Themacforums – Rare Protests Against China’s “Zero Covid” Policy Across Country. This past weekend, protests broke out across China as irate and angry individuals rushed to the streets in a surprising surge of rallies against the “Zero Covid” policy and the authorities enforcing it.

According to attendees at the gathering, residents of Shanghai, the most populated city in China, gathered Saturday night and early Sunday to demand an end to pandemic lockdowns and scream “We want freedom!” and “Unlock Xinjiang, unlock all of China!” There, a group of demonstrators shouted “Xi Jinping, step down!” and “Communist Party, step down!” in even more unprecedented displays of public rage directed at the head of the government.

Chen, a 29-year-old Shanghai resident came to the vigil at 2 a.m. Sunday, said, “There were people everywhere.” He stated, using only his surname due to security concerns, “At first people were demanding to lift the lockdown in Xinjiang, and then it turned into ‘Xi Jinping, step down, Communist Party step down!’

A fatal fire that occurred in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, in northwest China on Thursday served as the immediate catalyst for the protests, which were also witnessed on Saturday at universities in Beijing, Xi’an, and Nanjing.

After emergency fire services were unable to get close enough to an apartment complex engulfed in flames, ten people, including three children, perished. Residents said that rescue efforts had been hampered by lockdown-related procedures.

Authorities said some people’s “capacity to rescue themselves was too weak,” which fueled more derision and rage that surged through Chinese social media platforms on Friday.

They also disputed that COVID limits were a factor. Due to a wider security crackdown, Urumqi has become one of China’s most tightly guarded cities. On Friday, residents demonstrated there. Many people hoisted the Chinese flag and demanded the complete lifting of lockdowns.

The unrest grew. On Wulumuqi Middle Road, which was named after Urumqi, locals from Shanghai gathered on Saturday for a candlelight vigil that eventually erupted into a protest.

As the police watched, demonstrators laid flowers and candles for the victims while holding up blank pieces of paper as a symbol of their resistance to the nation’s ubiquitous censorship, according to photos given to The Themacforums Post by a photographer on the site.

In honor of the 10 victims in Urumqi, one person held up pieces of paper with the number “10” inscribed in both Uyghur and Chinese. The people started passing the empty pages back and forth.

Rare Protests Against China’s “Zero Covid” Policy Erupt Across Country

Everyone was holding it, according to the photographer Meng, who for safety reasons only gave his last name. “No one spoke, but we all understood what it meant. Delete all you want. What is not stated cannot be censored.

Such protests are incredibly uncommon in China, where the government acts swiftly to crush all criticism. Since pro-democracy demonstrations at universities in 1989 extended throughout the nation and culminated in a brutal crackdown and massacre near Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, authorities are incredibly fearful of such demonstrations.

One student stood for hours protesting the removal of posters criticizing “Zero Covid” at the Nanjing’s Communication University of China on Saturday. He was holding a blank sheet of paper. Hundreds of kids came together in support.

Some people chanted “Rest in peace” while scattering flowers on the ground in memory of the fire victims. Others chanted “The International”, the left-wing song, as well as the Chinese national anthem. “Long live the people!” they yelled.

Despite safety worries, a 21-year-old photography student who spoke on the record under the nameless condition remarked, “I used to feel lonely, but yesterday everyone stood together.” We are all brave, in my opinion, brave enough to fight for the rights we deserve, brave enough to point out these errors, and brave enough to voice our opinions.

Rare Protests Against China’s “Zero Covid” Policy Erupt Across Country

“The students are compressed every day, like a spring. That spring got back up yesterday,” he added.

Social media users recorded videos of a group of Tsinghua University students in Beijing holding up blank sheets of paper and yelling, “Democracy, rule of law, freedom of expression!” on Sunday. A young woman said over a loudspeaker, “If we don’t speak because we’re frightened of getting detained, I think our people will be disappointed in us. I shall live the rest of my life regretting this as a Tsinghua student.

According to posts on social media, crowds also gathered at the Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts, holding up their phones as part of a vigil for those who perished in Urumqi. In other posts, protest signs with fuzzy text can be seen on campuses in four cities and two provinces. Videos show a crowd gathered on the streets of Chengdu, a city in the southwest, late on Sunday. They yelled, “We don’t want lifelong rulers!” An emperor is not necessary for China.

The nation’s residents look to be at breaking point, and not just in institutions. They have endured nearly three years of relentless regulations in the name of “zero Covid,” during which many have been quarantined, sealed in their houses, or otherwise prohibited from leaving the country. Residents are subject to ongoing coronavirus testing and movement and health status monitoring.

