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China – Uprisings across China have surfaced after the country’s increasingly costly zero-Covid policy. Cities including Shanghai and Beijing have endured a mass of protesters revolting against the public health ideologies of the ruling Communist Party. Residents of the country are crying for greater democracy and freedom.
Thousands of protesters have additionally called for the removal of leader Xi Jinping from power. His position has resulted in China enduring brute-force lockdowns, enforced quarantine, mass testing, and digital tracking for the past three years. Such techniques and strategies have cost China massive human and economic damage.
The weekend protests began after a deadly fire last Thursday in Urumqi. The fire killed 10 people and injured nine in an apartment complex, instigating public fury. Lockdown measures prevented and delayed firefighters from reaching their victims. The city of Urumqi has been in lockdown for more than 100 days. Residents are forbidden to leave the region and others are forced to remain at home.
With China unable to tame the public anger, protests quickly spread beyond Xinjiang. Residential communities and Chinese university students also began taking to the streets. Currently, there are 16 verified demonstrations occurring nationwide including China’s two biggest cities, Beijing and Shanghai.
This Saturday, hundreds gathered in Shanghai to hold a candlelight vigil for the fire victims. Protesters held up blank sheets of white paper to symbolize a revolt against censorship. Groups chanted, “Need human rights, need freedom.” Others shouted for Xi to “step down,” and The Internationale, a socialist anthem, was sung. This anthem was also used during pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing before the involvement of armed troops in the square in 1989.
The zero-Covid policy hit Shanghai the hardest. Earlier this year, a two-month long lockdown deprived hundreds from access to food, medical care, and other basic supplies.
By Sunday evening, huge demonstrations flocked to Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, and Wuhan. People called for the end of Covid restrictions and for political freedom. Those in locked down neighborhoods tore barriers apart and joined protestors.
University campuses also remain a hot spot for demonstrations. Students at the prestigious Peking University, Tsinghua University in Beijing, and Communication University of China, Nanjing, abandoned classes to take to the streets. London, England and Sydney, Australia have conducted vigils and demonstrations in solidarity with those who are protesting in China.
Public outrage and protests are incredibly rare in China due to the Communist Party’s control on all aspects of society. Although occasional protests do occur, demonstrations to this scale rarely take effect. Most uprisings do not target the central government or the nation’s leader. While localized protests have been prevalent over the past two decades, these protests have taken a rather drastic turn. Individuals are targeting societal and economic issues as well as the Communist regime.
Elite leaders have imprisoned those who dissent with the government’s operation and have imposed a high-tech surveillance country. The surveillance system is exceptionally prominent in Xinjiang. The Chinese government is accused of detaining over 2 million Uyghurs and other ethic minorities in concentration and labor camps. Former detainees have spoken that these institutions physically and sexually abuse all captured within them.
A United Nations report which was released in September, described Xinjiang’s surveillance network as one with police databases containing thousands of files with biometric data, specifically facial and eyeball scans. The Chinese government has repeatedly denied these accusations of human rights abuses.
In recent months, the public has started to run low on patience regarding the zero-Covid policy. The policy was implemented over three years ago and has contributed economic hardship and disruption to daily life. Small protests began in October with anti-zero-Covid slogans appearing on public buildings. A banner was hung on an overpass in Beijing days before Xi solidified his third term in power.
In November, bigger protests took place in Guangzhou. Citizens defied lockdown orders to incorporate themselves in demonstrations.
Most protests throughout China have been peacefully dispersed while other riots were met with a stronger response from authorities. Several protestors were arrested in Shanghai on Saturday. Relentless protestors still returned on Sunday when the police presence was heavier and more aggressive. Videos depict law enforcement officers pushing, dragging, and beating protesters.
Hundreds of police officers established a human wall to block major roads. Officers used a loudspeaker to tell individuals to leave. These videos have been taken down in China due to internet censorship regulations.
BBC journalist Edward Lawrence was arrested on Sunday night in Shanghai. A BBC spokesperson claimed Lawrence was kicked and beaten by the police while simply covering the protests. He has been released.
On November 28, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry acknowledged Lawrence’s arrest and stated that he had failed to identify himself as a journalist prior to detainment. The spokesperson refused to answer questions related to the protest and merely stated that what the world saw is not reflective of the Chinese government. Furthermore, the unidentified spokesperson claimed that he was not aware of any dislike relating to the leadership of Xi.
This past Saturday, top party officials met in Xinjiang a day after protests began in Urumqi. Here, they called for authorities to crack down on rumor mongering. Beijing’s municipal government on Sunday banned blocking entrances to residential compounds under lockdown, claiming it must remain clear for emergency services.
Shanghai authorities have been seen constructing tall barriers along the road where the weekend protests had taken place. A large police presence remains in Beijing with police vehicles patrolling the center of the capital.
State-run media has not covered the protests. Newspapers released on Sunday morning have called the zero-Covid policy, “the most scientifically effective approach.”
cover photo by rob z