Heaven Supermarket: the Beijing bar at the center of the Covid epidemic | China

Heaven Supermarket’s ability to attract a young Chinese and foreign clientele has always been the envy of its competing bars in the Chinese capital.

Located in one of Beijing’s liveliest nightlife areas, the bar is designed like a large self-service liquor store with chairs, couches, and tables. It’s not the fanciest in presentation, but on Chinese review websites, customers point to its affordability and down-to-earth attitude.

Bono Lee, a cultural critic from Hong Kong who lived in the region between 2008 and 2012, once wrote of Heaven Supermarket: “You could meet people from all over the world – Africans, Japanese, Europeans and Russians. They will not speak to you in English, but rather in Mandarin. The stories they tell may also contradict your western imagination. I made a lot of friends there.

But in the past fortnight or so, the bar has repeatedly made headlines for other reasons: it has been blamed for causing Beijing’s latest Covid outbreak. Authorities said at least 287 cases had been traced to the bar and thousands quarantined as “close contacts”. The people concerned live or work in 14 of the 16 districts of the capital.

Drinking and eating in most establishments in Beijing did not resume until June 6 after more than a month of closure. During this period, the city’s 22 million residents have been asked to work from home. Malls have been closed and parts of the sprawling transport system have been suspended.

The Heaven Supermarket epidemic has dealt a severe blow to the authorities’ anti-epidemic control work; so much so that Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan paid a visit on Monday, telling her officials that it was “necessary to strengthen the prevention and control of Covid in key places”. Local media warned that if complacency increased, “the consequences could be severe and would be such that no one would want to see them”.

Less than 24 hours later, officials in Beijing filed a criminal complaint against the bar owner for allegedly “obstructing the prevention of infectious diseases”. His license was revoked, while authorities also blamed the bar owner for “seriously breaking the law and committing dishonest acts”. His public WeChat account has been deactivated.

Many young Chinese people living frugally expressed their dismay. Reading the news, a frequent customer urged authorities not to shut it down. “Otherwise, I won’t be able to find cheaper than this place in the future,” he wrote on Weibo this week.

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The Heaven Supermarket saga is telling, says David Carey, owner of a small 40 square meter bar in the eastern part of Beijing. “For those of us working in the entertainment and beverage industry, the future is much more uncertain than we thought.”

Carey’s bar had only reopened three days this month before the Heaven Supermarket outbreak broke. Now it is only allowed to open during the day and it is not allowed to serve alcohol. “We had signs that things were getting back to normal despite [the zero Covid policy]but now it seems normality is a long way off.

With the help of Xiaoqian Zhu

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Post expires at 9:46am on Tuesday June 28th, 2022