Why are People in China Protesting?

Last Thursday’s fatal fire in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang’s far western region, served as the catalyst for the protests. After videos of the incident appeared to reveal that lockdown procedures had prevented firefighters from reaching the victims, the public was outraged. The fire in the apartment complex claimed the lives of at least 10 people and injured nine more.

Residents of the city had been unable to leave the area for more than 100 days, and many had been forced to remain at home.

Why are People in China Protesting?

On Friday, citizens of Urumqi were seen marching to a government building and calling for the lockdown to stop videos. The local authority announced the lockdown would be lifted gradually the following morning, but it did not provide a timeline or address the demonstrations.

That failed to calm the populace’s ire, and the protests quickly moved beyond Xinjiang, with people taking to the streets in cities and universities all over China.

In What Locations Are There Protests?

There have reportedly been protests all around the nation.

Reporters have so far confirmed protests in at least 16 different states, including Beijing, the capital of China, and Shanghai, the country’s financial hub.

On Urumqi Road, which bears the name of Xinjiang city, hundreds of people gathered on Saturday to mourn the victims of the fire. Many people held up white sheets of paper with no writing on them as a symbol of their opposition to censorship while chanting, “Need human rights, need freedom.”

Others sang The International, a communist anthem that has been used as a rallying cry in protests all around the world for more than a century, and screamed for Xi to “stand down.” It was also employed during the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, which ended in a harsh military crackdown.

In What Locations Are There Protests?

Shanghai, where a two-month lockdown earlier this year left many without access to food, medical care, or other basic goods, has been particularly hard hit by China’s zero-Covid regulations. This has stoked intense public animosity.

By Sunday night, large-scale protests had expanded to Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, and Wuhan, where tens of thousands of people demanded not only that Covid restrictions be lifted but also, and perhaps more impressively, political freedoms. Some residents of neighborhoods that were under lockdown tore down fences and went outside.

Additionally, there were demonstrations on college campuses, including those of the esteemed Peking University and Tsinghua University in Beijing, as well as the Communication University of China in Nanjing.

What Makes This Important?

In China, where the Communist Party has tightened control over all facets of life, launched a massive crackdown on dissent, destroyed most of civil society, and established a high-tech surveillance state, public protest is incredibly uncommon.

In Xinjiang, where the Chinese government is accused of imprisoning up to 2 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in facilities where former inmates claim they were subjected to physical and sexual torture, the mass surveillance system is even more strict.

Hundreds of thousands of files with biometric information, including facial and eyeball scans, are stored in police databases in the region, according to a damning United Nations assessment from September.

China has consistently refuted claims that it has violated human rights in the area.

How are the Authorities Reacting?

While some of the weekend’s rallies in China seem to have dissolved peacefully, others drew a harsher response from the government.

During the Saturday protests in Shanghai, there were clashes between protesters and police, and early morning arrests were made. Unfazed, demonstrators returned on Sunday, but this time they encountered a more forceful response. Videos depict chaotic scenes in which police push, drag, and beat people.

A loudspeaker blared a warning to demonstrators to leave while hundreds of police officers at one point formed a human wall to block off main routes.

Censors have now removed the footage from the Chinese internet.

A BBC spokeswoman stated that while reporting the protests, journalist Edward Lawrence had been “beaten and kicked by the police” and that this led to his detention in Shanghai on Sunday night. Since then, he has been freed.

How are the Authorities Reacting?

China’s Foreign Ministry confirmed Lawrence’s arrest on Monday, saying he hadn’t identified himself as a journalist prior to being taken.

The spokeswoman dodged inquiries regarding the protests as well, responding to a journalist’s query about whether the broad expressions of populist rage would lead China to consider abolishing zero-Covid as follows: “What you described does not accurately reflect what occurred.”

He further asserted that there were “ulterior motives” behind social media posts attributing the Xinjiang fire to Covid policy and that officials have been “making modifications depending on reality on the ground.” He said, “I’m not aware of the issue you stated,” in response to a question about protesters clamoring for Xi to resign.

Beijing’s public government on Sunday forbade blocking entrances to residential compounds that were in lockdown, citing the need for emergency services to have access to them.

On Monday, it was visible that the Shanghai government had erected high barriers alongside the street where the protests had taken place.

State-run media has been mute on the protests but has backed zero-Covid, referring to it as “the most scientifically effective” strategy in one newspaper on Sunday.