from Shanghai to Beijing, Protests broke out across China In a rare show of dissent against the ruling Communist Party sparked by anger over the country’s increasingly costly anti-COVID-19 policy.
As numbers swelled at demonstrations in several major cities over the weekend, a range of grievances were also expressed – some calling for greater democracy and freedom.
Among the thousands of protesters, hundreds have called for the removal of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who for nearly three years has overseen a strategy of mass testing, brute-force lockdowns, forced quarantines and digital tracing that has devastating human infections. and economic cost.
Here’s what we know.
The protests were sparked by a deadly fire last Thursday in Urumqi, the capital of the country’s westernmost region of Xinjiang. The fire killed at least 10 people and injured nine in an apartment building – leading to public outrage after videos of the incident appeared to show that lockdown measures had delayed firefighters from reaching the victims.
The city has been under lockdown for more than 100 days, with residents unable to leave the area and many forced to stay indoors.
Videos showed Urumqi residents walking to a government building and chanting for an end to the lockdown on Friday. The next morning, the local government said it would lift the lockdown in phases – but did not provide a clear timeframe or address the protests.
That failed to quell public anger and the protests quickly spread outside Xinjiang, with residents in cities and universities across China also taking to the streets.
Why are the protesters in China holding up the white paper?
Protests have been reported across the country.
So far, CNN has verified the demonstrations in at least 16 locations nationwide — including two of China’s largest cities, the capital Beijing and financial hub Shanghai.
In Shanghai on Saturday, hundreds gathered for a candlelight vigil on Urumqi Road, named after the city of Xinjiang, to mourn the victims of the fire. Several carried white papers—a symbolic protest against censorship—and chanted, “Need human rights, need freedom.”
Hear protesters in China calling for Xi Jinping’s resignation
Some also shouted for Xi to “step down” and sang The Internationale, a socialist anthem Used as a call to action in demonstrations around the world for over a century. It was also used during pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing before a brutal crackdown by the armed forces in 1989.
China’s anti-coronavirus policies have been felt particularly acutely in Shanghai, where a two-month lockdown earlier this year left many without food, medical care or other essential supplies — provoking deep public resentment.
By Sunday evening, mass demonstrations had spread to Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou and Wuhan, with thousands of residents calling not only for an end to Covid restrictions, but, more significantly, political freedoms. Residents in some closed neighborhoods have demolished barricades and taken to the streets.
Protests also took place on campuses, including at the prestigious institutions of Peking University and Tsinghua University in Beijing, and China Communications University, Nanjing.
In recent days, vigils and demonstrations in solidarity with those on the mainland have been held elsewhere around the world, including London and Sydney.
In Hong Kong, where a national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020 has been used to suppress dissent, dozens of people gathered Monday evening in the city’s central district to protest. Some carried blank pieces of paper, while others left flowers and held up banners commemorating those killed in the Urumqi fire.
Public protest is extremely rare in China, where the Communist Party has tightened its grip on all aspects of life, cracked down on dissent, removed much civil society, and built a high-tech surveillance state.
The system of mass surveillance is even stricter in Xinjiang, where the Chinese government is accused of holding up to 2 million Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in camps where former detainees have alleged physical and sexual abuse.
a curse UN report in September He described the region’s “invasive” surveillance network, with police databases containing hundreds of thousands of files containing biometric data such as face and eyeball scans.
China has repeatedly denied accusations of human rights abuses in the region.
While protests do occur in China, they rarely happen on this scale, and don’t direct such a direct target on the central government and the nation’s leader, said Maria Rybnikova, an associate professor at Georgia State University who studies Chinese politics and media.
“This is a different kind of protest than the more localized protests that we have seen recurring over the past two decades, which tend to focus their claims and demands on local officials and on highly targeted social and economic issues,” she said. Instead, this time the protests expanded to include “the sharpest expression of political grievances along with concerns about the Covid-19 lockdown.”
There have been growing signs in recent months of public impatience with Zero-Covid, after nearly three years of economic hardship and disruption to daily life.
Isolated pockets of protest erupted in October, with anti-Covid slogans appearing on the walls of public restrooms and in various Chinese cities, inspired by a banner hung by A lone protester on a flyover in Beijing Just days before Xi consolidates a third term in power.
Earlier in November, larger protests erupted in Guangzhou, with residents defying lockdown orders to bring down barricades and cheering as they took to the streets.
While protests in several parts of China appeared to have dispersed peacefully over the weekend, some were met with a stronger response from the authorities.
The Shanghai protests on Saturday led to clashes between demonstrators and police, with arrests made in the early hours of the morning. Undeterred, the protesters returned on Sunday, where they were met with an even more aggressive response – videos show chaotic scenes of police pushing, pulling and beating protesters.
At one point, hundreds of police officers formed a human wall to block major roads, with a loudspeaker blaring a message for protesters to leave.
The videos have since been removed from the Chinese internet by censors.
BBC journalist Edward Lawrence He was arrested in Shanghai on Sunday night, where a BBC spokesperson claimed he was “beaten and kicked by the police” while covering the protests. Since then he has been released.
On Monday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson acknowledged Lawrence’s arrest, claiming he did not identify himself as a journalist prior to his arrest.
The spokesperson also dodged questions about the protests, telling a reporter who asked if widespread public displays of anger would cause China to consider ending Zero Covid: “What you mentioned does not reflect what really happened.”
He also claimed that social media posts linking the Xinjiang fire to Covid policies had “ulterior motives”, and that the authorities were “making adjustments based on the facts on the ground”. When asked about the protesters calling for Xi to step down, he replied, “I am not aware of the position you mentioned.”
In Xinjiang, top party officials held a meeting on Saturday — a day later Protests broke out in Urumqi — as they called on the authorities to “strictly suppress” rumor-mongering, incitement of incidents and violent resistance to epidemic control measures, according to state media.
Without mentioning the protests, the Beijing municipal government on Sunday banned entrances to closed apartment complexes, saying they must remain clear of emergency services.
By Monday, Shanghai authorities were seen setting up high barriers along the road where the protests took place.
State-run media has not directly covered the demonstrations – but has doubled down on Zero Covid, with one newspaper on Sunday calling it “the most scientifically effective method”.