He visited 28 places in the first 18 days of 2022, including a puppet theater, a few luxury residential compounds and a shopping mall in the heart of China’s equivalent of Silicon Valley.
He didn’t go to any of these places for fun. He was often there in the wee hours when they were deserted, to unload concrete and sand from trucks that weren’t allowed in the city until after midnight. He would be gone before day broke.
The migrant worker, surnamed “Yue,” toiled in obscurity until he tested positive for Covid and the authorities released the extensive details of his movements. After that, he became known as the hardest working person in China.
He was a symbol of the inequalities that are invisible to most middle-class Chinese people, the migrant workers who sweep the streets, pick up the trash and keep big metropolises gleaming. He was also an inconvenient truth to a government that prefers celebrating its success in eradicating extreme poverty, rather than acknowledging the large part of the population still struggling for a better life.
Many social media users contrasted his itineraries with that of another Covid case in Beijing, a young employee at a big state-owned bank. In the first 10 days of this year, she visited four shopping malls, made a purchase at a French luxury store, saw a talk show and went skiing.
The two have become the faces of the haves and the have-nots who live in the same cities but exist in parallel universes. Some people compared Mr. Yue to characters in movies like “The Matrix” and “Parasite” who operate between different realities and social economic classes.