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Why and how did the commander purchase during the Shanghai pandemic come into being


In early April 2022, when the lockdown in Shanghai extended indefinitely, most residents complied with the government’s earlier announcement and prepared food for less than one week. With limited resources to acquire essentials, well-connected residents began arranging group purchases. Meanwhile, participating in group purchases was jokingly likened to following civilian regimental commanders during the war. Conflicts also started once commander purchase appeared without an official platform and legal permission from the government. Although it protected many residents from starvation, others believe that we should not ignore issues such as quality, price control, or the possibility of virus transmission.

After introducing the reasons for the formation of the commander economy, this paper will discuss the advantages and limitations and government attitudes towards commander purchase.


The formation of commander purchase

  1. Unannounced extension of lockdown. On March 15th, even earlier in particular communities in Pudong New District, the Shanghai government refuted the rumor of a coming city-wide lockdown but applied grid-styled closures to isolate communities separately. As a result, residents experienced 48-hour quarantine and 24-hour release repeatedly and endlessly. Nevertheless, food supplies remained plentiful until March 26th [1], when the Shanghai government promulgated a five-day half-city-wide lockdown. Divided by the Huangpu River, the Pudong area was supposed to be closed until April 1st, and for Puxi, April 5th. People compared Shanghai under the unusual lockdown method to a double-flavored hotpot, and after April 5th, there was no food in this boiling hotpot anymore.
  2. Unreliable Official Emergency supplies. Government-provided supplies vary in content and distribution dates among different communities. For example, districts like Xvhui, a district in Puxi, received materials 21 times in one month. However, some communities in districts like Baoshan [2] received nothing until April 17th. Till May 1st, they only received supplies four times with brands detected with quality problems like Shineway.
  3. Lack of transport capacity. The lack of couriers gradually caused the breakdown of the whole civil supply system. Platforms like Taobao, which more than 70 percent rely on outside express like Shentong[3], had to experience the paralysis ofthe delivery system. Applications like Meituan and Eleme with self-supporting transport departments struggled to function. However, with most cooperated stores and restaurants closed, residents had to hire couriers to run errands, a type of service automatically charged by the platform, usually higher than the standard delivery fee. To enable the flexibility of extra charging for taking chores, many delivery men would even accept orders from platforms without restrictions like TikTok. On April 29th, in Minhang District, the Public Security Traffic PoliceDetachment inspected 828 couriers. It punished 535 of them for illegal delivery like overpriced errands, lack of courier licenses, or holding a red health code [4]. (Immagine 1)
  4. Long-standing social issues. Social dense diseases like group-oriented leasing could inhibit the efforts of government and communities. For example, a group-oriented rental apartment in Shanghai can accommodate more than twenty tenants in one hundred square meters [5]. However, they would only receive one share of mat
    erials, while tenants living in the attic are not even on the list for material distribution.


                                                           1. Couriers being inspected, Guangming Net, May3rd 09:39


The advantages and limitations of Command Purchase

 Among the three main ways to get food materials in shanghai during the pandemic, besides the commander purchases, the government-provided supply and online purchasing platforms like Meituan, Dingdong, and Jingdong also played significant roles. Here we will compare the three resources and present the advantages and limitations of the commander purchase.


The advantages of commander purchase

  1. Commander purchase means a fixed schedule. Unlike the supplies from the government, which depended on communities and governments, and unlike platforms like Dingdong, which only provide limited positions and materials at 6:00 and 8:30 and irregularly throughout the day, commander purchase usually has a fixed arrival date. In addition, some commander purchases do not rely on public transport capacity, which means the goods would arrive by the door with the help of volunteers instead of couriers. Though many communities would like to complain about workforce shortage, many isolated residents accidentally found their names on the list of in-service volunteers. The district could solve this problem quickly if they decided to hire the actual amount of volunteers with a substantial allowance from the government. In contrast, online platforms relying on limited couriers can only reach the gate, and securities would pass the goods to residents, which caused further and unknown delays.
  2. Commander purchase supported varieties of supplies. Arguments about the definition of essentials never faded during the pandemic. While some residents argue for the importance of coffee, some would also like to deny it of fruits and milk. The resident’s unsatisfied basic needs and further personal leisure requirements stayed unfulfilled by the government, which caused conflicts between residents and communities. With their private resources, commanders could help find all kinds of materials, from coke to cigarettes. However, till now, there is no evidence showing commander purchase could play an essential role in medicine purchase.


