In the past month, Chinese citizens have been burning tires, setting up roadblocks, and being victims of police brutality. It happened in Hong Kong in 2019, and now it is now happening in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and other major cities of the country.
China has been using lockdowns as a measure to curb the virus from spreading since the start of the pandemic. 8forty previously reported in June how the Chinese government’s “Zero-COVID policy” had attracted major public grievances. Now, as protests span into the winter season, we have seen restrictions being loosened.
One major protest happened at Sitong Bridge in Beijing. On October 13th, a protester hung up two banners with slogans against President Xi Jinping and put up speakers that played anti-Xi messages including “No more COVID Tests, No more lockdowns and No more dictatorship”.
Since the start of November, Guangzhou began a new wave of lockdowns to contain the spread of the virus. A Twitter post shows a video of residents in Guangzhou knocking down barricades for COVID restrictions, riot police in protective gowns holding shields and battens pushed towards protesters. Tear gas was also deployed to disperse the crowd.
Teenagers in China are slowly experiencing a political awakening, despite the fact that they have been well known to obey the Communist government, both because they grew up in the most prosperous period of China’s economy, and because the Communist Party uses the internet and social media for ideological influence. Dissatisfied with government scrutiny, strict COVID policies, and ever-tightening control and censorship in the society, these teenagers are increasingly acting against the Communist authoritarian government.
Within two weeks of the Sitong Bridge incident, reports of over 1500 of anti-Xi posters were seen in over 328 universities around the world.
On 24 November, a fire broke out in a residential tower in Ürümqi, Xinjiang. Fire crews arrived at the tower and extinguished the fire after three and a half hours, but was blocked by barricades that were setted up for COVID restrictions. It was reported that the roads were too narrow for fire trucks to pass through, and cars were parked on the sides.
Ten people died in the incident and another 9 were seriously injured.
This sparked backlash in the Chinese social media society igniting anger among Chinese citizens that were already unsatisfied from the Communist government, mainly from the COVID restrictions since late-2019.
Hundreds of Shanghai residents laid flowers and lit candles in mourning on Wu Lu Mu Qi Zhong Lu (Urumqi Middle Road, a major road in downtown Shanghai). They also held white papers representing China’s censorship of anti-government information and shouted slogans such as “Unblock Xinjiang” and “We need freedom of speech”.
A video posted on Twitter shows a man holding flowers and saying “Have I broken the law?”, “Chinese people have to be brave. So many people were arrested in the protests, don’t they have their own children and jobs? If they aren’t afraid, why should we be afraid?” However when he mentioned about the bus crash that happened because of transporting COVID patients to isolation facilities during late night in Guizhou which caused the death of 27 people, he was dragged into a police vehicle by multiple police officers. There are also videos online showing Chinese police officers beating arrested protesters on a bus.
As protesters turned to violence, the Chinese government responded by starting to ease restrictions and lockdowns. Guangzhou started removing lockdown zones in the city, restaurants and businesses are now allowed to reopen, and schools are allowed to resume face-to-face teaching.
Vicky, a current university student in a major Chinese city, told 8forty that she still expects harsher censorship in the future.
“Xi will continue to try and maintain his leadership for as long as possible,” she says. “But when will China face freedom, no one knows right now.”
Cover image by Tanner Marquis on Unsplash