the habit of taking screenshots of all things that might be considered sensitive.” The duo also maintains a website called Our Pandemic Memory that invites people to record stories of their lockdown lives. The site, preempting likely censorship in China, automatically submits every story to the Wayback Machine.

Despite efforts to record deaths in the city, the Shanghai-based recruiter remains skeptical that the government will launch an official investigation into the number of people who reportedly died as a result of the recent lockdown. No such efforts have been announced following similar citywide lockdowns in cities such as Xi’an, where deaths related to difficulties in accessing health care have also been reported.

Still, the recruiter hopes that projects to remember and record the dead could, one day, help people learn what life, and death, was really like in Shanghai during the harshest of lockdowns. “Maybe one day in the future, when we can discuss the outbreak and learn lessons, these materials will be used for reference.”