  The Limitations of commander purchase

  1. Unreliable quality. Quality problems like spoilage and measure shortage remained an issue in commander purchase. For example, on April 19th, with advertisements in which products all showed fine quality, residents in Xinjing Town, Changning District eventually received ribs with dislodged skin. However, people would also like to argue about the disappointing quality of government supplies. For example, on April 15th, Meilong Town in Minhang District received supplies in the forty-day isolation from the government for the fourth time. However, the pork inside turned out to be pig papillae which would generally be available to produce industrial oil. The government explained the full issue as a mistake and laid the blame to the worker. (Immagine 2)
  2. Uncontrolled Price. Currently, commanders could decide everything individually. As a result, the prices would increase without restrictions or regulations. Meanwhile, prices on official platforms such as Dingdong or Jingdong are also increasing. In addition, some district councils ignored the financial stress that people were suffering from and even intended to gain profits. For example, in April, the district council in Baoshan sold supply-ensuring vegetables in blind boxes at an even higher price than those provided by commanders.
  3. Doubtful identities. During the pandemic, commander purchases would generally happen online with advance payment, and commanders could be neighbors or strangers, which offered readily exploitable loopholes for online scammers. For example, on April 25th in Jiading District, a fake commander who cheated over eighty buyers was arrested with 48 thousand RMB involved in the case. In Qingpu District, two fake commanders on April 27th turned out to be online scammers who were still in another province named Jiangxi.
  4. Unknown supply resources. The commander purchases are individual households, which means the suppliers would stay in mystery which caused further social impact aside from quality problems. For example, on April 7th, residents in Pudong purchased vegetable packages privately. However, they found greeting cards signed for Yuepu Town in Baoshan District inside the container. The supplier explained the whole case as a mistake on April 8th, and Yuepu town received government-provided supplies for the first time since the lockdown started. Alongside this case, the missing of many donated materials from other cities, especially the conflicts between Shanghai and Liaoning [6], and endless news showing how plentiful the food supply in Shanghai was has also strengthened residents’ assumptions. (Immagine 3 e 4)
  5. Virus transmission possibility. In the process of commander purchase, the potential for virus spreading could exist in supply maintenance, transmission, or even delivery. For example, on May 5th, in Putuo District, a commander was arrested while leaping out. She pretended to be a volunteer to enter different areas to maintain the supply that enabled virus transmission among diverse communities. At the same time, some commanders could not have volunteers to help deliver the goods without permission from the community, so buyers would have to gather.

2. Pig Papillaes received by residents in Meilong Town, private shot, April 15th


3. Food Packaged received by residents in Pudong with a card signed for Yuepu, private shot, April 7th


 4. People purchase food freely in news, CCTV news, April 16th, 21:17


Attitudes from the government:

 In Shanghai

 On April 8th, the Shanghai government denied the news that the government would ban the commander’s purchases. Headquarters of the Shanghai Covid Epidemic Prevention and Control Special Class on Living Materials Guarantee replied that the city urged the commercial outlets to implement the epidemic prevention and control measure and give full play to market forces to protect the needs of the people. However, whether commanders would be part of market forces remained unknown. More detailed restrictions like quality control, organized disinfection, and volunteer allocations remained at the community level instead of governmental except for price controls.

 In Beijing

 On April 24th, a pandemic burst out in Beijing. However, the central government distributed the food supply immediately on April 25th to guarantee people’s life. No indication of commander purchases has appeared, and Meituan even experienced a disastrous defeat in the Beijing market. The commander’s purchase is more like a desperate solution for Shanghai.

(A cura di Alice Chilla)

References and notes:

 [1] On March 26th, Wu Fan, an expert of the Shanghai Leading Group on Epidemic Prevention and Control, who also worked as Deputy Dean in the Medical School of Shanghai Fudan University, denied the city-wide lockdown.

[2] A suburban district located in northern Shanghai which was supposed to be closed from March 26th to April 1st but had already shut down since March 23th

[3] Chen.S & Wang.H.,(2022-04-18). Backlogs of orders began to ship Shanghai capacity and pre-warehouse partial recovery. China Business News, A04.

[4] Covid-19 patients, close contacts, or secondary close contacts would have red health code.

[5] According to the Decision of the Shanghai Municipal People’s Government on amending the Administrative Measures of Shanghai Municipality on Lease of Residential Houses, which came into force after May 1st, 2014. it is group-oriented leasing if there are less than 5 square meters per tenant, more than two tenants per room, or risks.

[6] On April 16th, regarding the news that the Shanghai government dumped the 2300 tons of food materials donated by Liaoning, Shanghai explained that the vegetables had all gone sour on the way. After that, however, Liaoning Government released the video records of the whole cold-chain transportation through Liaoning Daily to show that the Shanghai government was telling a lie.

Rivista scientifica digitale mensile (e-magazine) pubblicata in Legnano dal 2013 – Direttore: Claudio Melillo – Direttore Responsabile: Serena Giglio – Coordinatore: Pierpaolo Grignani – Responsabile di Redazione: Marco Schiariti
a cura del Centro Studi di Economia e Diritto – Ce.S.E.D. Via Padova, 5 – 20025 Legnano (MI) – C.F. 92044830153 – ISSN 2282-3964 Testata registrata presso il Tribunale di Milano al n. 92 del 26 marzo 2013
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