Zeng Fanzhi: Capturing China’s “Zero-Covid” Struggle

zeng fanzhi
Zeng Fanzhi, a retired architect turned artist, pauses during an interview at his studio in Shenzhen in southern China's Guangdong province, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023. Zeng painted stark, realist portrayals of life in China under zero-COVID, saying he did so to capture a unique moment in history. (AP Photo/Dake Kang)

Zeng Fanzhi, an 85-year-old retired architect residing in Shenzhen, has unveiled a series of powerful paintings that serve as a visual testament to the three-year journey of China’s stringent “zero-Covid” controls. Each brushstroke tells a story of resilience, sacrifice, and the intricate dance between a nation’s health and the price it pays for stringent measures.

One canvas presents a poignant scene—a child, mouth wide open, undergoing a Covid test administered by a worker clad in white medical garb. The raw vulnerability of youth and the clinical intrusion of the testing process are laid bare, encapsulating the collective experience of millions subjected to relentless testing campaigns.

In another vivid portrayal, a masked officer and a cadre of medical workers stand sentinel before a sealed-off apartment, marked with ropes and seals proclaiming it “CLOSED.” The onlookers, residents gripped by frustration and despair, gaze upon a boundary that symbolizes both safety and confinement. Zeng’s art captures the dichotomy of protection and restriction inherent in the “zero-Covid” strategy.

More About His Work:

Zeng Fanzhi, despite his role as a chronicler of these tumultuous times, does not wield his brush as a harsh critic. Instead, his paintings reflect a nuanced perspective on the measures that led to mass testing, apartment lockdowns, and the relocation of individuals to quarantine centers. It’s a portrayal not steeped in judgment but rather in the recognition of the multifaceted impact such controls have on a society striving to safeguard its well-being.

The three-year mark of China’s “zero-Covid” era, which sparked nationwide protests a year ago, is etched into Zeng Fanzhi’s canvases. Through his art, we glimpse into the heart of a nation’s struggle, where individual stories merge into a collective narrative—a narrative painted with both the anguish of sacrifice and the resilience of a people determined to overcome a formidable adversary.


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