Over the past weekend, anti-government demonstrations erupted in several big cities of China, after police personnel opened fire at protesters who took to the streets against the strict COVID policy in the country.
The protesters in Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou and Wuhan could be heard saying “lift lockdowns” amid reports of rise in new COVID cases in China, along with chanting anti-Xi Jinping slogans.
In Shanghai, the police detained dozens of protesters on Sunday after clashes with groups who were seen chanting, “Xi Jinping, step down! CCP, step down!”
COVID Protests Turn Into A Mass Movement
The protest against the country’s zero COVID policy has turned into a mass movement after the police opened fire at protesters in Urumqi, capital of northwestern China’s Xinjiang, on Thursday. The protesters blamed stringent COVID restrictions for killing 10 people in Thursday’s blaze at an apartment building in Urumqi.
Soon after the incident, thousands of protesters, mostly university students, gathered outside their residence and held candlelight protests against the country’s zero-COVID policy, blaming that the lockdown measures delayed and hampered rescue operations at the blaze site.
According to the Associated Press, the ruling Chinese Communist Party faced public anger over the deaths in the Urumqi fire. The clash between the police and protesters erupted after the latter gathered outside government buildings and chanted slogans against the CCP.
Following Urumqi, the protests spread to big Chinese cities like Shanghai, Wuhan, and Beijing, among other places, proving challenging for the government.
In several videos and photos circulating on social media, protesters can be seen tearing down metal barricades at the protest sites and the COVID testing tents. Reportedly, security officials used pepper spray to disperse the protesters at several sites.
“Down With Xi Jinping”
As strict COVID policies have increased frustration across China, the protesters are taking to the streets against the Xi Jinping-led Chinese government to end the lockdown. Protesters in many cities can be heard saying, “Xi Jinping Step down, CCP step down.”
Dozens of students demonstrated and painted university and street walls with anti-Xi slogans, along with raising demands for freedom and democracy.
Hundreds from Beijing’s elite Tsinghua University also launched protests and rallied against the government, demanding the end of COVID lockdown.
According to news agency AFP, the protesters at the university can be heard yelling, “No to COVID tests, yes to freedom.”.
The White Paper Protest
Chinese students could also be seen holding up blank white papers to express their anger against the ruling government. Late at night, on Sunday, the students of Nanjing and Beijing held silent protests carrying white sheets of paper.
This is a very unique protest, probably seen for the first time against the Chinese government, to evade censorship or arrests.
During the silent protests, people could be heard saying, “Lift lockdown for Urumqi, lift lockdown for Xinjiang, lift lockdown for all of China.” At times the protesters were also chanting, “Down with the Chinese Communist Party, down with Xi Jinping.”
In 2020, in Hong Kong, activists held up blank sheets of paper to protest the National Security Law. In 2022, dissenters in Russia came out with blank sheets to protest the Russia-Ukraine armed conflict.
The BBC has claimed that one of its journalists was detained and beaten by the Chinese police for covering the protest in Shanghai.
“The BBC is extremely concerned about the treatment of our journalist Ed Lawrence, who was arrested and handcuffed while covering the protests in Shanghai,” said a spokesperson for the British public service broadcaster.
“He was held for several hours before being released. During his arrest, he was beaten and kicked by the police. This happened while he was working as an accredited journalist,” read the statement.
According to reports, Michael Peuker, a Radio Télévision Suisse correspondent working in China was also arrested with Lawrence, and released several hours later.
Chinese authorities are controlling the narrative around the country’s zero COVID policy amid nationwide protests. Eyeing Chinese social media sites WeChat and Weibo, authorities are also deleting posts and content alleged to be against the government or its policies.
Rise In COVID Cases
China has chosen a different path compared to other countries in order to control COVID cases. At a time when countries across the world are reopening their borders after two years of aggressive lockdowns, millions of people in several big cities of China, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Wuhan, are still under strict COVID restrictions.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, China reported a fifth straight daily record of 40,347 new coronavirus infections. There were no deaths, compared with one the previous day, keeping fatalities at 5,233. As of November 27, mainland China confirmed 311,624 active COVID cases with symptoms.
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