As a tail, he was cartoonishly obvious. But it didn’t matter. Each time my colleague and I tried to talk to someone, he found a way to scare the person off. For all the anti-foreign propaganda, intimidation and censorship in China, regular people are often willing to share their experiences. The man was there to make sure they didn’t.
We had come to Hefei, a middle-class city in central China, to chronicle the country’s emergence from its devastating battle against the coronavirus. Since the first outbreak in the city of Wuhan in January, the virus had prompted the Chinese government to close vast parts of the country, disrupting daily life and freezing major parts of its huge economic growth engine.