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    Learning the True Meaning of Freedom a Gift for Children’s Day

    5-year-old Chenchen’s hopes for reopening: Legos and ice cream.

    Chenchen, a 5-year-old resident of Shanghai, had a memorable Children’s Day last year — his family went to the neighboring city of Qidong and he saw fireworks for the first time.

    But this year, as Children’s Day coincides with the lifting of lockdown in Shanghai on June 1, the 5-year-old’s hopes are simple: he wants a new Lego set and he wants to eat some ice cream.

    Children’s Day, observed June 1 in China, is a day or half-day off for students under 14. Parents usually take them to the park, for a short trip, or a special meal, and often give gifts.

    This year, it’s also the day that most of Shanghai’s 25 million residents are ending lockdowns, with public transport and many stores reopening.

    For most of his time during the lockdown in the past two months, Chenchen took online lessons, did homework, practiced painting, played with Lego, and helped his mother with housework.

    “My favorite moments during the lockdown are when I hug my mom in the morning, at noon, and in the evening,” said Chenchen. “When I don’t do my homework well, she gets angry at me.”

    Chenchen used to take roller skating lessons for a few hours every day before the outbreak hit Shanghai. Months of lockdown have left him more sedentary, his mother says.

    On April 1, Shanghai went into full COVID-19 lockdown amid the country’s worst outbreak since 2020. Entertainment venues were shut down and schools suspended in-person classes since March 12, keeping children from learning and playing with friends.

    Shanghai-based adolescent psychologist Ji Longmei said that many children suffered psychologically from lockdowns. She launched a free online consultation service during the period. Compared with the same period in previous years, in the past two months, Ji witnessed a “significant increase” in children’s mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and irritability.

    “The children of this generation are quite pitiful,” Ji said. “The childhood period is only 10 years or so, and they’ve spent nearly three years in the epidemic.”

    Being quarantined at home for over two months has deprived children of social experiences, which will impact their physical and mental development, Ji said.

    “Despite not yet knowing the long-term effects, what I have observed is that children who are vulnerable, introverted, or feel inferior have suffered a lot psychologically, and some have even felt life is pointless,” Ji added.

    In severe pandemic situations, children in Shanghai had to stay with their parents inside their apartments and did not step outside their front door except to go downstairs for COVID-19 testing. As the outbreak eased in Shanghai, children in the “prevention zones” could play inside the compound, and some of them were able to venture out for a bit of shopping and biking.

    Globally, pandemic lockdowns have disrupted the daily lives of children and adolescents, leading to more time spent at home, online learning, and a lack of social interaction, according to a report by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund. They reported increased stress, anxiety, and symptoms of depression, but also reported positive coping strategies, resilience, social connections through digital media, more time spent with family, and relief from academic stress.

    Tao Jianli, a social worker and mother of two kids, said there’s no point in complaining.

    “All we can do as individuals is to remain calm and positive and live as fully as we can under the given circumstances,” she said. “The epidemic will pass, the quarantine will end, and life will go on.”

    When the city reopens on Wednesday, Chenchen and his mother will go out to see how it looks. He may get some toys if there is a store open, his mother says.

    “Let him get fresh air outside and learn about the true meaning of freedom,” she told Sixth Tone.

    Editor: David Cohen.

    (Header image: Visual elements from interviewees and VCG, reedited by Sixth Tone)