On China’s internet , “involution” became the word of the year in 2020, followed by “laying flat” in 2021 and “run” this year. Although a tongue-in-cheek take of life in the country, each word captures the sentiment of the affluent urban middle class at the time. Involution refers to excessive competition in Chinese society , while laying flat is a direct response to that contentious environment. Run – as in, flee the country – gained momentum this year after Shanghai was put under a draconian Covid-19 lockdown . What lies behind those terms is growing anxiety over China’s future and rising concerns about Beijing’s strategy on “reform and opening up”. This is a particular worry for the country’s middle class, who have largely benefited from economic liberalisation and globalisation. Their uneasiness has led to a spike in online searches for information about immigration, according to anecdotal evidence. For many people, this apprehension was unthinkable pre-pandemic. A person born in China in 1980, for example, has lived through a long stretch of economic prosperity that saw the country’s GDP per capita reach more than US$12,000. That enabled hundreds of millions of people to expand their economic options, while steadily improving their quality of life. Beijing has repeatedly assured the nation of its commitment to reform and opening up, which are expected to guarantee a better future for those who have cultivated their knowledge and accumulated a certain amount of wealth. Reform is supposed to represent how individuals have free rein to foster their career and lifestyle, while opening up refers to gaining access to products, services and ideas from around the world. Those assumptions, however, have changed in light of recent lockdowns as part of China’s strict Covid-19 control measures . To contain the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant of Covid-19, the state enacted measures that intruded into people’s private lives, such as mandatory disinfection of homes. Lengthy quarantine has also become nightmarish for many people. ‘Save the economy’: China data paints bleak picture of Covid-hit activity The continued closure of national borders, tightened curbs on non-essential overseas travel , default blocking of incoming messages or calls from abroad , and enhanced screening of foreign education and entertainment services have raised fears about the prospect of China not opening up any time soon. While the Chinese government has eyed more stimulus to help economic growth , it is equally important for authorities to send a strong signal to boost confidence for the country’s middle class, making flight – referring to run, the word of 2022 – an unnecessary option. The reopening of Shanghai, which is expected on June 1 , can be a good starting point to invigorate people’s morale.